For many businesses, the holiday season is the most important time of the year and email marketing can help make it a success.

In 2014, email was the second biggest driver of traffic behind organic search and ahead of social media. In addition, email marketing accounted for 27.3% of online sales during the holiday season last year.

In plain terms, email marketing can deliver strong results during the holidays, though only if your emails reach their intended recipients.

Get your emails delivered like a holiday pro

In this post, we’ll help position your campaigns for success with these email deliverability tips for the holiday season.

1. Plan ahead and test, test, test

Now more than ever, you want to be ahead of the game and prepped in advance when it comes to your holiday email marketing campaigns.

Tightly optimizing your campaigns to ensure you don’t unnecessarily flag spam filters, figuring out timelines to correspond with your offers and creating that perfect subject line takes a bit of proactive planning and some testing to get it right.

Like Father Christmas checking his list twice, check and refine your copy for accuracy and length. Email continues to see increased opens on mobile devices (did you know that from 2010 to 2015, email opens on mobile devices increased by 30 percent?) so be sure to optimize for mobile.

Balance your image to text ratio carefully and ensure that you take into account the fact that some email clients won’t show images by default.

Make your calls to action prominent to ensure they can drive the clicks and revenue that will define your campaign’s success.

Use our design and spam test features to ensure your emails look great when they reach the inbox and troubleshoot any issues before you push send. During this busy time of year, with crowded inboxes, you have to make a great impression with every email you send.

2. Send welcome emails

During the busy holiday season, building a strong relationship based on providing value and great content can reap returns well into 2016.

Send an automated welcome email to your new customers. Using this first touch point as a starting block for brand recognition in their inbox is a great way to build a list of active subscribers who will be hungry for your emails and deals not only during the holiday season, but all year long.

The holidays are beyond busy, so it’s the perfect time to automate some of your campaigns, including, sending a welcome email at sign-up or purchase.

But don’t stop there – automate your post-holiday season follow-ups to engage with your recipients after the confetti has settled on 2015. Think of that first purchase as the start of a conversation with your customer, rather than the end of one.

Plus, engaging with your subscribers from day one and generating great results will send a strong signal to ISPs, helping build your sender reputation too. It’s a win-win.

3. Monitor your results and take action

After completing your campaigns, targeting your subscribers and clicking send, the temptation may be to leave your automated and scheduled sends to do their thing while you kick it by the fire with a cup of cocoa.

Scheduling your sends and setting up automation to ease your workflow is a great idea – just remember to check in and monitor your results. If you run into an issue with deliverability, you’ll want to resolve it as swiftly as possible to help your emails reach the inbox. Furthermore, by reviewing your email activity, you can better optimize your future sends.

4. Use personalization and dynamic content

Standing out in inboxes and making sure your content is relevant once your subscribers read it is paramount during the holidays.

By creating a standout design that uses your brand effectively you’ll definitely be off to a strong start, but using a personal touch and tailoring the content in your email campaigns is also a great way of increasing conversion and your ROI.

Using custom field data to include personal details in your copy is one of the most effective tactics in the book. The New Rules of Email Marketing reports that emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, so try adding in a first name, or recent purchase and see how it impacts your engagement.

You can go even further by showing tailored content, images and offers to users using our dynamic content feature. We saw a 13% increase in conversions when using dynamic content. With competition high to get subscribers to open and click on emails, you need to deliver the right message, to the right person and the right time and dynamic content is the way to do it.

Leverage what you know about your subscribers and the data you have to provide more relevant and targeted content. There may be the temptation to send the same emails to all of your subscribers, but this approach can be haphazard and impersonal.

Your subscribers expect you to speak to them directly; if you don’t, you may be taking a chance with your sending reputation as a result.

5. Use your brand

For your engaged subscribers, the largest call to action in the inbox can be simply recognizing your brand among the heaps of other emails in their inbox this time of year.

