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When an Iconic Founder Overshadows the Family Business

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It’s not uncommon to see family businesses in which the founder or leader plays such a public role that they become “iconic.” Often, the lasting effects of an iconic founder can stretch beyond his or her impact on the family to thwart the growth of the business going forward. An icon can cultivate and leave behind a “workforce of the past,” with loyal long-term employees defaulting to the icon’s preferred ways of managing at the expense of fresh ideas. They can nurture a culture of “yes” people rather than independent thinkers, and drive creative next-generation family members away from the business into their own endeavors where they have more control. When family members recognize the complexities of having a truly iconic founder, they can feel trapped. But there are steps they can take to prevent an iconic founder from overshadowing the next generation’s chance to grow and develop.

Sometimes a founder’s image is so publicly associated with his or her company, one rarely stops to ask, “Who is that person?” A few, such as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Henry Ford, and Ralph Lauren become something even more than that; they become “iconic.”

For many family businesses, having an iconic founder has enormous benefits. Building the brand of the person simultaneously builds the brand of the company. As the company has more success, the iconic founder gets more famous and more idealized by their employees and their family. What could be wrong with that?

It turns out that having a full-fledged iconic founder (or leader) is not always a good thing for the sustained health of the business. Though it might be beneficial to have an iconic founder at the helm of a business for years, it can also cause family leadership beyond the founder to be much more challenging. After all, who can live up to the image of a truly “iconic” founder who has become a kind of exaggerated character — a two-dimensional representation of the business without any visible human imperfections?

When founders become larger-than-life icons synonymous with the business itself, they begin to overshadow everyone and everything around them. Worse still, iconic founders can start to believe their own hype and hold next-generation leaders to impossible standards. They can create a “loyal” workforce that is resistant to new leadership, and potentially even cause family members to walk away from the business. Ironically, a wildly successful iconic founder can unintentionally set his beloved business up for failure in future generations.

But being part of a business with an iconic founder doesn’t have to derail the next generation if the family can find a balance between honoring what the “icon” has built and putting their own stamp on the business to help ensure that it will continue to thrive.

Where Iconic Founders Go Wrong

It’s not uncommon to see family businesses in which the founder (or a later-generation family leader) plays such a public role that they become “iconic” — their individual characteristics are submerged under an image that is “preserved” as wise, kind, heroic, generous, spiritual and/or many other idealized traits. The image that is projected out to a wider public — often even beyond the business’s customers — is carefully maintained and protected by employees and by family members. This process of protecting the “brand” can have significant downsides. The more powerful the public persona, the more pressure is felt by the family and the company to keep the founder on a pedestal.

Sometimes the individual entrepreneur is in fact as wise and kind as the image portrays him to be. But more often, that real person is all too human. Successful business leaders, iconic or not, make mistakes in business and in their personal lives. Worse still, we have seen iconic founders who begin to believe their own publicity and consistently choose to grow their image over helping others to shine. Sometimes, they hold their children up to such high standards — standards that they think reflect their “perfect image” — that the next generation feel (rightly so) they can’t possibly meet them.

Iconic founders often lack empathy for the sacrifices others (family, employees) are making.  They often see the world through one lens, which leads them to push for business growth and celebrity at the expense of all other priorities. As family members seek the iconic founder’s approval, he or she just pushes harder to promote a super-human image. Those closest to the founder find it hard to challenge him or her in any setting, business or family, for risk of being disregarded by the icon — better to agree and stay in good graces than confront and be shut out.

We have seen difficult dynamics evolve in the families of an iconic founder. When the icon makes irrational demands or unkind judgements, everyone snaps to order — no one disagrees. Family members’ (and often employees’ and colleagues’) unpleasant experiences with the icon get buried: to discuss their pain or to criticize is to be disloyal. The iconic founder’s flaws — some of them grave — stay invisible.

