Maximize your email delivery this holiday season

Email delivery is a tricky subject matter, and we never want to understand it more than during periods where we’re sending mass emails. This question from my line manager on a Friday afternoon started an interesting conversation for the delivery operations and deliverability teams. My first thought (well, not my first thought – that was the witty reply of “Saturday”, and much chortling ensued) was that they must be my least favorite American imports: Black Friday and its bumbling step-sibling, Cyber Monday.

I was pretty surprised to find out that it’s actually Singles Day on November 11th, a popular shopping day for our friends in the Asia-Pacific region. This year Alibaba set the record with sales surpassing $30.8 billion in just 24 hours.

We’re not yet on board with Singles Day here in Europe, but UK retailers and consumers have embraced the aforementioned Thanksgiving weekend as an opportunity for pre-Christmas sales and bargains. This means emails. Lots and lots and LOTS of emails.

During busy periods, recipients receive so many emails that marketers have to vie for their attention. This kind of inbox exhaustion is a known challenge. But another common sentiment we hear from customers during the festive period is, “why is it taking so long to deliver my emails?”

Delays can be frustrating, especially if you’re sending time-sensitive emails for short-lived sales. So, why do delays occur and what can you do to avoid them?

Queues aren’t just a British thing

In email delivery, queuing happens in two places: on the mailserver sending out the emails and on the mailserver receiving the emails.

When sending emails, the server has to wait for an IP address to have an available outbound connection opportunity, then connect to the recipient mailserver, and finally deliver the email to that recipient server. While waiting for available IPs, the mailserver will create queues of emails which are all going to the same domain (gmail.com, hotmail.com, etc.) so that it’s ready when a connection becomes available to push as many emails through that connection as it can.

On the receiving end, the servers have the unenviable task of taking those inbound emails and making sure they end up in the correct inboxes. During this process, the emails are checked by filtering tools and algorithms to ensure they’re wanted mail. Queues will be created of emails waiting to be checked for spam, to then be allocated to the correct inbox, etc. Mailbox providers prioritize person-to-person communications (that thanksgiving update you sent to your grandma) over bulk marketing communications.

Just think of it like traffic: you have cars queuing at the barriers to exit parking lot A and get onto the road to their destination. There are only a certain number of exits and the road outside is busy, so they have to wait their turn. When they get to parking lot B, they have to queue for a security check and then queue to park on the right level and in the right space.

Email delivery gridlock

In general, when sending out emails, the more IPs you have the faster emails can be transmitted to a receiving mailserver. However, there are some pretty hefty caveats that apply on a day-to-day basis, even outside of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday and festive periods.

For example, most mailbox providers will apply various fair-usage limits on the number of inbound connections, the number of messages that can be sent per connection, the total number of messages they’ll accept per minute/hour/day, etc. These limits are often lower for IPs/domains which have poorer reputations and higher for those with better reputations, but most will have a cap — even for the best senders.

What happens when email volume is high?

It’s possible, and has happened historically, that receiving mailservers can be overwhelmed by the volume of email being sent during busy periods. When experiencing a high load, they may be more restrictive on the number of connections they’ll accept — even from IPs with excellent reputations.

When mailbox providers are telling our mailservers that they’re under high load, we automatically reduce our send rates and the number of connections we’re making. This slows down sending and lengthens queues, but it means that we’re less likely to irritate a mailbox provider to the point where they throttle the sending IPs (i.e. impose their own, even more severe, rate limits) or block them outright. Our system can detect when things are back to normal and send rates will increase again.

Even after emails have been accepted by receivers, during busy periods they may have enormous queues waiting for their filtering and allocation tools to check emails for spam and actually get them to the inbox. This is where person-to-person prioritization comes in: you might be able to send a single test email from your work Office 365 account to your personal gmail account and it’s delivered in seconds, but marketing emails from your ESP could take much longer. This is because recipients are more likely to complain to their mailbox provider about delays in receiving an email from their niece than complain about a delay in receiving a marketing email.

What you can do about email delivery

Firstly, choose a responsible ESP that understands the challenges of busy periods and has the ability to scale up during times of high load. Our deliverability operations team has been hard at work all year, expanding the number of IPs in use and bolstering our sending infrastructure.