Remember to use a send-from address they’ll recognize and that you’ve used consistently throughout your previous email campaigns. This is not the time to try a new from address.

Your subject line and pre-header text should reflect the content of your email –why should people click on your email?

Check out this email Yuppiechef sent to their subscribers in December last year:

From: Yuppiechef <newsletter@yuppiechef.com>

Subject: How to send a Yuppiechef Gift Voucher (it’s easy, instant and the perfect Christmas gift)

Yuppiechef’s subject line puts their brand name front and center – then the subject line reiterates the brand name (for instant recognition) and then goes on to provide a timely, relevant call to action that benefits the subscriber.

Use the power of brand recognition at every touchpoint and you can help your campaigns get acted on.

6. It’s all about your subscriber lists

A list of inactive recipients is still a list of inactive recipients during the holiday season.

For some businesses, a good holiday season might mean the difference between being in the black or the red for the year. As such, helping ensure good email deliverability is one of the most important things you can do to affect the success of your email marketing.

Simply put, get this wrong and many of your emails may never reach the inbox. During such a busy sales period, a mistake like that is one you simply do not want to make.

Now is not the time to try and engage your inactive recipients who have not opened your emails all year. ISPs can note this lack of engagement and filter your emails accordingly and even if your emails reach the inbox, these are recipients who have a proven track record of not opening your emails and you will now be fighting for attention with all the other emails and offers that will also be hitting their inbox.

Instead, send targeted email campaigns to your active subscribers by segmenting based on previous campaign activity and be sensible about your use of older data.

Our general rule of thumb is, anything over two years old that has not been contacted, is simply too old to send to under our anti-spam policies. In fact, any subscriber lists over a year old that have not been consistently emailed and maintained can be problematic and will likely show serious issues with engagement, as well as a high density of lapsed and inactive addresses that are unlikely to be reachable.

Sending to recipients with proven engagement represents a better potential ROI and a greater chance of success that will build a stronger sending reputation and help ensure the delivery of future emails.

Furthermore, rules regarding permission do not change during the holidays and while the temptation may be to use data sources that aren’t quite compliant with industry standard policies in order to send to as large an audience as possible, doing so is a surefire way to reach the junk folder, find yourself blacklisted and also face punitive action from your ESP, which could leave you out in the cold.

ISPs and senders do not relax their rules during the holiday season and neither should you.

Ignoring best practices and bending rules that you’ve followed all year in an attempt to send to a larger number of people during the holiday season may be tempting, but the truth is that sending to disengaged subscribers can only result in bad results that can jeopardize your sending reputation and ruin your chances of holiday success. Kind of like getting a big bag of coal in your stocking. Not cool.

7. Surprise & delight subscribers

It seems apt to end our list with a lesson learned from a thousand Christmas movies – the holiday season is not just about sales.

True, your subscribers want to buy things and you want to be the one to sell to them, but the potential of email marketing through the holiday period is not limited to sales opportunities. Now is a great time to reward and surprise your subscribers, build love for your brand, gather feedback and spread some holiday cheer.

As mentioned previously, think of this holiday season as the start of a conversation you will be having with your customers for years to come.

Send an automated campaign in the New Year asking for reviews and feedback using an integrated survey tool like GetFeedback.

Large numbers of reviews on products see higher conversion rates – capitalize on the fresh relationship you have with your subscribers by asking for a review to help drive future sales and give them a discount code to encourage repeat sales.

Reward your most loyal subscribers with early access sales, special discounts and let them know you value them with a greeting card and a thank you. The subscribers who regularly open, click and share your campaigns are worth their weight in gold and rewarding them accordingly is a great way to maintain brand loyalty and see your emails engaged with well beyond the holiday season.

Wrap up

Like mailing a last minute present on Christmas Eve, there is little point in sending an email if it will not reach its intended recipient.

By following the email deliverability tips in this post, you’ll be positioned for a successful holiday season and help ensure your recipients receive their emails all season long.

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