Finally, the lasting effects of an iconic founder can stretch beyond his or her impact on the family to thwart the growth of the business going forward. The icon can cultivate and leave behind a “workforce of the past,” with loyal long-term employees defaulting to the icon’s preferred ways of managing at the expense of fresh ideas. They can nurture a culture of “yes” people rather than independent thinkers, and drive creative next generation family members away from the business into their own endeavors where they have more control.

One “Icon” and His Family

We know one such iconic founder who started as a talkative and charismatic pitchman for small kitchen appliances. Dale (a pseudonym) developed his own line of specialized cooking gadgets, which he grew into a national brand with a high-quality reputation. He became well-known on TV, appearing not just in ads for his products, but also on popular cooking shows. He often socialized with celebrity chefs, and he was invited to the White House several times.

Home, though, was a less comfortable environment. His wife resented what she saw as his manic focus on the company and his image; he was absent from the family outside of work most of the time. His relationship with their four children was strained. Two of the four chose to work in the company and strived unsuccessfully for Dale’s approval. Their father often told them that the business was “too complicated” for them to understand and that they didn’t have the “big imagination” necessary for leadership. The younger two lived across the country and were disengaged from the business and the family.

What’s going on this family is a typical response to a dominant iconic founder. In family businesses, there are four common dynamics connected to an iconic founder:

  • The first response is the tendency among the next generation to judge others relentlessly. Dale’s two children who worked in the business continually criticized each other’s ideas in management and board meetings. Privately, key executives and outside directors acknowledged that the siblings seemed like they were trying to “out-Dale” Dale. Dale, for his part, barely listened to anyone’s ideas but just talked about his own plans for the next big splash. Neither sibling seemed capable of extending support or appreciation to their key managers or board members, perhaps because none had been extended to them by their father.
  • The second common family reaction is to disconnect. In this case, Dale’s two youngest children moved across the country to work in unrelated fields. Friends often remarked on how their talents could be valuable to their family business, but neither wanted anything to do with it. At the same time, they were careful about how they discussed their father with other people, even with each other. There was no safe place to talk about childhood feelings of abandonment and inadequacy arising from their father’s self-absorption.
  • Eventually, when the icon is disabled or dies, a paralyzing effect occurs: Family owners and business leaders can simply stop making decisions, freezing the company in time. When Dale’s eventual dementia became obvious and he retired from public life, there was no one to take his central decision-making role. The two siblings who worked in the business became co-CEOs, but most of the time they could not agree. Each criticized the other for not being having the “big imagination” necessary to lead or not doing “what Dale would do.”
  • The final impact is on the business, which can get stuck. In this case, management and board members watched helplessly as the business foundered. The long-tenured non-family managers who thrived in the company were the ones who knew how to say yes to Dale and were not capable of or interested in bringing new ideas. Newer, more talented executives were quickly frustrated by their inability to accomplish their goals and soon left the company. There were no pathways to evolve the workforce or the brand.

How the Next Generation Can Counter-Balance an Icon

When family members recognize the complexities of having a truly iconic founder, they can feel trapped. But there are steps you can take to prevent an iconic founder from overshadowing the next generation’s chance to grow and develop as individuals in your family businesses:

  • First, acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of the founder, but don’t let their shadow shade your identity. Recognize the founder as a dynamic person who took risks with a career and with the business. Think of the founder as an inspiration, not a constraint. Forge your own career based on your skills and passions, whether within or outside of the business. Avoid the temptation to be a clone of the icon.
  • Second, look forward, not backward. Recognize that your generation will need to find your own way. As next-generation family members, you may not yet be running the business, but as future owners, you can start to communicate, meet, develop trust, and determine how you want to be collective owners of the business. You do not have to be tied to the founder’s version of how family owners should operate.
  • Third, be prepared to evolve. You will need to recognize the impact of the icon on the family and the business, and to have the courage to say, “We need to do this differently.” Families who move successfully past the iconic founder refresh their strategies and push their businesses to evolve. In the family, they allow the “icon” to fade and instead acknowledge the talented and flawed relative.