Secondly, put yourself in the shoes of the person receiving your emails. Just spend 10 minutes in your own personal inbox, being overwhelmed by the influx of marketing emails. Have some empathy for your recipients and use targeting and segmentation to send something really interesting to people who are likely to engage with your emails.

Finally, and most importantly, be sympathetic with mailbox providers. Their goal is to provide the best experience to their users and during busy festive periods they manage queues and prioritize accordingly. Don’t leave campaigns until the last minute; instead, think about spreading your sends out over a few hours or days. Every email you send to gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo uses up some amount of processing power and then some amount of storage space – and you don’t pay for that. Be patient and learn from experiences this holiday season to inform your future strategies.


Want more hands-on advice on email deliverability? Download our 101 guide here.

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Maximize Your Results With Search Engine Optimization

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Long Tail CTR Study: The Forgotten Traffic Beyond Top 10 Rankings

Posted by GaryMoyle

Search behavior is fundamentally changing, as users become more savvy and increasingly familiar with search technology. Google’s results have also changed significantly over the last decade, going from a simple page of 10 blue links to a much richer layout, including videos, images, shopping ads and the innovative Knowledge Graph.

We also know there are an increasing amount of touchpoints in a customer journey involving different channels and devices. Google’s
Zero Moment of Truth theory (ZMOT), which describes a revolution in the way consumers search for information online, supports this idea and predicts that we can expect the number of times natural search is involved on the path to a conversion to get higher and higher.

Understanding how people interact with Google and other search engines will always be important. Organic click curves show how many clicks you might expect from search engine results and are one way of evaluating the impact of our campaigns, forecasting performance and exploring changing search behavior.

Using search query data from Google UK for a wide range of leading brands based on millions of impressions and clicks, we can gain insights into the how CTR in natural search has evolved beyond those shown in previous studies by
Catalyst, Slingshot and AOL.

Our methodology

The NetBooster study is based entirely on UK top search query data and has been refined by day in order to give us the most accurate sample size possible. This helped us reduce anomalies in the data in order to achieve the most reliable click curve possible, allowing us to extend it way beyond the traditional top 10 results.

We developed a method to extract data day by day to greatly increase the volume of keywords and to help improve the accuracy of the
average ranking position. It ensured that the average was taken across the shortest timescale possible, reducing rounding errors.

The NetBooster study included:

  • 65,446,308 (65 million) clicks
  • 311,278,379 (311 million) impressions
  • 1,253,130 (1.2 million) unique search queries
  • 54 unique brands
  • 11 household brands (sites with a total of 1M+ branded keyword impressions)
  • Data covers several verticals including retail, travel and financial

We also looked at organic CTR for mobile, video and image results to better understand how people are discovering content in natural search across multiple devices and channels. 

We’ll explore some of the most important elements in this article.

How does our study compare against others?

Let’s start by looking at the top 10 results. In the graph below we have normalized the results in order to compare our curve, like-for-like, with previous studies from Catalyst and Slingshot. Straight away we can see that there is higher participation beyond the top four positions when compared to other studies. We can also see much higher CTR for positions lower on the pages, which highlights how searchers are becoming more comfortable with mining search results.

A new click curve to rule them all

Our first click curve is the most useful, as it provides the click through rates for generic non-brand search queries across positions 1 to 30. Initially, we can see a significant amount of traffic going to the top three results with position No. 1 receiving 19% of total traffic, 15% at position No. 2 and 11.45% at position No. 3. The interesting thing to note, however, is our curve shows a relatively high CTR for positions typically below the fold. Positions 6-10 all received a higher CTR than shown in previous studies. It also demonstrates that searchers are frequently exploring pages two and three.

CTR-top-30-730px.jpg

When we look beyond the top 10, we can see that CTR is also higher than anticipated, with positions 11-20 accounting for 17% of total traffic. Positions 21-30 also show higher than anticipated results, with over 5% of total traffic coming from page three. This gives us a better understanding of the potential uplift in visits when improving rankings from positions 11-30.

This highlights that searchers are frequently going beyond the top 10 to find the exact result they want. The prominence of paid advertising, shopping ads, Knowledge Graph and the OneBox may also be pushing users below the fold more often as users attempt to find better qualified results. It may also indicate growing dissatisfaction with Google results, although this is a little harder to quantify.

