Why using a no-reply address is an email marketing no-no

Our team have had a bit of a bug-bear for a while now - the no-reply email address. Despite countless companies (including loads of the bigger ones) sending newsletters and autoresponders from do-not-reply@company.com, we just have to speak up here: sending from a no-reply address simply comes across as uncaring to subscribers and may even be bad news for delivery rates in the long-term.

So when we came across a plainly-worded blog post by Joss Crowcroft titled ‘Death to the ‘no-reply’ mailbox’, we collectively felt his pain. In his words:

It astounds me that in 2011, startups and companies are sending out automated emails with no-reply email addresses. It basically says to the recipient:

“I’m not interested in hearing from you by email, regardless of whether email is better or easier for you. I just don’t respect you enough to take the risk that a dozen people might reply and insult me.”

As we’ll discuss in a moment, the issue here is not just an emotional one - there are other solid reasons for making yourself available via email.

From no-reply to please-reply

Second to showing respect, providing an email address that’s linked to a real, live inbox also shows that you’re open for business. Sure, putting an email address out there may attract its fair share of auto-replies and crud, but chances are that there will also be useful, relevant messages, like:

“I really enjoyed your latest email news. Can you provide us with a quote for a similar template?”

“What are your opening hours? I’d love to drop by sometime.”

“I’m changing my email address, but still want to get your updates. Can you help me out?”

This is the sort behavior that email senders should really encourage, especially if they don’t have a fancy call center or real-world presence. It’s not just being nice - replies are a valuable source of feedback and a chance to connect. Or as a commenter on Hacker News put it elegantly:

“EVERY email you send should be considered an opportunity to increase engagement with your users. Tell them them that they can respond with questions, comments, whatever.”

As I’ll describe in a moment, it’s also an opportunity to remain in Google and Yahoo’s email delivery good books. Read on.

A relationship between replies and delivery rates?

Our friends at MarketingSherpa provided a rare insight into how Gmail ranks the ‘importance’ of email based on recipient actions like opens and replies. In a recent post on the algorithm behind their Priority Inbox feature, they linked to a research paper by Google, which amidst dense clusters of math, features this lucid statement:

“Importance ground truth is based on how the user interacts with a mail after delivery.”

Or in human terms: If recipients reply to your emails, then Gmail is more likely to consider them to be important.

It’s not far-fetched to imagine that Gmail applies a similar algorithm overall to determine whether an email is worthy of landing in the inbox (rather than junk mail). So replies are to be encouraged, not shooed away.

ReturnPath also make a similar claim in their ‘Field Guide to Yahoo! Inboxes’. As deliverability experts, they use no uncertain terms in linking engagement (opens, clicks and replies) with inbox delivery rates:

“Engagement has always been an important measure of subscriber interest for senders, but ISPs are starting to make significant investments in research, in-house spam filters and third-party software to help measure subscriber engagement to better determine appropriate folder placement… Inactive subscribers will ultimately hurt your ability to get delivered.”

So not only is sending from a no-reply address an effective way to hurt feelings, but it can also take a chunk out of your delivery rates, too.

But I don’t like getting bombarded with Out-of-Office replies!

A common reason for using a no-reply address is that it’s too difficult to manage the tsunami of automated responses that follow each email send. Messages like delivery failure notifications, or ‘So-and-so is Out of the Office’.

Thankfully, there are automated ways to handle responses, many of which don’t take loads of effort to set up. For example, forwarding replies to a Gmail account can be particularly effective, as not only does it handle spam particularly well (an unfortunate consequence of putting an email address out there), but you can setup filters/rules to keep human and robot responses apart, as well as create automated responses.

Specifics on how to separate useful emails from the useless auto-replies and miscellanea that stream in after every send will be the subject matter of an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned for more on this topic.

The moral of the story sending from a no-reply address can also affect not just customer relationships, but sender reputation with Gmail and others. For some folks, sifting through replies may seem like a tedious administrative task, but for the rest of us it’s a great opportunity to maintain high delivery rates and provide solid customer service - both of which should be important objectives in any email marketing strategy.

Now it’s over to you: What do you think of no-reply email addresses? Is there a context in which they can, or should be used? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

17 Comments

  • Kieran Cooper
    16th August

    This has been a bug-bear of mine for years so I’m very pleased that people are talking about it now. My favourite example is a UK airline whose emails come from blackhole@.....

