Email Marketing: From You’ve Got Mail to Email Suppression

Email Marketing Email Supression Berbay Marketing PR Blog

You’ve Got Mail! Most readers of a certain age will remember the iconic AOL alert when a new email was received in their inbox. Back then, email was a novelty and primarily used for personal communication. Today, email and email marketing have evolved into a sophisticated tool integral to personal and business correspondence, although perhaps not bringing the same level of excitement as it did in the mid-90s when you received a message.

With the advancement of technology, we’re now bombarded by emails and related marketing tactics, which has prompted the introduction of spam filters and other suppression systems to combat unwanted messages. Notably, Google and Yahoo introduced updated email requirements earlier this year to help ensure legitimate senders while protecting users’ inboxes from spam.

In this new era of email marketing, there are many components to think about as you send out client alerts, newsletters and other promotional emails to ensure deliverability and engagement. From contact list management and content creation to deciding which platform to use, email marketing requires a careful, strategic approach.

With this in mind, we’re sharing some email best practices and takeaways from our transition to a new CRM platform.

It All Starts with a Clean Email List

We can’t overemphasize the importance of a clean database free from outdated or incorrect email addresses. In addition to making sure your email gets to the intended recipient’s inbox, you want to avoid emails bouncing back or being flagged as spam. This can hurt your reputation as a sender and potentially even prevent you from being able to send out emails from your CRM. Many firms have been blocked by their email marketing platforms for this very reason.

Culling through your database is daunting, but it’s the first crucial step to improving deliverability and engagement. Here are some tried-and-true methods to help your cleanup efforts.

Tracking Email Deliverability

Every CRM or email marketing platform (HubSpot, Mailchimp, Constant Contact, etc.) will have a form of suppression data that can be accessed in reporting after you send an email. This data generally includes hard bounces, soft bounces, and unsubscribes and is marked as spam email addresses. While it may seem intuitive, we’ve explained the meaning of these categories below.

  • Hard bounces are invalid email addresses, such as one with an incorrect domain (“” vs. “”), an email that is no longer in use, or when the recipient’s spam filter is blocking you. Unfortunately, most platforms don’t give you an exact reason for the error, so the onus is on you to review the hard bounces and determine the reason. If you’ve ruled out a typo and the person’s email is current (i.e., they didn’t move to another firm), then you must decide whether to remove their email altogether or ask to be added to their safe sender/whitelist to avoid getting blocked or going into a junk folder. The contact will likely need to work with their IT department to add your email and/or IP address to their whitelist. Once that’s complete, you may need to take additional steps depending on your platform. Understand the hard bounce rules for your platform. Some will automatically drop the recipient from future emails, while others will allow you to send up to a certain number of times before the email is dropped. It’s in your best interest to address hard bounces right away; otherwise, they will continue to have a negative impact on your delivery rate.
  • Soft bounces are considered a temporary email delivery failure. Your email reached the recipient’s mail server but did not deliver to their inbox. This can occur for a range of reasons, including their mailbox being full, having an out-of-office responder on, the email being too large, suspicious content being detected, or many other factors. Aside from a full inbox or out-of-office responder, it can be difficult to identify the exact cause. Similar to hard bounces, you should look through the email addresses to see if there are any obvious issues you can fix. If the address keeps bouncing, you should remove it from your list.

An important note: Yes, you read that correctly – your emails will not deliver on certain platforms when someone has their out-of-office response turned on!

  • Unsubscribes are recipients who opted out of receiving emails from the address you sent the marketing email. (This won’t prevent the recipient from receiving other emails from your firm’s domain.) Unless you think the unsubscribe was an accident, there’s no further action needed because your platform should add them to a suppression/unsubscribed list to prevent future emails from being sent to the recipient. Again, check how your platform handles unsubscribes so you know how your database will get updated or if manual updates are required.
  • Marked as spam means the recipient blocked your address and signals they do not want to receive your emails. This could be because their email was added in a way that did not explicitly get their permission, e.g., from a purchased mailing list, or they don’t recognize you as a sender. Be judicious when adding contacts who didn’t specifically ask to be on your mailing list. Similar to unsubscribes, your platform should track these addresses and prevent you from sending them going forward.

All of the above can negatively impact the success of your email campaigns, so it’s critical to keep an eye on these metrics and act as needed.

Engagement is the Key to a Successful Email Marketing Campaign

In a perfect world, everyone on your contact list would open your marketing emails and engage with your content (clicking on varying articles within). Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most firms and it can be the biggest pain point in your email marketing success, or lack thereof. You spend a lot of time and effort developing timely, attention-grabbing content that ultimately doesn’t get read. We’ll go into more detail about how to customize your content to get better engagement, but the fact is, some people will rarely or never open your emails no matter what you send. Whether they’re “too busy” or don’t open marketing emails from anyone, you need to decide when they should be taken off your list because they hurt your delivery rates.