Of course, it’s important we don’t just rely on one single click curve. Not all searches are equal. What about the influence of brand, mobile and long-tail searches?

Brand bias has a significant influence on CTR

One thing we particularly wanted to explore was how the size of your brand influences the curve. To explore this, we banded each of the domains in our study into small, medium and large categories based on the sum of brand query impressions across the entire duration of the study.

small-medium-large-brand-organic-ctr-730

When we look at how brand bias is influencing CTR for non-branded search queries, we can see that better known brands get a sizable increase in CTR. More importantly, small- to medium-size brands are actually losing out to results from these better-known brands and experience a much lower CTR in comparison.

What is clear is keyphrase strategy will be important for smaller brands in order to gain traction in natural search. Identifying and targeting valuable search queries that aren’t already dominated by major brands will minimize the cannibalization of CTR and ensure higher traffic levels as a result.

How does mobile CTR reflect changing search behavior?

Mobile search has become a huge part of our daily lives, and our clients are seeing a substantial shift in natural search traffic from desktop to mobile devices. According to Google, 30% of all searches made in 2013 were on a mobile device; they also predict mobile searches will constitute over 50% of all searches in 2014.

Understanding CTR from mobile devices will be vital as the mobile search revolution continues. It was interesting to see that the click curve remained very similar to our desktop curve. Despite the lack of screen real estate, searchers are clearly motivated to scroll below the fold and beyond the top 10.

netbooster-mobile-organic-ctr-730px.jpg

NetBooster CTR curves for top 30 organic positions


Position

Desktop CTR

Mobile CTR

Large Brand

Medium Brand

Small Brand
1 19.35% 20.28% 20.84% 13.32% 8.59%
2 15.09% 16.59% 16.25% 9.77% 8.92%
3 11.45% 13.36% 12.61% 7.64% 7.17%
4 8.68% 10.70% 9.91% 5.50% 6.19%
5 7.21% 7.97% 8.08% 4.69% 5.37%
6 5.85% 6.38% 6.55% 4.07% 4.17%
7 4.63% 4.85% 5.20% 3.33% 3.70%
8 3.93% 3.90% 4.40% 2.96% 3.22%
9 3.35% 3.15% 3.76% 2.62% 3.05%
10 2.82% 2.59% 3.13% 2.25% 2.82%
11 3.06% 3.18% 3.59% 2.72% 1.94%
12 2.36% 3.62% 2.93% 1.96% 1.31%
13 2.16% 4.13% 2.78% 1.96% 1.26%
14 1.87% 3.37% 2.52% 1.68% 0.92%
15 1.79% 3.26% 2.43% 1.51% 1.04%
16 1.52% 2.68% 2.02% 1.26% 0.89%
17 1.30% 2.79% 1.67% 1.20% 0.71%
18 1.26% 2.13% 1.59% 1.16% 0.86%
19 1.16% 1.80% 1.43% 1.12% 0.82%
20 1.05% 1.51% 1.36% 0.86% 0.73%
21 0.86% 2.04% 1.15% 0.74% 0.70%
22 0.75% 2.25% 1.02% 0.68% 0.46%
23 0.68% 2.13% 0.91% 0.62% 0.42%
24 0.63% 1.84% 0.81% 0.63% 0.45%
25 0.56% 2.05% 0.71% 0.61% 0.35%
26 0.51% 1.85% 0.59% 0.63% 0.34%
27 0.49% 1.08% 0.74% 0.42% 0.24%
28 0.45% 1.55% 0.58% 0.49% 0.24%
29 0.44% 1.07% 0.51% 0.53% 0.28%
30 0.36% 1.21% 0.47% 0.38% 0.26%

Creating your own click curve

This study will give you a set of benchmarks for both non-branded and branded click-through rates with which you can confidently compare to your own click curve data. Using this data as a comparison will let you understand whether the appearance of your content is working for or against you.

We have made things a little easier for you by creating an Excel spreadsheet: simply drop your own top search query data in and it’ll automatically create a click curve for your website.

Simply visit the NetBooster website and download our tool to start making your own click curve.