Dale’s family went through some tough times in the post-Dale era, especially the second generation, who never were able to work together effectively. Fortunately, the two siblings who worked in the business managed to at least hold it together, allowing the third generation to bring in a refreshed business perspective. While the cousins were distanced from the business and each other by their unhappy parents, they still felt a connection to the iconic founder’s legacy. They started asking questions about who Dale was and developed an interest in getting to know each other and the business better.

It may not be possible to shake the overbearing influence of an iconic founder until the third generation, if they aren’t aren’t paralyzed by their parents’ emotional baggage. With fresh eyes and enthusiasm, they are able to focus on what the business needs to take it forward. Family businesses can survive  and thrive even after an iconic founder fades away.

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What is a dedicated IP address and why do you need one?

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A remote work requirement

Whether you’re new to remote work or a seasoned pro looking to up your game, you might be wondering, “What is a dedicated IP address?” or “Do I really need a dedicated IP for remote work?” Both are valid questions — especially now.

Since the shift to remote work, businesses and employees have dealt with increasing security risks and threats. Many telecommuters use VPNs or SSL certificates for a secure remote work experience, but it’s often not enough. Business owners and organizations are also advised to get a dedicated IP address for an added layer of protection.

The question is – is a dedicated IP worth it if you’re working outside of a traditional office space?

Before you decide whether to get a dedicated IP address or not, read on to learn to basics and benefits, including:

What is an IP address?

An internet protocol (IP) address is a unique address assigned to individual computers, servers, domains, or devices over the internet or a local network. Whenever you access a website, your computer communicates to the webserver through the IP address.

IP addresses consist of four sets of numbers, each separated by periods (x.x.x.x), ranging from 0 to 255, which comes out to around 4.2 billion combinations.

The conventional IP address we’re used to is the IPv4 (IP version 4). It was created in the 1980s and used a 32-bit system that didn’t account for how fast the internet would grow. We have long since exhausted those 4.2 billion combinations. Thus, a new internet addressing system called IPv6 was deployed in 1999.

IP addresses and the Domain Name System (DNS)

IP addresses aren’t random. They are produced and assigned by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), part of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The ICANN is a non-profit organization that maintains internet security. One of its functions is to maintain the domain name system (DNS). You can think of the DNS as a phonebook that matches domain names to IP addresses.

The DNS was born because IP addresses are composed of a string of numbers – making it difficult for users to remember which numbers belonged to which website. Without the DNS, you would have to type in “64.233.187.99” to get to Google and other IP addresses to get to other websites.

How IP addresses work

Your network, devices and the internet use IP addresses to communicate with each other. Let’s look at how IP addresses work when connecting your device to the internet.

Before your device can access the internet, it must connect to a network. That network would likely be your Internet Service Provider (ISP) if you’re at home, while it would be public Wi-Fi if you’re outside your home network.

Internet activity goes through the ISP, which is shared with your device using an IP address. In this case, the ISP assigns an IP address to your device. That assigned IP address, however, is temporary. When you turn your modem or router off, your device gets disconnected from the network. Or, when you travel, your device uses another network to connect to the internet.

That new network you connect to (hotel, coffee shop, or airport Wi-Fi) shares a different IP address. This is but one of many examples of how devices use IP addresses to communicate with each other.

There are several types of IP addresses, which we’ll explore in the next section.

Different types of IP addresses

There are different types of IP addresses, which are further subdivided into different categories.

Consumer IP addresses and website IP addresses are the main types of IP addresses.

Consumer IP address

Consumer IP addresses are assigned to devices connected to the internet. There are two kinds of consumer IP addresses: private and public IP addresses.

These types describe a network’s location: private IP addresses are used inside a network, while public IP addresses are used outside.

Private IP vs. Public IP

Your network router assigns private IP addresses to your devices to communicate with it internally. In contrast, your ISP assigns public IP addresses. The public IP is the primary address associated with your internet network.

Private IP addresses exist because multiple devices connect to a household’s network. Modern homes have computers, smartphones, tablets and even Bluetooth-enabled devices such as speakers, printers or smart TVs connecting to a router at any given time.

