For all the current talk of social media, email remains for many organisations a vital medium of communication with customers. A case in point is reed.co.uk, one of the largest job sites in the UK.
Even besides the marketing emails it sends to attract new candidates and promote new jobs and course, reed.co.uk depends on email for its transactional interactions with customers: the company sends 10,000 transactional emails – such as password reset notifications, confirmation of job applications, sending CVs to employers – every single hour.
So when, back in 2008, a data centre migration lead to a steep decline in the proportion of emails that were successfully delivered, it was not well received. "Everybody within the organisation suddenly started screaming," recalls Mark Ridley, director of technology at reed.co.uk.
The problem, Ridley learned, was that when an organisation sends out a certain volume of emails – around 50,000 a week – webmail providers such as Google and Yahoo! judge whether the emails should be delivered based on the ‘reputation’ of the IP address that is sending them.
Moving reed.co.uk’s email infrastructure to a new data centre meant that emails were now being sent from a new IP address, one that had not ‘earned’ the reputation required to send so many emails successfully.
"The deliverability of our emails fell from near perfect to about 50% – only one emails out of two was actually being delivered," says Ridley. "This was an emergency – we couldn’t have this happening again, so how could we prevent it?"
Ridley’s first thought was to hire an email service provider (ESP), an outsourced company who could manage delivery of reed.co.uk’s emails. "I couldn’t find one, and I’m quite grateful that I didn’t," Ridley recalls.
Instead, he decided to tackle the situation in house, bringing in technology that could allow reed.co.uk to manage and monitor the deliverability of emails itself. This lead him to email marketing technology vendor StrongMail.
StrongMail, the company, works with companies such as Google and Yahoo! to understand their email delivery rules. That knowledge is embedded in its technology, allowing users to avoid delivery failures and analyse the cause of any deliverability issues that do arise.
One of the factors that attracted Ridley to StrongMail, he says, is that it was on premise. That meant the system could be integrated with reed.co.uk’s SQL Server email marketing database, allowing even deeper analysis of delivery and open rates. "That meant we could analyse which particular emails were failing," he explains.
That created a feedback loop for software developers to see which emails would fail to arrive. "One of our biggest wins was seeing whether forgotten password emails were being opened," says Ridley. "If they weren’t we could do some A-B testing to see if certain titles worked better than others, thanks to the integration between StrongMail and our email systems. It has brought more of a marketing bent to our product development team in terms of understanding emails."
This year, reed.co.uk began applying StrongMail to its non-transactional marketing emails. These emails had traditionally been sent via an ESP but, Ridely recalls, the question was raised: "Why are spending money in two different places?"
The marketing team now monitors the progress of email shots in real time, and uses the feedback to improve the design and distribution lists.
Ironically, the initial delivery issue that prompted reed.co.uk to adopt StrongMail would have corrected itself in time, says Ridley. "It was in the process of curing itself, because our IP reputation would have built up over time."
"But the incident taught us a very important lesson – you can’t take deliverability for granted."