Email Marketing & Automation

Adding an Email Preheader Increased My Inbox Placement Rate by 15%

Email delivery is stupid. I’m not kidding. It’s been around for over 20 years, but we still have 50+ email clients displaying the same code differently. And we have tens of thousands of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who all have their own rules around managing SPAM. We have email service providers (ESPs) that have stringent rules that businesses have to conform to when adding a single subscriber… and those rules are never actually communicated to the ISP.

I love analogies, so let’s think about this.

sports car
  • I’m Doug, the business that builds impressive sports cars – my email.
  • You’re Bob, the client who wants to buy an amazing sports car – you sign-up for my email.
  • I have to ship the car to you, so I get the best carrier I can find – my email provider.
  • I add you as the recipient, but my shipper doesn’t believe me. I have to prove you signed up – double opt-in.
  • The carrier says okay and gets the amazing sports car to the destination warehouse – I click send with my ESP.
  • The warehouse signs it received it – a message received at your ISP.

This is when it gets fun.

  • You go to the warehouse – your email client.
  • The warehouse has no record of the amazing sports car – it’s not in your inbox.
  • You look everywhere and finally find it in the back where no one looks – it’s in your SPAM folder.
  • You must tell the warehouse never to put your deliveries from me in the back – marked as Not Spam.
  • The car is beaten to crap, missing three tires, and won’t start – your email client can’t read the HTML.
sports car wrecked

What does the sports car industry tell me?

  • Take 5 times longer to build a ridiculously expensive sports car that’s far more protective against shipping damage – test your email.
  • Hire a third party to babysit and monitor the delivery of each amazing sports car to all of your clients.

This is insanity.

Thank goodness for inbox placement monitoring.

How We Increased Our Inbox Placement Rate

Case in point, we made some design changes to our Martech Zone newsletter. Along with cleaning up the code, we added our latest podcasts and added a paragraph about the newsletter to open the email.

Bad idea. Our email deliverability rate for the same subscribers and the same email dropped 15%. For us, that’s a huge number – 15,000 more emails could be flowing into the SPAM folder than before. So we had to fix it. The problem had to be that static text was on every single email. Since the newsletter has our most recent daily or weekly posts, I wondered if I could add text to the top of the email listing the post titles. That would make each campaign have a different paragraph at the top of the email.

To hide the text, I used CSS style tags and inline CSS, I set the text size to 1px for ridiculous email clients that won’t hide text. The result? I now have a dynamic list of the posts that appear in the preview pane of email clients and an email delivered at previous inbox rates.

Here’s a chart of our inbox delivery rates. We drop significantly at the beginning of the year and then bounce back after the tenth.

email inbox rate

That’s right, that stupid change improved my inbox rate by 15%! Think about that – the same email, just with a few lines of text adjusted that the user can not even see.

Email delivery is stupid.

How did I make the hidden preheader?

Several folks have asked how I made the dynamic content within the email. First, I added this CSS reference within the style tags in the header of the email:

.preheader { display:none !important; visibility:hidden; opacity:0; color:transparent; height:0; width:0; }

Next, in the first line of content below the body tag, I wrote code that retrieved the first three post titles, concatenated them with a comma, and placed them within the following span:

<span class="preheader" style="display: none !important; visibility: hidden; opacity: 0; color: transparent; height: 0; width: 0;"><?php echo $preheader; ?> in today's Martech Zone Weekly!</span>

The result is something like the following:

<span class="preheader" style="display: none !important; visibility: hidden; opacity: 0; color: transparent; height: 0; width: 0;">The Stupid Way I Increased Our Inbox Placement Rate by 15%, What Strategies, Tactics, and Channels Should Marketers Focus on in 2017, What is a Demand-Side Platform (DSP)? in today's Martech Weekly!</span>

Note that I added a style that makes the font color white, so it’s not seen even if displayed, and for clients that ignore the color, it’s 1px, hopefully too small to see.

PS: I’ve said it for years, but ISPs should manage subscriptions, not ESPs. I should be able to register my newsletter with Google and have Gmail users opt-in… and my emails should always be sent to the inbox. Is that ridiculously difficult? Sure… but it would fix this disaster. And email clients should get booed off the market if they don’t support modern HTML and CSS standards.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and CEO of DK New Media. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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