Because your router connects to so many devices, it needs a way to identify each item. Thus, it generates private IP addresses that differentiate each device on the internal network.

While each device connected to the network has its own private IP address to communicate with the router, remember that all devices simultaneously access the internet through the router as well. Thus, they all have the same public IP address.

Public IP addresses are further classified into two kinds – static and dynamic. These types describe a network’s permanency.

Dynamic IP vs. Static IP

A dynamic IP address is an IP address that often changes, while a static IP address does not change. ISPs and web hosting companies automatically assign dynamic IP addresses while they manually create static IP addresses.

Dynamic IP addresses are the most common type of IP address. They are only active for a certain amount of time, after which they expire. Once the computer disconnects from the network, it receives a new IP address or requests a new one.

Advantages of dynamic IP addresses include cost savings and security. ISPs buy multiple IP addresses and assign them to users. Automating the movement of IP addresses means there’s no need to get users their original IP addresses. Once a user is disconnected, ISPs can reassign a new IP address and give new users the old one to use.

Additionally, a changing IP makes it harder for criminals to hack into your network.

Individuals and businesses seldom use static IP addresses. Servers hosting large websites or providing email and FTP services use static IP addresses so other devices can easily find them on the web.

Website IP address

The website IP address is the other type of IP address besides the consumer IP.

If consumer IPs are assigned to devices connected to the internet, website IPs are used for web hosting packages. There are two types of website IPs: shared and dedicated.

We’ll be focusing on these two types, specifically dedicated IP addresses.

Dedicated IP address vs. Shared IP address

You can get a dedicated IP address and shared IP address from hosting providers, but the main difference is the number of users assigned to it.

Dedicated IPs are exclusive to a single account, while a shared IP is assigned to multiple users.

Shared IP addresses are often common to shared hosting accounts. This type of web hosting plan hosts multiple websites on the same server, making it possible for these domains to share an IP address.

But, while shared IP addresses are common in shared hosting plans, it is also possible to have a shared IP address without a shared server. For instance, some Managed WordPress hosting plans share IP addresses but not server resources.

Shared IP addresses are often dynamic IPs, while dedicated IP addresses are static. You have sole use over them once they’re assigned to you.

Important: Don’t confuse a dedicated IP address with a dedicated server; you can get a dedicated IP address without signing up for a dedicated hosting plan.

Benefits of a dedicated IP address

There are several benefits to having a single IP address dedicated to your use. It’s fast and secure, and there’s a smaller chance of your IP getting blacklisted.

Let’s explore each benefit in detail:

1. Secure remote access

A dedicated IP address allows employees to connect to company resources securely. It enables you to control access to specific resources and sensitive company assets. You can do this by allowing specific IP addresses and restricting access to servers and gateways you choose.

2. Reduced risk of IP blacklisting

Another benefit of a dedicated IP address is safety and location privacy. Some people prefer it when they can’t be traced.

While sharing an IP address is generally safe, it risks country-specific blocking of your website. Other websites on your server might perform illegal activities such as sending out spam emails, viruses, or malware that could get your websites blocked by search engines.

When you use a dedicated IP address for remote work or otherwise, there is zero chance of your IP getting blocked — unless you do something malicious intentionally.

3. Faster and safer file transfer

A dedicated IP ensures faster site speeds. You don’t have to contend with web traffic because you’re the only one using the IP address.

A dedicated IP also allows you to build a file transfer protocol (FTP) server to share files within an organization. A private FTP server offers better protection and a faster file transfer rate.

4. Improved email deliverability

You will benefit from a dedicated IP address if you send large volumes of emails; anything above 100,000+ per year is considered a large volume.

The main reason?

An IP’s reputation can impact your email delivery rate.

Email services such as Gmail and Yahoo trust emails from dedicated IPs more than those from shared IP addresses. They often double-check emails from shared IP addresses because spam emails are more likely to come from accounts hosted on those IPs.

