White list hogwash

Got a number of great theories and replies yesterday about why my “add this address to your white list” experiment failed to increase subscriber engagement.

The most common point was one raised by email marketing pro Ian Brodie:

Err, at 4.1% of 1,078 new subscribers we're talking about the behaviour of 44 people here, right?

I could make all sorts of speculations, but the truth is you can't draw any conclusions from the behaviour of a sample that small.

Ian has a good point here.

Not a lot of people actually followed through on my white listing request, even when I offered a (benevolent) bribe.

Without that bribe, I bet less than 10 people would have bothered with white listing.

Will an action taken by 10 people out of almost 1,100 improve the deliverability of your list as a whole?

Highly doubtful.

Here's what makes it even less likely though:

If you look at the people who DID white list, their engagement level was off the charts—about 500% higher than the average for the group.

They were the ones who opened every email, clicked every link 5 times…

This makes sense if you think about it.

White listing is a multi-step process.

In my Gmail account I have to click to reveal the email address, highlight it, copy it, go to my contacts, click Add, paste in the email, and save. Or something like that.

It's a LOT of hoops to jump through, and only people who are REALLY excited about you are likely to do it.

These are the people who will dig through their spam folder if they miss an email from you, then reply and ask you to resend it if they can't find it.

Any benefit from white listing gets completely drowned out by all the other things they're doing.

Bottom line:

Asking your subscribers to white label you is a “throwaway call to action.”

It's not likely to improve your email deliverability or the health of your list.

It's much better ask a new subscriber to take an action that will allow them to enjoy an immediate benefit, like clicking a link or replying to a question.

Simply delivering value trumps technical tactics in this case.

P.S. Ian also shared the results of an experiment he did a couple of years ago (edited lightly for brevity):

A few years ago I found when I ran some tests that lots of my emails were ending up in the promotions tab. So I did a brute force thing and emailed all the gmail addresses on my list and asked them to drag my emails into their primary folder.

I then reran the same test a few days later and I was back in the primary tab. So it looks like the actions of the people I emailed who were kind enough to do something had an impact on my deliverability overall (I did nothing on the test email boxes – in fact I didn't control them).

I wrote up the experiment here: https://www.ianbrodie.com/gmail-promotions-tab-jail/

It was a while back and things are more complex now of course. But I still think the odd brute force request like that as the single CTA in the email can have an effect. The problem with PSs in welcome emails is that the recipient is keen to get the thing they signed up so your request in the PS will only ever be a secondary action. A dedicated email is going to work better I think – especially after you've earned a bit of goodwill.

This is an excellent approach—and if I found I was having a major deliverability crisis, it's something I'd try.