For email professionals, the fourth quarter isn’t just a season of celebration and giving; it’s also a time of intense competition and potential pitfalls. As the holiday season unfolds, it’s crucial to adopt best practices that ensure your brand’s messages reach the right audience while avoiding deliverability issues. To stand out and maintain a stellar sender reputation, follow these email best practices tailored for the final quarter of the year.

Avoid Mailing Long Inactive Users and Volume Spikes

In the excitement of the fourth quarter, it’s tempting to send emails to your entire subscriber list, including long-inactive users. However, indiscriminate sending can lead to deliverability issues. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) closely monitor engagement metrics, and a sudden spike in sending volume to disengaged users can trigger spam complaints and deliverability problems. To avoid this:

Segment Wisely: Focus your efforts on engaging your most active and interested subscribers during this critical quarter. Consider segmenting your list to exclude long-inactive users.

Gradually Grow Your Target Audience

Growing your email list rapidly in the fourth quarter may seem like a good idea, but it can backfire if not done thoughtfully. Acquiring subscribers too quickly without proper vetting can lead to spam traps and low-quality addresses in your list, harming your sender reputation. Instead:

Prioritize Organic Growth: Encourage website visitors to subscribe, offer valuable content, and ensure your sign-up process is clear and transparent. Quality over quantity should be your mantra.

Send to Targeted Segments

Segmentation is your secret weapon in the holiday season. Instead of sending generic messages to your entire list, create targeted segments based on subscriber behavior, preferences, and purchase history. This allows you to:

Personalize Content: Tailor your messaging, offers, and timing to better resonate with each group of subscribers. This not only boosts engagement but also reduces the likelihood of recipients marking your emails as spam.

Respect Subscribers’ Diverse Holiday Preferences

The fourth quarter is a time when people from various backgrounds celebrate different holidays or none at all. Recognize and respect these differences in your email campaigns:

Diverse Content: Consider offering holiday-specific content and promotions that cater to various celebrations. Allow subscribers to manage their email preferences, including the types of holiday-related content they wish to receive.

Consider Inviting People to More Frequent Holiday Deal-Specific Newsletters

Don’t wait to reintroduce dormant subscribers back into your email lists, send targeted re-activation emails early to be sure people remember your brand. Give subscribers who are enthusiastic about holiday deals the option to receive more frequent holiday deal-specific newsletters:

Exclusive Offers: These newsletters can feature exclusive discounts, early access to sales, and holiday-themed content. This approach enhances their shopping experience while maintaining the engagement of those who might otherwise disengage during the season.

Importance of Data Hygiene During the Fourth Quarter

Neglecting data hygiene during the busy holiday season can lead to catastrophic consequences. Several years ago a “Large retailer” was added to the Spamhaus Blocklist (SBL) after large numbers of invalid and improperly permissioned emails addresses were found to be receiving emails from past and present purchasers. Rushing and reintroducing bad or outdated data into your email lists can result in:

  • Increased Bounce Rates: Sending emails to invalid or non-existent addresses results in high bounce rates, a red flag to ISPs.
  • Complaints and Unsubscribes: Sending irrelevant or unwanted emails due to bad data can lead to subscriber complaints and unsubscribes.
  • Blocklisting: When your email server gets blocklisted, your emails won’t be delivered to any inbox.

To ensure data hygiene:

  • Regularly Clean Your Lists: Remove invalid addresses and update subscriber information.
  • Use Double Opt-In: Confirm subscribers’ intent and reduce fake or malicious sign-ups.
  • Monitor Engagement: Identify inactive subscribers and consider re-engagement campaigns before removal.

Be Aware of Fake Shipping Notifications and Phishing of Your Brand

As marketers start to send more emails so do cybercriminals, sending emails that mimic legitimate shipping communications, purchase notifications and eReceipts to deceive recipients. The Spamhaus’ Q4 2022 Domain Reputation Report shows a 7% increase in domain registrations with the intention of committing fraud against online consumers during this period.

To protect your brand and consumers:

  • Educate Subscribers: Make your subscribers aware of these scams and advise them to verify the authenticity of shipping notifications.
  • Prompt Customer Service: Ensure your customer service team is equipped to handle queries regarding suspicious emails.
  • Report Suspicious Activity: Encourage subscribers to report fake shipping notifications or phishing attempts impersonating your brand.

Implement Strong Authentication (SPF, DKIM, DMARC) to Protect Consumers

To shield consumers from falling victim to fake shipping notification scams and other phishing attempts, brands should prioritize email authentication measures:

  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework): Specify which servers are authorized to send emails on your behalf to prevent email spoofing.
  • DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail): Digitally sign outgoing messages to verify email content integrity.
  • DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance): Combine SPF and DKIM to prevent email spoofing and phishing attempts. Set DMARC policies to specify how recipients should handle unauthenticated messages.

With the understanding that the fourth quarter is a critical period for email marketers, success requires a strategic approach. However, with great potential comes great responsibility. By following these best practices, you’ll not only maximize the impact of your email campaigns but also protect your brand and consumers from potential deliverability issues, scams, and phishing attempts. Navigate the fourth quarter and holiday season with confidence, and make it a season of successful email marketing campaigns.