5. Direct access to your website

Dedicated IP addresses allow you to access your website directly using the IP address since it’s the only domain mapped to that IP. For example, typing in “64.233.187.99” would lead you directly to Google because that is its dedicated IP address.

While it’s not the main advantage of having a dedicated IP, it is a handy perk when domain servers are down.

Dedicated IP address: A must-have for remote workers

Bottom line: Beef up your cybersecurity efforts with a dedicated IP address. It securely connects you to your remote server and improves site speed. That’s a win-win for remote workers and their employees and clients.

Need a dedicated IP address for remote work? Enjoy the benefits of dedicated IP by purchasing a GoDaddy dedicated IP as an add-on, or get one free by signing up for a GoDaddy dedicated hosting plan.



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3 Ways Marketers Can Earn — and Keep — Customer Trust

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A 2021 survey of 1,000 consumers concluded that more than 80% consider trust a deciding factor in their buying decisions, despite the fact that only 34% trust the brands they use. As trust in institutions diminishes, consumers are increasingly skeptical of where they put their money and receive their information. The author recommends three marketing strategies for brands to maintain and foster trust in their brands: 1) Do not overspin, 2) Avoid half-truths, and 3) Read the room and adjust.

It is no big secret that our world has a trust problem. Amid a global pandemic, economic crisis, and political instability set against a backdrop of deep cultural malaise, people no longer know where (or whom) to turn to for dependable information amid widespread disinformation and propaganda.

Similarly, government leaders, briefly seen as the most trusted institutions at the beginning of the pandemic per the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, squandered that goodwill when they could not halt the virus or restore economic stability. And per the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in U.S. CEOs is at 47%, and credibility has basically hit rock bottom in Japan (18%) and France (22%) as consumers wake up to the indignities and absurdities of unfettered capitalism.

Yes, trust is in short supply, yet it remains a vital currency in sustainable customer relationships. A 2021 survey of 1,000 consumers concluded that more than 80% consider trust a deciding factor in their buying decisions, despite the fact that only 34% trust the brands they use. Consumers, of course, are not a monolith. And as it so happens, age is a key differentiator in understanding the intricacies of the public’s confidence in and perception of the news media, in particular.

Per a Gallup/Knight Foundation survey, older Americans tend to rely on maybe one or two sources for all their information, and they prioritize brand reputation and political slant when evaluating an outlet’s credibility. Conversely, younger adults (18- to 34-year-olds) are more likely to gather information from numerous sources and place more of a premium on how open that outlet is with its facts, research, and processes.

Younger consumers also view national news outlets with more skepticism, with just 29% saying they trust them compared to 41% of adults over 55. A credible media landscape is always critical, but with the line between marketing and media blurring each day, news organizations’ morale fiber can sometimes be linked to that of a brand.

To summarize, ​​older adults are more brand-conscious, while younger adults are more process-conscious. As marketing experts, we can apply these findings to our brand messaging to develop credibility with our intended audiences as they age and evolve. Here is how.

1. Do not overspin.

Though Edelman found that trust in CEOs hit an all-time low in 2021, the same study revealed that businesses are still considered more trustworthy than governments, NGOs, and the news media. With such power comes great responsibility. CEOs and other business leaders must address today’s most pressing challenges and focus on societal engagement with great fervor. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, 53% of respondents believe that business leaders have a duty to fill the information void left by the news media.

This is not the time for corporate platitudes. People are smarter than you think. If you attempt to fool them, they will find out — and the hit to your credibility will outweigh any short-term gains that you made.

Think back to summer 2020, when PR teams across industries jumped to distribute public denouncements of systemic racism. People were quick to call out the performative allyship of companies such as Glossier, whose public anti-racism pledge was at odds with former employees’ recounts of on-the-job discrimination and toxicity. So make sure you back up any announcements with actual steps. For example, Ben & Jerry’s is not one for empty promises, and its statement on racial injustice held a lot more weight because company leaders have a track record of on-the-ground activism.

Keeping your message free of excessive spin goes a long way with the public and protects you from potential PR gaffes down the line.

