The keys to consistently deliver marketing mail to a recipient’s inbox are what email marketers strive for. Internet Service Providers like Google, Yahoo, and Hotmail protect those who subscribe to their mail service but there are keys to obtain consistent inbox delivery. Those keys are three fold: express consent from the recipient, high standards of engagement with the recipient, and ensure leads are kept timely.
Waterfalling is an attempt to “clean” recipient lists without using those keys. Most commonly, it occurs when senders use lists from which consent has not been expressly granted. This process is also known as list washing and it is a process that has reputation consequences both to the sender and email service provider. These consequences are felt both before and after the waterfalling and senders of mail should do their utmost to avoid them.
Learn about best practices for mitigating the risks of waterfalling to make sure you improve your deliverability rates and maximize the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.
The Bottom End of Waterfalling
As it relates to email practices, “bottom end waterfalling” is a practice where a sender emails lists of unknown quality (in terms of consent and/or engagement) with the intention of scraping off recipients who do not bounce or reject outright. Illegitimate businesses (a.k.a. spammers) do this as a standard practice when they obtain lists of email addresses that have never provided content to be sent email.
Legitimate businesses also encounter situations where they might want to do this. Mergers frequently provide lead addresses to the purchasing company but the acquiring company may not have explicitly obtained consent to send that recipient emails and presume consent at the time of acquisition. Additionally, the purchased company may not have maintained detailed records of when/if that lead provided consent so including them in a send carries reputation risk. Both businesses and ESP must be aware of the consequences of bottom end waterfalling.
From an email service provider (or ESP) perspective, the high number of User Unknown responses and Spam Traps hurt the reputation of the IP used and can result in them being limited by ISPs or blocked all together. This can have lasting consequences for not only the IP used but has potential to impact the entire IP range (along with their customers) should the abuse prove pervasive. Prequalification of prospects is critical for ESPs as senders may approach an ESP with the intent to send a questionable list through under the auspice of a POC. Promises of larger revenue from more volume after the POC can entice ESP to do a “one time send” of large volumes that can have detrimental consequences; however, once the POC is complete and the list has been washed, the prospect abandons the ESP along with the consequences of those actions.
From a sender business perspective, sending mail to audiences of unknown quality can impact an entire send. That blockage, if it happens in the middle of a send containing good leads or recipients acquired using best practices, will prevent mail without regard for quality. Those good leads who generate revenue for the client no longer get that mail. Future campaigns can be substantially delayed by lingering blockage by an ISP or blacklist which may require extensive delisting procedures resulting in further impact on the business.
The Top End of Waterfalling
The same applies to “top end waterfalling” when senders have already washed a list – likely through another service such as a free service ESP - but have still not obtained consent from the recipients. This also happens from lists subjected to “list cleansing” services intended to remove invalid addresses from their lists. These lists present a very high rate of delivery (like the smooth water leading to the fall) and the risk they contain is not immediately obvious.
That danger in these top end waterfall lists come from spam traps and there are two types of spam traps. Pristine spam traps that have never provide consent but get seeded into purchased lists or posted online so it gets picked up by senders who scrape internet sites to obtain addresses. Recycled spam traps are once legitimate addresses that have been abandoned by their users. ISP make these addresses dormant for a period of time (usually longer than the industry standard practice for granted permission to send mail) and then reactivate them. Senders who are not contentious in maintaining their email lists will have these old addresses within their audience that are hidden risks.
Waterfalling practices such as list washing will not catch pristine/recycled traps because they accept mail like a valid recipient even though they are traps. Reputation damage from spam traps can result in limiting and blockage and, in fact, top end waterfalling is harder to detect because sends present a very high delivery percentage; yet, they will still become blocked because of them.
The only means to prevent/avoid reputation consequences of top end waterfalling is for the sender to commit to excluding recipients outside of the initial permission granted to a sender by the recipient. If the date of last engagement is outside of best practices for the permission grant (typically one year or less) or simply unknown, the recipient should be noted as a reputation threat and omitted from future sends.
As a certified sender, Mapp commits to facilitating sender adherence to these best practices at every point of contact. There are many ways that the risks of waterfalling can be mitigated but all of them rely on our detection of the issue and recommendation as experts when providing guidance to our customers.
In Mapp Customer Engagement Platform, senders can segment their audience based on the date of last contact. This helps determine the risk associated with each segment of their population. Segments with high risk should be used infrequently and, for the highest risk segments, abandoned all together.
This runs contrary to the antiquated physical marketing philosophy of “more is better” where saturation of an audience inevitably yields results – ergo, the more sent, the more conversions. In the digital age, that physical marketing philosophy applied to email now results in blockage that ensures a 0% conversion rate. To ensure an enduring pattern of successful sends, we encourage more focused strategy, surrounding best practices.
These are the three keys to achieving email marketing success:
1. The first step is obtaining express consent to send mail to a recipient.
2. Cultivating recipient’s engagement by providing compelling content which drives the recipient to open and engage with the mail.
3. Finally, adopting a channel for recipients to provide feedback to the sender so they can show their preference when it comes to how much and what mail, if any, they want to receive.
We all must understand that there are no easy, sure-fire short cuts around the three keys above. Please get in touch with our deliverability experts who can help you to identify bottom and top waterfalling and provide best practice guidance.
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