Migrating to a new email service provider (ESP) can be one of the most tedious, frustrating, and unappealing pursuits a publisher or email marketer can undertake. Unfortunately, this undertaking is increasingly common. A recent study by Return Path found that “nearly one-quarter of study participants report changing their ESP or adding a new dedicated IP address in the last two years.”
Why so much flux in the industry? There are many reasons that brands switch ESPs or IP addresses. But before jumping into the Do’s and Don’ts, let's consider the reasons marketers should migrate. as well as the reasons they should stay put.
When to Consider an Email Migration
Here are three common reasons to consider a migration, and one reason when migration isn't a great fit:
- You want expanded functionality: It’s common for brands to outgrow the functionality of their current platform. Looking for a new ESP that can provide more features, options and technology to help you make the most of your email program is a wise choice. Just be sure to keep the customer experience front and center!
- You want a consolidated view of your program or want to reduce the number of vendors: I’ve worked with several brands that just needed to simplify their email lives. It’s not uncommon for larger brands to have multiple ESPs, and disparate data sources can make it very difficult to truly understand the bigger picture of engagement and email performance. Sometimes the best way to streamline is to consolidate.
- You want to move off of shared IP addresses: There is a time and a place for shared IP addresses. There is also a time and place to ditch said shared IP addresses and strike out for some IP addresses of your own.
Migration is a bad idea when you can’t make it into the inbox. If your performance is bombing because your messages are getting filtered, it can be tempting to jump ship and swim for the shores of a new sending infrastructure. Unfortunately, your poor sender reputation will be right behind you. To make matters worse, the migration period is the most vulnerable time for an email program. If this is your game plan, reconsider. We regularly work with clients who have taken their program performance from bad to worse following a hasty migration.
Why Email Migrations Are Important
Why is it that an email migration is such a sketchy time for email marketers? To really understand why we have to step into the shoes of the mailbox providers. All mailbox providers have two key goals:
- Provide a positive experience for their users
- Keep users safe by weeding out suspicious or malicious mail
Now let’s think about what they’re up against. As of 2018, 39% of all inbound mail was spam, with 26% of those messages including malware. In their own twisted way, spammers are essentially the dark side version of email marketers. They are results driven and will employ any and all tactics that will help them drive better metrics. They’re looking for opens, clicks, and conversions just like the rest of us. They also want to increase impressions by getting more mail out of the spam folder and into the inbox. Since mailbox providers seek to filter their mail, they have to get creative and move quickly.
One common tactic that spammers use is to jump IP addresses and domains regularly in hopes that they can get some of their mail past mailbox provider filters. Sometimes they send mail out at a trickle but more often than not, they’ll slightly warm the IP address then crank the volume.
They also make use of reputable brands via spoofing or create reputable-looking brands and sending infrastructures to appear more legit. In order to protect their users and provide a positive experience, mailbox providers have to be incredibly diligent and careful when it comes to accepting mail from unknown sending entities.
So what do you need to do to avoid looking like a spammer during your migration?
- Do your homework when researching email service providers. Look for platforms that have the features and flexibility that you want but also help you make a positive impression with mailbox providers. They are on the lookout for good list hygiene practices and the suppression of complainers, so you should too.
- Evaluate your program and identify risks and vulnerabilities. As noted, anything you don’t address prior to the migration is going to follow you. The best time to get your program in great shape is right before a migration. Do yourself (and your brand) a favor as you establish your new sender reputation: optimize your program before moving any volume.
- Build out enough time to transition. A migration is not a quick process. Plan for 8 to 12 weeks from the time you start warming to the time you hit maximum volume if things go well. If they don’t, be prepared to back off.
- Start slow. A complete scammer and the biggest brand in the world both start with the same initial reputation: none. The first email you send off of your new infrastructure is your re-introduction to mailbox providers and every email that follows will play a part in establishing your reputation. Make those first impressions count. Start off slow and put your very best foot forward.
- Monitor closely. This is not the time to be complacent with monitoring. If things start to go sideways with your inbox placement early on in the migration, make sure you notice, and be prepared to take action.
- Be strategic about who you send to. Subscriber response is what most clearly delineates between a good sender and poor one. Good senders drive reads, replies, and forwards. Poor senders see complaints and high ignored rates. If you send to segments that are most likely to engage positively, that engagement help buoy your reputation.
- Get the pros involved if your reputation is less than ideal or your migration will be complex. Having some expert guidance can come in very handy as you prep and execute a migration. They can also advise you on how to course correct if things go wrong. ESPs and neutral third parties can provide consulting to help reduce bumps in the road.
- Don’t do a hard cutover if you can avoid it. Ideally, you slowly move your best subscribers to the new IP(s) first, gradually ramping up until you reach full volume. If you have to cut everything over at once, you lose the opportunity to do so. Trying to save money at the onset by truncating your contract may end up being a very expensive choice if your inbox placement and ROI take a hit.
- Don’t trust that pre-warmed IP addresses will solve all woes. Even if IP addresses have been prewarmed, the volume wasn’t your volume. Mailbox provider filters will recognize the change in sending patterns and your infrastructure will be a new one to them. Sending off of a prewarmed set of IP addresses is fine, but your program is still going to have to do some heavy lifting.
- Don’t assume your ESP (or integration partner) will cover the migration work. There is a full spectrum of service and support when it comes to email migrations. Some ESPs only cover the absolute basics while others require an additional spend for full support. Make sure you know what you’re getting and be prepared to add budget if you want additional hand holding.
- Don’t make any jarring changes to your program that increase risk prior to migrating. As mentioned, it’s critical to drive positive engagement and limit negative behavior during a warm-up. Don’t alter your brand in any way that may throw subscribers off or increase complaints. This is not the time to update your friendly from, modernize your branding, or overhaul your creatives. You also don’t want to introduce any campaigns that may rub subscribers the wrong way and drive complaints.
- Don’t migrate during the holidays. First of all, the holidays are stressful already. If that isn’t reason enough, experiencing a bit of inbox placement turbulence during a migration is normal and to be expected. If your placement crashes, so will your ROI. The holidays are the wrong time to find out how long it can take for your reputation to recover.
- Play fast and loose with infrastructure. Make sure that you have your authentication dialed and your infrastructure is appropriately configured. Set up feedback loops, get whitelisted when you can, and the like. When you have such limited reputation, these small things can make a big difference.
As a Senior Email Strategist with Return Path, Casey specializes in driving increased engagement and boosting deliverability. Casey has a healthy fixation with helping marketers realize the potential of their email programs by addressing human needs, building better relationships, and ultimately driving improved results for the business. Her nine years of experience and obsession with evolving the email space helped land her a spot on ExpertSender’s list of “25 Email Geeks to Help You Get Your Geek On.”