2. Avoid half-truths.

Pfizer has been in the news a lot this past year — mostly for good reasons. CEO Albert Bourla and his team cleared myriad hurdles to develop an innovative, effective Covid-19 vaccine in record time. But back in 2006, Pfizer was in the news for less-than-glowing reasons after launching a $258 million ad campaign for a cholesterol drug with Robert Jarvik, inventor of the first permanent artificial heart, as the face of it.

The tagline — “Just because I’m a doctor doesn’t mean I don’t worry about my cholesterol” — was catchy, but there was one problem: Jarvik was not licensed to practice medicine and, in fact, had never practiced medicine. The ads drew swift criticism that resulted in a congressional investigation and millions in monetary losses for Pfizer.

In the court of public opinion, omission is akin to lying. If a claim requires omission, then do not use it; and if you do make a mistake, own up to it. In fact, you may find consumers more forgiving if you show any semblance of contrition. Being vulnerable about where you have fallen short in the past suggests honesty, which sits at the foundation of consumer trust, brand affinity, and long-term engagement.

3. Read the room and adjust.

When was the last time you checked the pulse of your customer base? You should be continually evaluating the effectiveness of your marketing efforts by asking yourself these key questions:

  • What is our customer sentiment? Negative? Positive?
  • What are our favorability ratings? Are they rising? Dropping?
  • Is our audience engaging with our content?
  • And did we follow through on our promises?

By regularly checking whether consumers are picking up what you are putting down, you will find that you can more easily meet and even exceed their ever-evolving preferences. For example, Bryanna Evans, the social media manager at home fragrance brand SECC, told Buffer that her team’s social media-powered strategy focuses on in-feed customer engagement. Not only does the social team respond whenever someone leaves a comment, but it also nurtures consumer interest by regularly posting quizzes, contests, and giveaways. As a result, SECC has built an army of loyalists and grown its monthly revenue from $20,000-$30,000 to more than $100,000.

The fight for consumer trust is ongoing — and it will not be going away anytime soon. But savvy marketers can use authentic brand messaging to engender stronger customer relationships that stand the test of time. Implement these three steps to begin building a reputation as a reliable information source that people depend on.

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How to Improve Email Deliverability

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If you’re running a business, you need an email list. And you need to send great emails, obviously. But if those great emails aren’t making it to people’s inboxes, then what’s the point?

If you’ve been putting a lot of hard work into your email marketing but not seeing the results you want, then maybe your email deliverability could use some help. I’m going to share the four key factors that will help make sure more of your emails stay out of spam and land in the inbox.

And if you don’t have an email list yet, this will set you up for success right from the start!

The Four Pillars of Email Deliverability

When it comes to email, it’s all about deliverability. You can have the fanciest automations, the best copy, the best upsells, downsells, follow-ups… But if nobody’s getting those emails in their inbox, then it’s all for nothing.

This is where you’re up against the algorithms of the email giants that control more than 50 percent of the world’s inboxes: Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!. You’ve got to understand what they’re looking for—and play by their rules.

The good news is that it’s not that difficult to stay on the good side of the algorithms. Anyone can avoid the spam folder as long as they follow a few key guidelines.

There are four main pillars of email deliverability, and they form the acronym RACE:

  • Reputation
  • Authentication
  • Content
  • Engagement

Pat and email deliverability expert Adrian Savage covered these four pillars in depth in SPI episode 498:

Reputation

In business, as in everything, reputation matters. If you’ve got a lousy reputation, no one’s going to want to listen to you.

When it comes to email marketing, you need to focus on what’s known as your sending reputation.

You see, the big mailbox providers are monitoring the emails you’re sending, and most importantly, how people are reacting to them.

The more they see people marking your emails as spam or ignoring or deleting them, the more they’re going to mark down your sending reputation. And they’re more likely to send your emails right to the spam folder.

That’s the simple version, but it means that everything you do with your email marketing has to be focused on preserving and improving your sending reputation.

