Life is too short, use a Seed list
Do you know what a seed list is and how it can benefit your E-Mail marketing campaigns?
Deliverability as a discipline is made up of many different aspects, from the technical elements to the content analysis including ISP relations, block list removal, list hygiene, domain reputation and safe-lists.
Before anything goes out, your campaign needs to have a sanity-check which will give you an idea of whether or not the content is going to pass all the ISP checks, and land safely in the recipients inbox – ready for them to consume.
This sanity-check is actually accomplished using seed lists, and understanding what they are can give you an idea of the quality of the deliverability service that a provider is offering.
What is a Seed list – exactly?
A seed list is essentially a number of addresses from key ISPs and a so-called “trigger seed” that is used to help assess the deliverability fitness of an E-Mail or to troubleshoot issues preventing the E-Mail from arriving successfully to inbox.
The key ISPs should include the major international providers such as Gmail, Outlook and Verizon Media (AOL & Yahoo) along with the regionally specific providers.
You can spot a trigger seed by it’s address as it usually contains something like @app.inboxsys.com
It’s worth noting that ISP seeds do not open or click in any E-Mail by default, a characteristic they share with spamtraps.
Although it can be tricky if the default isn’t the case, it is still possible to remove seed clicks from analytics.
Making seed lists a part of your testing process is an excellent way to critically assess what is happening across ISPs and guide you towards improving the overall deliverability of your campaigns.
We all know that testing is good, but trying to do this manually isn’t always feasible and that’s where seed list tools come into play (because life is too short).
So how does it work?
When using a seed list there are two things being assessed.
The trigger seed acts as the global-config checker doing most of the leg work collecting information about the structural and technical details to accomplish a few things.
In a matter of seconds it will pull together an accumulated report that allows users to:
- Ensure domain authentication and alignment is correct
- Check the E-Mail headers are correct
- Analyse the body content
- Assess the IP reputation
ISP seeds on the other hand will provide a breakdown of how well the E-Mail performed in terms of inbox placement across the providers.
With the full analysis users will be able to see the existence of any issues that could severely impact the campaign, see any aspects that could be improved upon and gain insight into how well their actual campaign should do at the time of send.
Working with Seed lists
Whether you are using the seed list to make sure there are no serious issues to resolve or simply assessing the performance in order to make long-term improvements, it is a straight forward process.
Create an E-Mail campaign and then send a test to the entire seed list.
Once the results are in you can make the relevant changes and test again. For the more serious issues that aren’t so easily fixed we can help you. Get in touch for a quote.
The E-Mail marketing world is often changing, as new data laws around the world are created and ISPs update their policies to align with them, not to mention ever-evolving industry standards and improvements to services.
As such reaching the Inbox can be a difficult task.
In that context, a seed list is an incredibly valuable way to make sure that your campaign will be able to consistently place in the recipient inboxes – because you’re not lulled into a false sense of security by “what worked yesterday”.
Any insight prior to a campaign launch can be advantageous, because falling afoul of any one of the following checks could have painful consquences:
- Domain configuration / E-Mail authentication
- Mailserver setup
- IP-warmup metrics and evolvement
- Content quality
- Which mail-stream (i.e. marketing, transactional) is performing better
- Which ISP you face delivery challenges to and check for folder placement
- IP & domain reputation: Blocklists and spamfilters
At the end of the day you want subscribers to see your content, and ISPs want their clients to be happy with their service.
The problem is that ISPs are always looking out for their clients best interests, and because seeds do not engage with the mail that’s sent it can start raising flags.
Why? Because what kind of content is blasted out to ESPs in high volume without any response?
Excessive testing can actually damage your reputation as you might end up being flagged because you keep sending to a very large and very inactive list and certain providers don’t just look holistically at their contact database, rather they examine individual user engagement.
In short, there isn’t really any way to incorporate user-based engagement metrics into a seed list test, so we end up having to look at data from a much higher altitude in order to observe general trends.
For example, if users start having negative experiences with your content, then you will start to see the cumulative effect of that on your clean, unengaged ISP seeds based on the default delivery location – which gives you a very clear indication of how providers perceive you.
As a tool, a seed list is only really as good as the context in which it is used, so here are five tips to make to the most of them.
1 – Always test before sending
We already mentioned that one of the main use cases is using seed lists before you send, but we cannot stress the value of prevention enough.
Even if every test appears to be successful, it is possible that, for example, it happens that a DNS administrator accidentally removes, let’s say, a DKIM record, which despite being a “once-in-a-lifetime” incident could seriously damage campaign results, or even your brand reputation. Through persistent testing any issue could be tackled before any damage can be done.
2 – Fix issues ASAP
Even if something relatively minor has been flagged such as an increased rate of E-Mails hitting the Junk folder, fix it.
The decision made by ISPs to put an E-Mail in the inbox or not is based on more than one factor, and if you leave a small issue today then it can turn into a much bigger problem tomorrow.
3 – Test during & after campaigns
Making seeds a part of your campaign send will give you an idea of how well the campaign has performed in terms of inbox placement.
Testing a couple of hours after the send will ensure you are aware of any impact that the send may have had on your reputation.
4 – Use custom seeds
To prevent reputation loss by excessive testing, your seed list should reflect the ISPs present in your contact list and with similar ratios.
This information can be found by simply analysing your database to see the domain distribution of your database;
This way the campaign volume makes up for the negative effects of testing.
5 – Automate!
OK, we’ve said this before but it’s worth reiterating: A manual split A/B test is a lot of work, and keeping this manual increases the risk of it being overlooked (especially if you’re strapped for time).
This is where automated seed list tools can help a lot, provided you put in the time before and after each and every campaign to understand the test results – and then acting on them.
With an API for seed list testing, it’s possible to automate the complete process, e.g. before sending a campaign:
- Request seed list
- Send to seed list
- Collect results
- If results pass the checks – trigger campaign
- If results fail checks – stop campaign
Seed lists are not only beneficial to campaign develiverability, but with the right tools they are simple to employ and can have a knock on effect on overall campaign performance.
Even without the resources to follow all the tips, a little insight can go a long way as inbox placement improves so does campaign performance, which is probably one of the easiest ways that you can help improve ROI.
..and who doesn’t want to actively help drive more ROI?