Keith Kouzmanoff on Inbox Email Marketing

Written by Tyler Day

Our Interview With an Outbound Marketing Legend

How did Keith start out?

Keith is known for being one of the top 25 most influential email marketers in the world. He started in business with his sister before the dot-com bubble, doing email authentication, using vpopmail on the MTA (Mail Transfer Agent), and his first customer was Bob Parsons with a small $50 contract.

Eventually, they got high-profile contracts, often building email server farms for ESPs. While the big tech companies (Oracle, etc) were nowhere near open-source, Keith had become an authoritative figure for open-source software, despite keeping everything on a shoestring budget: no secretaries, no big office buildings.

Another big client was and Keith proposed to rebuild their SMTP server to reduce CPU load. Another client who was in affiliate marketing wanted a solution to send a million messages an hour.

Keith’s company had contracts with the FBI & IRS.

Amber Alert, a privatized organization that ran state by state wanted a cross-border solution and contacted Keith to solve this issue. They engineered a solution and all 50 states signed up.

The mail system back then:

No spam filters, no junk folder, thriving marketing opportunities, but many points of failure (single mail servers, no backup, power outages, frequent crashes).

There was plenty of confusion about terminology between marketing people, engineers, and ESPs. Engineers knew that there were no such things as “hard bounce,” “soft bounce,” or “balanced message” — only Success, Failure, Bounce, and Deferral.

ESPs only advertised their global open rate, not their unique open rates, so it was hard to find what the real unique open rates were — which is the data you want to measure.

What is some actionable advice to survive with email marketing in this day and age with spam filters?

Back then, inboxing and email marketing were easier to do. Today, it’s much tougher.

At the time, content was king. Today, data is everything.

It matters how the data was acquired, did you force the person to enter an email address (for downloading a PDF, etc) or was it organic? Was it part of a purchase?

The most profound change within the industry was the merge of the three major ESPs at the time – AOL, Yahoo, and Verizon.

Today, Gmail has become the dominant force with a plethora of statistical algorithms. Older Gmail accounts have more power without their owners knowing. When an old account owner clicks on Spam or Not Spam, their vote is worth 10-100x more than that of a fresh account. ESPs have built models out of long-standing users for decades, after all.

The Google Analytics tool for Gmail already knows more than you can imagine. Google already knows if x amount of site visitors visited your site—thanks to the authentication with a session cookie—and if you try to send out way more emails than that amount, then Google knows that it doesn’t line up with your organic traffic.

What is micro-segmentation?

An email marketing strategy to increase conversions by breaking down user aspects: gender, location, time zones, weather. I.e.: dating offers perform better at night and on weekends.

What is the email stream?

The method of timing everything tailored to a given vertical. A common misconception is that auto insurance and auto warranty are in the same vertical. Auto insurance has a 6-month close cycle (as rates go down bi-yearly), but auto warranty has a 3-5-year close cycle.

Engagement is everything today

Among open rates, engagement is king. Not only that, but you want to get engagement from people who are already engaged.

Click is really powerful. For every opt-in, we want to force users to keep going between their inbox and our website. On your page, you have a pop-up to enter an email address, then display a message, “Congratulations! Please check your emails.” with no navigation options whatsoever. This forces the user to check their email, which just wants to confirm if it’s a real user, asking them to click on the link below that takes them to your webpage saying “Congratulations! We have sent you our first welcome message.” Again, no navigation options on the site. The user has to check their inbox again, the email comes, but still no actual welcome message, only containing 3 basic things: the intent, the frequency, and the link to the actual welcome message, forcing them to visit your site one again. This builds double/triple engagement.

Similarly, on an eCommerce site, we won’t send users tracking information, ETA, anything. Only a link back to our website.

Engagement cycle

Another key element is the engagement cycle. Make sure your offers align with the users’ inquiries. Have a consistent email stream that sends users what they want.

If you involve advertisers, don’t push straight to the offer page, send them to your website first. Don’t worry about losing conversions: if 40% of the people go to your page, they will keep engaging into that funnel.

The other 60% could be partially accidental clicks or bots, but with that 40%, you have quality data coming in. They were forced to click twice, once on the email, then on the offer. An advertiser buying those leads will die for that traffic and might pay more for it’s high quality.

Final thoughts

You can find Keith on Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn, he also does trade shows and he may be at the Affiliate Summit. Be prepared, though, as he is busy with enterprise clients.