How to Improve Your Sending Reputation

So what can you do to improve and maintain your reputation with the big email services?

First, use common sense. If you feel like you’re gaming the system, you probably are—and you’re eventually going to get found out.

A (not so) great example is downloading lists of email addresses from the internet.

The only legitimate way to get ahead now with your email list is to send emails only to people who have specifically asked you to contact them.

If you buy a list and start emailing people who haven’t given you permission, you’re much more likely to get spam complaints, which will hurt your sending reputation.

And what’s the only definition of spam that matters in the eyes of the mailbox providers? Whatever the recipient thinks it is.

There are also businesses out there, like Spamhaus and Cloudmark, that operate email addresses called spam traps. If you send an email to a spam trap address, then you may be added to blocklists that tell the world you’re a low-reputation sender.

The only definition of spam that matters? Whatever the recipient thinks it is.

If you do decide to buy a list of addresses for some reason, make sure you really trust the person providing the data—it’s much better to control it yourself.

Next, you’ll want to clean your email list regularly. That way, you’ll avoid hitting what’s called a recycled spam trap.

Here’s how that works.

Suppose 10 years ago you had a Hotmail address that you’d stopped using, and Microsoft canceled your account. For the next few months, if anyone tried to email you, they’d receive an error saying the mailbox didn’t exist. But a few months later, Microsoft might reopen that address and repurpose it to catch senders who weren’t looking after the hygiene of their email list.

Send enough emails to spam trap addresses, and you’ll end up on a blocklist.

So, only send emails to people who have said they want to hear from you, and keep your email list clean so you don’t get caught in recycled spam traps.

Authentication

Authentication is the second crucial piece of improving your email deliverability.

It’s all about telling the world that you’re sending legitimate emails.

You’ve probably received spam from someone spoofing an email address that isn’t theirs. It’s relatively easy to spoof an address you don’t own—what’s not so easy is to authenticate one.

Authentication is what sets you apart from the spammers, and there are two steps you need to take to authenticate your email address.

The good thing is, this is usually a one-time thing you do when you’re setting up your email platform.

The two authentication steps involve a couple of acronyms.

Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM)

The first one is domain keys identified mail, or DKIM. This is how you get your email platform to digitally sign every email that you send.

You’ll need to look at your platform to determine how exactly to configure DKIM, because they all do it slightly differently. If you’re stuck, then find someone who can help you, because it is probably the most important single thing that will make the difference between hitting the spam folder and hitting the inbox.

Here’s guidance on setting up DKIM with some of the most popular email service providers (ESPs):

Sender Policy Framework (SPF)

The second side of authentication is something called sender policy framework, or SPF.

SPF helps identify which mail servers are allowed to send email on behalf of your domain. This communicates which platforms you trust to send emails on your behalf, which can reduce the incidence of email spoofing—people pretending to send mail as you. Like DKIM, it’s a one-time thing, but crucial.

Doing those two things—setting up your SPF and DKIM settings—is going to make a huge difference in deliverability. And don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it.

Here’s guidance on setting up SPF with the popular ESPs:

Content

In the recent past, it was relatively easy to avoid the spam folder by being careful about the content in your emails: don’t use swear words, don’t mention Viagra, and don’t mention “free.”

Today’s spam filters are much more sophisticated, and the big email providers use a ton of artificial intelligence to figure out what’s junk and what’s legit.

In 2005, you might have gotten away with writing “free” as “fr.e–e” in an email, but today that’s a one-way ticket to the spam folder.

Making it to the inbox in 2022 is a lot more about being authentic with your email content. Here, another acronym comes in handy: WILF, which stands for:

  • Words
  • Images
  • Links
  • Frequency

Words

Words are important, obviously. And when it comes to email deliverability, it means writing emails the way you’d have a conversation with someone.

Write like yourself. The more your emails sound like they’ve been coming from you, the more authentic it sounds, the more likely those big sophisticated algorithms are going to recognize it as authentic.

