Loyal, engaged customers are the lifeblood of any business—the repeat buyers, the brand enthusiasts, the unpaid spokespeople for your company. But there’s another important benefit to having loyal customers, beyond the steady stream of revenue they provide. They can also help to ensure that your email messages reach the inbox.

Why is that so important? Think about this: if your emails don’t make it to the inbox, your customers never have the opportunity to read and respond to your message in the first place. You lose out on the chance to build stronger relationships with existing customers and create relationships with new customers. Every message that gets diverted to spam is a missed opportunity to drive revenue for your business.

Engagement-based filtering is on the rise

It’s harder than ever to reach the inbox because mailbox providers are constantly changing and improving their filtering algorithms, in an effort to thwart spammers and improve the inbox experience for their users. More and more, mailbox providers like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and AOL are relying on engagement-based email filtering to catch unwanted email before it’s delivered to the inbox.

Engagement metrics look at how users interact with messages from a given sender—things like how many messages are read, replied to, forwarded and deleted without reading. By understanding how subscribers engage with a sender’s email, mailbox providers are better able to determine which emails are wanted by subscribers—and which should be diverted to the spam folder.

Over time, mailbox providers are able to use this engagement-based data to make more accurate filtering decisions at the individual level. If a subscriber frequently reads your emails, replies or even forwards them to other people, you’re more likely to have your emails delivered to the inbox. Conversely, if a subscriber deletes your messages without reading them—or worse, yet, reports them as spam—your emails may be filtered directly to spam.

There are many things you can do to ensure that your emails reach their intended target, giving you the opportunity to serve your loyal customers, cultivate new ones and drive revenue for your business. Here are four ideas you can implement to help your emails reach the inbox.

  1. Know your subscribers. The more you know about your customers, the better you can connect with them. Consider implementing a preference centre to give subscribers an opportunity to tell you what kind of content they want to receive from you and how frequently.

Each individual is different and they should be treated that way. By capturing information about subscribers’ interests, you can more accurately segment your subscriber list, personalize your email content and create unique campaigns that will appeal to each group—rather than sending one mass email that may not resonate with anyone.

  1. Understand your sender reputation. Subscriber engagement is becoming increasingly important but sender reputation is still a critical factor in determining whether and where email is delivered. Every sender has a Sender Score, which is number between one and 100 that reflects the reputation of your sending IP address. Sender Score is based on key reputation metrics like sending volume, filtered messages and spam traps. The lower the score, the worse your reputation, and the more likely mailbox providers will filter your messages to spam.

Mailbox providers evaluate sender reputation in deciding whether email is legitimate or spam. According to Return Path’s 2016 Sender Score Benchmark Report, 90% of all messages delivered into the inbox came from senders with a Sender Score of 80 or higher and senders with scores of 99 or 100 only had two per cent of messages filtered to spam. By contrast, senders with a score below 70 had less than 10% of their messages delivered to the inbox

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  1. Keep your sending list clean. List hygiene is a major component of both sender reputation and subscriber engagement, so it’s absolutely critical that you build your email list through legitimate means and promptly remove any email addresses that produce a hard bounce or complaint. Sending to unknown users or spam traps is a sure way to get your email sent to spam or blocked altogether and could eventually lead to blacklisting. Mailbox providers see this type of behavior as an indicator of poor sending practices and low engagement.

You can quickly and easily check your entire existing list, as well as verifying new addresses in real time, using a list validation service. Email list validation is a proactive and effective way to improve the quality of your database by removing invalid addresses before you send to them, ultimately improving your sender reputation and helping you reach the inbox.

  1. Test, test, test! A/B testing is one sure-fire way to figure out what will capture your customers’ attention and what won’t. Almost any aspect of an email campaign can be tested: subject line, offer, copy length, imagery, layout, send time and so much more. Even the simplest A/B test can provide eye-opening results and small changes can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of your email campaigns—and your bottom line.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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