By Ros Hodgekiss on 16th August 2011
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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