In most cases, shorter is also better. Don’t cut it down at the expense of not getting your message across, but don’t waffle unnecessarily. Because, let’s face it, people’s attention spans are getting shorter.

At the same time, don’t stress too much about content either. There are no hard and fast rules here, and you don’t want to follow a rule at the risk of ruining your message.

You can always send a few test emails and see what happens. Just remember, however, that email has evolved, and no two people have exactly the same email experience anymore. The same email might end up in Spongebob’s inbox and Squidward’s spam folder.

But you can still learn some things by looking at the big picture of what you’re sending over time. If you notice that emails written a certain way are getting delivered more often than others, use that as a data point to guide how to craft your email content going forward.

Images and Links

Here’s where things get even more interesting. To include images or not include images in your emails? And what about links? One? None? Many?

First, remember that there are exceptions to every rule. But in general—and testing bears this out—the more images you’ve got in an email, the more likely it’s headed to the junk folder. And the same goes for the number of links.

One of the quickest ways for an email to be viewed as a promotion by Google is if it has a graphical banner at the top, because that makes it look like a promo. So just cut to the chase with your message.

If you need images in the middle of the email to reinforce or illustrate things, that’s a different story. But only include them if they’re going to actually add value, not just for the sake of it. If you can manage three or fewer images in total, perfect.

Here at SPI, most of our emails are pretty barebones: no (or few images), and just a single link.

It’s the same with links: the more you use, the more your email looks like a promotion. One of the biggest mistakes people make is using a bunch of little social media icons in their email signature. Before you know it, you’ve got five additional images with links in your email, you’re in the promotions tab.

When it comes to links, also be careful about linking to websites you don’t control. You can’t always be certain whether the domain you’re linking to has a good domain reputation or not. It’s much better to only link to content that you’re in control of—like the stuff on your own website.

Frequency

Finally, there’s frequency. The more frequently you send emails to the people who want to receive them, the better you’re going to do. In the good old days, it was sufficient to send an email newsletter out once a month, but these days, mailbox providers are looking for consistency and engagement (which we’ll talk about in a second).

The more frequently you send emails to the people that want to read them, the better it’s going to look for your engagement. If you’re sending out an email three times a week, then you’re a lot more likely to reach more of your audience more quickly than if you’re sending one email a month.

That doesn’t mean you need to send an email every day—if you can, then great, if you’ve got enough to talk about—but the more frequently you can share some really cool value, the more people are going to love you, and more importantly, the more the mailbox providers will love you as well.

Engagement

While authentication is something you set up once and pretty much forget, engagement is something you need to pay attention to on an ongoing basis.

By engagement we’re talking about, are people reading your emails? Are they opening them? Are they clicking the links? Are they actually reading them properly? Or are they just deleting it without reading?

One of the worst ways to hurt your engagement is when you send something out, it lands in the spam folder, and no one rescues it.

When someone signs up to your email list for the first time, that may be the only chance you’ve got to keep your emails out of their spam folder. So direct them to a thank-you page that instructs them to check the spam folder for your first email and move it to their inbox if need be. If they don’t, they may never see another email from you in their inbox again.

That’s the most important thing.

The other is maximizing the number of people engaging by improving your open rates. Here’s where it’s important to clean your email list regularly, so you’re only sending email to the people who are likely to read it.

It can be scary to clean your email list regularly—because it means deleting people from your list—but it’s absolutely a great thing to do for your email engagement, and for the health of your email list.

Why? It will show Google and Microsoft and Yahoo! that what you’re sending is of greater interest to your subscribers. The higher they see your open rate, the more likely they are to increase your domain reputation. The better your reputation, guess what? The next email you send is more likely to land in the inbox. It’s a virtuous cycle.

More Email Marketing Resources

If you’re just getting started building your email list, the best time to start thinking about and implementing these email deliverability best practices is now.

And if you’ve had a list for a while and things have gotten stagnant, the best time to start is… also now.

If you need more support with your email marketing, you’re in the right place! Here are a few more resources to help you build an audience and create more revenue with a robust email marketing practice:

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