In conclusion

It’s been both a fascinating and rewarding study, and we can clearly see a change in search habits. Whatever the reasons for this evolving search behavior, we need to start thinking beyond the top 10, as pages two and three are likely to get more traffic in future. 

 We also need to maximize the traffic created from existing rankings and not just think about position.

Most importantly, we can see practical applications of this data for anyone looking to understand and maximize their content’s performance in natural search. Having the ability to quickly and easily create your own click curve and compare this against a set of benchmarks means you can now understand whether you have an optimal CTR.

What could be the next steps?

There is, however, plenty of scope for improvement. We are looking forward to continuing our investigation, tracking the evolution of search behavior. If you’d like to explore this subject further, here are a few ideas:

  • Segment search queries by intent (How does CTR vary depending on whether a search query is commercial or informational?)
  • Understand CTR by industry or niche
  • Monitor the effect of new Knowledge Graph formats on CTR across both desktop and mobile search
  • Conduct an annual analysis of search behavior (Are people’s search habits changing? Are they clicking on more results? Are they mining further into Google’s results?)

Ultimately, click curves like this will change as the underlying search behavior continues to evolve. We are now seeing a massive shift in the underlying search technology, with Google in particular heavily investing in entity- based search (i.e., the Knowledge Graph). We can expect other search engines, such as Bing, Yandex and Baidu to follow suit and use a similar approach.

The rise of smartphone adoption and constant connectivity also means natural search is becoming more focused on mobile devices. Voice-activated search is also a game-changer, as people start to converse with search engines in a more natural way. This has huge implications for how we monitor search activity.

What is clear is no other industry is changing as rapidly as search. Understanding how we all interact with new forms of search results will be a crucial part of measuring and creating success.

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How to Include Influencers in Your Content Strategy

Posted by Amanda_Gallucci

The first thing most people think when they hear “influencers” is promotion. Important people with an engaged following can amplify the reach of whatever idea, content or brand they choose to share. If you only weave influencers into your content strategy when your finished product is ready to be promoted, however, you’re missing out on the full potential of having respected experts on your team.

Knowing when and how they can best be engaged at different stages is critical to moving these leaders from outside influencers to brand partners.

Measure an influencer’s true value

In order to find the right influencers to give your content strategy a boost, you first should understand what makes a person an influencer and how influence will play a role within the larger content landscape.

Whether you’re looking to build brand awareness or drive traffic, what matters is not sheer numbers of followers, but the amount of engaged followers.

Twitalyzer’s analytics provide a good start to assessing who is influential on Twitter. The tool measures not only the potential impact users have based on their number of followers, but also the likelihood that other Twitter users will retweet or mention a particular user. 

Beyond finding an influencer who’s engaged enough to spread your message, also consider how this person became influential in the first place. Whether he or she has years of experience, brilliant ideas, cohesive arguments or all of the above, consider how you can harness these strengths to maximize your potential for creating a successful relationship. Asking influencers to tweet out a link might give you a bump in traffic, but asking for their opinions, advice and time in different ways will be infinitely more valuable.

Lead with strategy

How influencers fit into your campaign should be determined according to audience research and campaign goals. Know what platforms your target audience interacts with, what interests are strong enough to drive them to take action and who they trust. The more naturally these insights are woven into your content, the easier it will be to find influencers in this segment who will appreciate what you have to share.

Campaign goals are equally crucial because depending on what you want to achieve, you might change the angle of your messaging or favor different platforms. Not every influencer has the same level of activity and reach on every social channel, so identify influencers who are stars on the right platforms. Similarly, tailor your message for each influencer so that anything they share on your behalf looks organic alongside their other content.

Once you have a solid foundation for your strategy, start looking for influencers and begin your outreach process. With enough lead time to send along a beta version or rough draft, you can tweak content based on their feedback. You’ll also need allow time for them to collaborate with you on original content, create any sponsored or guest content or write a review or give a quote that you can use on your content’s release.

Don’t ask for too much of an influencer’s time, however, especially if you are asking for offhand feedback and not entering into a paid engagement. Build a relationship before you ask for favors, and even still, make the ask as easy as possible by providing the right amount of background and simplifying what you want the person to do. Rand’s
Whiteboard Friday on earning the amplification of influencer walks through the importance of the relationship-building aspect and enticing influencers with what’s in it for them.

