Here’s How Graymail Is Giving You A False Sense Of Email Marketing Success And Tips On How To Fix It

By Bob Phibbs

email marketing tips for businessImagine you’re at home with most of the lights off watching Game of Thrones. You’re enjoying a nice glass of red wine when you hear a knock on the door.

You look through the peephole to see an acquaintance on your doorstep. You don’t want to interrupt your night so you simply don’t answer and hope they go away.

Graymail is like that.

What is graymail? Graymail is email customers opted-in to receive from you, but now they don't really want it.

They haven’t gone all the way to unsubscribe, but they aren’t compelled to open your content either...

And that hurts all of the email you send out.

Let me explain...

When you send a bulk email out to your own list - like a weekly newsletter- and it lands in a customer’s inbox, but they don’t open it, their Internet service provider takes note. Send another and they note that.

I've read after several unopened emails, those Internet service providers’ algorithms decide this customer doesn’t want bulk emails from you and flags them as graymail.

Instead of landing in their inbox, these emails might go to a Promotions, [Bulk], Low Priority or even a Junk mail folder.

Since it is getting delivered somewhere, you as the sender don’t notice anything unusual.

And let’s face it, if you continue to send to customers who don’t open your emails, you’re marketing to people who have lost interest and you’re damaging your sender score reputation at the same time.

And that in turn is hurting your ability to deliver to customers who do want to hear from you.

With me so far?

I became interested in graymail because I noticed the open rates for my weekly newsletter were going down, yet the number of social shares was going through the roof. In short, I knew the content was there, but I was wondering why emails weren’t being opened.

Turns out many had moved on.

You know this because you’ve done it before. You signed up for a retailer’s newsletter but after the project was finished, or you moved, or etc., you simply lost interest.

You didn’t click the unsubscribe link because you had signed up and you still wanted to know about things, but you figured you’d just let it sit in your inbox.

After awhile, you didn’t even see those emails anymore and assumed they stopped sending.

How do you stop sending emails to contacts with low engagement rates?

You need to suppress contacts who have not been engaging with your emails; that helps prevent all of your emails from becoming graymail.

I, myself, have about 35,000 people on my contact list.  Last month, I built a list of customers who had not opened my last 10 emails. Then I suppressed those recipients.

Checkout these statistics:

email marketing tips

I sent to 40% less customers, yet opens only went down 3%. But the big news is while those who clicked really didn’t change, what did change was the percentage of people who did click to read my posts, up 72%. And clicking a link is the be-all and end-all when it comes to email marketing.

Now I know there are those who insist that email is dead for millenials, and they’re right but only until those young people get jobs. E-mail is going to stick around for a while.

6 Ways To Prevent Your Emails From Being Flagged As Graymail

  1. Make your subject lines magic. If you can’t be creative enough to pique our interest in the content, you’ll never be able to do it in the subject line and your opens will suffer. Love the dog walking app Rover. I opened this yesterday - can you see why? How to stop your dog from barking too much.

    marketing tips for small business retail
  2. Make your communication valuable to your readers. Another Friends and Family or 20% off on this brand this week gets old - fast.  Use your wisdom to help your readers master or learn something in regards to your products, so you are useful.

  3. Segment your list into two, with approximately the same number of recipients in each list; say A-N and O-Z. Send the same information to both lists but with two very different subject lines. In one consider adding their first name and make it a question. In the other, use an emoji and add a more provocative tone.  Do this a couple of times and track the open rates to see how your audience responds.

  1. Find your best send days of the week and time. Sorry, no Google search will not tell you what’s best for you; you have to test and see. Then be consistent. My readers know Sunday nights at 6:30pm is usually when I send my email.

  1. Adjust the frequency of emails you send. If you’re sending too many, they may all be perceived as too much alike. If they’re too few, recipients may forget who you are.

  1. Prepare them. In your welcome email, make sure you let new recipients know you only want to provide information they are interested in. Also let them know if the emails are not meeting their needs to please unsubscribe.

When you’ve done those six steps, create your low engaged list. A good place to start is if a recipient has never opened an email from you or has not opened the last 10 emails you've sent them, put them on a low engagement list. If a recipient has previously opened an email from you but has not opened the last 15 emails you've sent them, add them to your low engagement.

Graymail is really the battle of getting your emails opened.

Just as important is having compelling content that recipients want to click on to read on your webpage...but that’s another blog.

See also, Don't Make These 5 Email Mistakes Like I Did

In Sum

Graymail sits between SPAM which is unwanted email and emails you want from colleagues, friends and family. Graymail is mainly marketing newsletters or notifications you did sign-up for or give permission to receive, but no longer want.

Wikipedia says, "Recipient interest in this type of mailing tends to diminish over time, increasing the likelihood that recipients will report graymail as spam."

You definitely want to avoid that at all costs.

You can't really track what percentage of emails you send become graymail, but your open rates and inactive subscriber rates are good indicators of whether your content is working.

The big thing to remember is you want to send email marketing that your customers willingly take time out of their day to seek out and read, not skip or delete.

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