  • Christian Kent
    17th August

    Yesterday we had Mark Textor give us an hour of his (expensive) time at lunch, attended by 2/3rds of the company, and all of the marketing department.  He gave us the bottom-line on social networking activity by corporations, and how a “response” ten hours after an event is tantamount to no response at all.  He gave the example of the Four Corners live cattle issue, to which the relevant lobbying firm promptly issued a press release, first thing, at 8am the next morning.  Too late.  “Nil points.” </french>

  • Jacob Talbot
    17th August

    I agree 100% We send our emails, whether it’s a newsletter or a system email from the same address, which we have an account open for, so if anyone does reply, we can respond in a fast manor.

  • Jarrod
    17th August

    Definitely a great idea, agreed with you before even reading the article. I’m from large organisation with a call centre so think there’s plenty of resources to deal with the response.

  • Ben
    17th August

    The link to Joss Crowcroft’s blog post is a broken link, it should be http://www.josscrowcroft.com/2011/random/death-to-the-noreply-mailbox/

  • Pete Austin @MarketingXD
    18th August

    I don’t like no-reply email addresses either.

    But regarding your discussion of Google: There are many ways of interacting with an email. The Google PDF that you indirectly reference does not mention “reply” or “replying”, but does include reading as an example - “the degree of interaction between sender and recipient, e.g. the percentage of a sender’s mail that is read by the recipient.”

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    18th August

    @Ben - Thanks for that, updated. Must have been me and my clumsy fingers.

  • Vincent
    18th August

    Never used a no-reply to send and never will
    Main reason is lost leads
    No matter how good you call to action, so many users will always just hit reply and expect a response

  • Jonathan
    23rd August

    Thank you for writing this! Music to my ears. At least someone out there agrees with me.

    Sending from a no-reply is also like saying “Hey look, I’m allowed to write to you, but you’re not allowed to write to me”, which creates a trust imbalance.

    A recent success from a reply was from a major orchestra asking for a score and recording of a new piece we’d promoted. They didn’t click any of the links, but simply clicked the reply button, which every user is familiar with. Deal done.

    Sunny greetings from Vienna

  • Joss Crowcroft
    24th August

    Hey Ros, this is a really great follow up - thanks for the mention!

    I’m glad the idea of killing the no-reply struck a chord with so many people. Must be a good thing if it spurs some companies and startups into taking action.

    Cheers,

    Joss

  • Epsilon Customer Support
    26th August

    We agree with the “NoReply” statement if you are a small operation. BUT - If you are sending a large amount of messages - you wouldn’t be able to handle the response or you may even crash the email server you are sending the replies to. We have seen hundreds of thousands of bounce backs in a day - Sort through that!

    Instead - use a different variation of noreply…like “unmonitored@website.com” - It will keep your reputation with the ISP’s & you wont have to read more mail in one day than most people will receive in their entire life.

  • giles
    26th August

    I have never understood why companies don’t want a response. Surely that is the whole point of sending an email newsletter in the first place!

    It’s a no brainer for all my small business clients so why do big firms fear responses. It must be simple for them to build an other email address (eg replies@) and have these point into their crm/cms system.

  • Barbara
    26th August

    Email, like conversation, shouldn’t be one-sided. “No replies” emails make me think of those sleazy unsolicited “offers” that usually get caught in our Spam filters. Why would any company want to have that association? And maybe I’m crazy, but all those Out-Of-Office replies contain good information to open up a conversation (“How was your vacation?”) and those bounce-back notices prompt me to inquire and update my contact records.

  • Ricky Sullivan
    26th August

    I just emailed a company’s customer service department suggesting they read this article. I got a ‘no-reply’ email in response thanking me for my email. break;

  • Alison Glastonbury
    26th August

    Totally agree with not using a ‘no-reply email’, very much in favour with open communication with our customers so why use a block like that, takes away the personal service completely.  Thanks very much for the conversation, its hit a chord with many people!

  • Marcos Zanona
    26th August

    Thanks for the article. I am only wondering why big companies such Goggle and Apple still using `no-reply`. Any opinions? Don’t they know how to deal with their own marketing campaigns?

  • photographe pro
    23rd October

    You’r truly right with this writing…

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