Find influencers

With a clear understanding of the role influencers play within your overall strategy, you’re ready to identify the right candidates.

Countless tools are available to help you find influencers in different verticals, so choose based on the action you want the influencer to take. If you are searching for a thought leader who can write engaging content, a tool like
ClearVoice will help you find credible authors who focus on a particular topic. For each writer, you can view a list of articles he or she has written on that subject.

image host

When you need social influencers who can help you amplify content,
Buzzsumo is a great tool. Through their Influencer search, you can find people who frequently share content on a given topic and can click through to see what these links are.

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Another approach to finding social influencers is to search Twitter bios using
Followerwonk and sorting by Social Authority

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Engage influencers at different stages

Outreach

Outreach ideally starts with organically following influencers and engaging with them over time. Then reaching out to them via email or social media is less about introductions and more about the specific project you want to pitch to the influencer.

There will also be times when you find an influencer who aligns with your strategy but you don’t have the relationship-building lead time. For this cold outreach, write a succinct introduction that includes goals your goals for the content and the benefits the influencer will receive by working with you. Then make your ask. Personalization and quality are key. If you find outreach challenging, this
guide from Portent is a great place to start.

Make outreach easier for yourself by using a tool like
BuzzStream that automates and tracks the process. It will help you find contacts at certain publishers—giving you the twofold opportunity to pitch your own content as well as get in touch with influential authors. It also generates templated, customizable outreach emails.

542b33ebcc0947.89852064.png

Just remember, even if you already have a solid relationship with an influencer, show that you value his or her time. Do as much of the groundwork as you can in advance. For instance, if you want people to share something on social, draft one to three example social posts specifically crafted for each influencer and platform.

Start of relationship

Once an influencer agrees to work with you, provide just the right amount of background information and instruction. This will vary by project and influencer.

For an influencer creating content, define the basics (e.g., article, ebook, video, etc.), in addition to length and editorial theme. Find a good balance between leaving room for the influencer to share his or her expertise, while setting up key points and takeaways you want the content to achieve. You should also create and send an abbreviated style guide. There’s no need to disclose every internal note you have, but if you can provide the basic stylistic do’s and don’ts, product or company background, audience information, and voice and tone guidelines, you will spend less time on edits and back-and-forths with the influencer. Set clear expectations and schedule benchmark dates where you can check in on progress and make revisions where necessary.

In the case of engaging influencers to amplify content, you won’t need to give quite as much guidance on how to craft the social message, but you can still offer suggestions on angles that would work well or any topics or phrases your brand wouldn’t want to be associated with. It’s also important to provide summaries of any piece of content you are asking influencers to share so that a) if they don’t have time to read every word, they still feel comfortable with the concept and b) there won’t have to be any guesswork in deciding what part of the content is most important to share.

Relationship maintenance

If your experience with an influencer is mutually beneficial and you know you’ll want to partner again, make sure to check in periodically. Don’t ask for something new every time you reach out. Keep in touch by sending along interesting content or company updates the influencer might find useful. Better yet, always extend a congratulations on a promotion or a new position.

To ensure you remember to engage with the right people, use tools like
Commun.it, which identify the influential people you interact with on Twitter, and prompt you to re-engage with people you haven’t @ mentioned recently. 

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LinkedIn Contacts is also a handy way to keep track of conversations and check on any updates on the influencer’s end to look out for opportunities to get in touch.

As you continue to grow existing influencer relationships, adjust your overarching strategy to incorporate more key industry leaders. Create new roles for influencers to play in shaping your content and its promotion.

Always be strategizing

The best way to include influencers in your content strategy is to involve them at every stage of the process, including:

  1. Creation: Plan out what types of influencers will be helpful and the role they should play based on the target audience and campaign goals.
  2. Implementation: Share a strategic brief with onboarded influencers and leave flexibility for changes based on the influencer’s feedback.
  3. Measurement: Factor in the reach of influencers as part of the success of your campaign.

Over time, integrating and managing influencer relationships will become second nature, and they will seem more like team members and partners.

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