While there is no fixed rule, it’s safe to say if you’ve sent out a monthly email for the past year and the recipient hasn’t opened one (and they aren’t appearing on your bounce list), they aren’t interested. But before you write them off, consider embarking on a re-engagement campaign for these contacts. This can include a variety of tactics, from directly asking if they want to receive your emails or the type of content they’d prefer to see to sending customized content based on their previous interactions or known preferences. It can be helpful to start with a small group of contacts that have shown some interest in the past X months or year (e.g., opened at least one email) and then continue building out from there. If these efforts aren’t successful with certain contacts, decide if they should be removed or moved to a separate list that only receives your most important updates.

Tailoring Your Contacts and Content

If you’re not getting the engagement you want or receiving a lot of unsubscribes, take a step back and consider your audience. Do you really know who is on your list and what they care about, or are you sending out content you think they want?

Email listening is a strategic practice in email marketing that goes beyond tracking open and click-through rates. It assesses user behavior to better understand their preferences and patterns. This data-driven approach gives insight into when users open emails, what subject lines resonate, what topics they click on and much more. Analyzing these patterns and identifying trends enables you to tailor your content and determine how and when you interact with your contacts. It also allows you to flag less engaged users and adjust your email strategies.

Segmenting your contacts is another best practice to ensure you deliver what people want. If your firm has different practice areas, you probably don’t want to send employment law updates to your intellectual property clients. Or maybe you’re trying to cross-promote practice areas, but rather than sending ALL of your employment law updates to IP clients, you can be selective and send to the IP list only when it makes sense. You can be much more strategic when your contacts are categorized, rather than having everyone in one big list.

Keep in mind where your contacts are located. Do you have contacts from coast to coast or globally? Send emails at peak times instead of all at once.

All of this customization relies on analyzing your reporting thoroughly after each email. Even if engagement rates hold steady month after month, could they be better? Eventually, they may drop off if you don’t pay attention and address any changes in user behavior early on.

Process for Growing Your List

The above is well and good for maintaining your current contacts, but the goal for most firms is to continue growing your database of clients, referral sources and others. Here are a few ways to attract new users:

  • Include a newsletter sign-up form on your website.
  • Add a newsletter sign-up link to your email signature.
  • Share your newsletter on social media and encourage people to sign-up.
  • Offer valuable, exclusive content, such as a whitepaper on your various channels that requires an email address.
  • Host webinars that attract your target audience and collect email addresses.

If you’re automatically adding people you meet at networking events, conferences, etc., recognize that these contacts may contribute to bounces and unsubscribes since they didn’t expressly ask to be signed up. It’s up to you to decide whether it makes sense for them to receive your emails, but don’t add someone for the sake of adding them – quality over quantity, always.

Keeping Your Database Clean

Designating one or two staff members to oversee and implement database management tasks is vital. These individuals should be responsible for routine analysis, contact updates, staying current on trends, best practices and compliance, and anything else that falls under the purview of your database and email marketing. While your other professionals must be involved in providing new contacts and assisting with content development, having dedicated staff in charge will keep the process streamlined and consistent.

Have a plan that everyone in the firm understands and follows when making updates. What is the process for adding a new contact? Are you asking your professionals to enter information individually, or should they send it to designated staff members? If they are forwarding contacts, does this happen as they have new contacts, or do they send all contacts once a month? What is the process for reviewing and cleaning up bounces? These steps should be well-defined to ensure accuracy and accountability and keep your database current.

Deciding On and Understanding Your CRM

Berbay Marketing & PR made the difficult decision to change CRM platforms about a year ago, and it was not a painless process. We asked a lot of questions upfront, so we were prepared, but it’s a tremendous investment of time to make the switch and then get your team trained on a new system. Our recommendation, whether you are selecting a new CRM or thinking about a change, is to take a beat and think through your needs now and in the long term. Capabilities, cost, ease of use, data security, integration and scalability should all be factored into your decision-making.

Certainly, there are commonalities across platforms, but without research and in-depth conversations, you may miss the nuances that make one CRM work better for your use than another. One issue we learned about after our transfer was related to each contact’s engagement score. This quantifies the level of interaction the person has with our email marketing. After sending a newsletter on the new platform, we realized the engagement score from our prior CRM was not calculated similarly. So, historical data was lost, and we can only see the score from when we launched our account on the new platform. The moral here is that different CRMs calculate metrics differently, and it’s something to think about before you make the leap.

It’s nearly impossible to identify every need your firm will have. Still, if you make a list of your top priorities and what features are essential for your operation, you’ll be in a better position. And perhaps most importantly, make sure the person vetting new CRMs knows what they’re doing. Don’t put your managing partner in charge of research simply because they have the final say. The person should have a deep understanding of what the firm is looking for, be tech-savvy and be able to evaluate the options. Ideally, this is the same individual(s) who will spearhead ongoing clean-up and management so they have a good grasp of the interface and can lead team training when the time comes.

Partner with a Trusted Los Angeles Marketing and PR Agency

Berbay Marketing & Public Relations has nearly three decades of experience providing law, real estate and financial firms with strategic marketing and public relations services that propel your business forward. Berbay’s dedicated team has demonstrated success securing media placements, achieving nominations and rankings, revitalizing websites and social media, obtaining speaking engagements, and more.

Looking to grow your firm with a proven marketing and PR team? Contact Berbay at 310-499-2584 or

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