Optimizing Holiday Deliverability

Article by Cecil Kleine CATEGORIES: Deliverability, Holiday/Event TAGS:

As autumn kicks into full swing, there’s only one thing scarier than this Halloween’s ghastly ghouls: hitting your holiday/Q4 numbers!  For many marketers, the pressure is on to reach aggressive revenue targets. And as mailboxes start to get flooded with holiday offers, rest assured that the world’s gatekeeper ISPs are ready to crack down and limit inbox access to only the very best senders.  In order to maximize your program’s revenue potential, maintaining optimal deliverability is absolutely vital this time of year.

During our recent client conference, we sat down with five of the industry’s leading email experts and gathered their best recommendations for optimizing your deliverability throughout the holiday season.  Check out what they had to say.


  • George Schlossnagle, CTO, Sparkpost
  • Dan Deneweth, Sr. Director, Strategic Services, Oracle
  • Kurt Diver, Manager, Email Delivery Consulting Services & Email Operations, Twilio SendGrid
  • John Stephenson, VP Campaign Assurance, Epsilon
  • Tony Patti, VP Deliverability & Compliance, eDataSource


Jackie (00:05): The holiday mail season is rapidly approaching and I’m sure everyone is gearing up for it. A lot of teams get a lot of pressure to send as many emails as possible within a very short period of time. What are some suggestions you would give and guidelines you would recommend to these marketers to keep deliverability strong throughout the holiday season?

George (00:32): My advice would be that the holiday season is not the time to try new things. If you have practices that work, they’ll continue to work through the holiday season. It’s not the time to decide to mail everyone. Persisting practices that have been successful for you and proven out in lower volume times, those are the times you want to experiment with your mail program and how you can engage with your users. Holiday time is too high profile, too high-risk, drives too much revenue for it to really be a time where you should be taking massive, massive risks.

Dan (01:20): Don’t do your re-engagement campaign on Black Friday. A lot of clients, like big retail clients we work with, that’s what they want to do. But we are like, “Don’t do that!” Do it now, if you’re going to try to do reengagement and clean up your list or reengage some dormant or less active users, don’t wait until the holidays, do it now. Do it slowly and carefully with a good strategy, that is okay. You can increase your audience segmentation and dip a little into slightly less actives around Black Friday because ISPs do have more of a tolerance for email then. What you don’t want to do is triple your volume, so slowly ramp up, do some pre-holiday campaigns, and get your volume up a little more ramped and make sure you’re done reengaging customers. What you want to do is improve your reputation. Actually, build it up. Make it tough, maybe tighten up your audience. Like Michelle, if you’re told we have to have killer numbers for Black Friday, we don’t really care about September and October but November and December is make or break. Okay fine, let’s tighten up our audience, let’s make our reputation really solid, then when you open it up a little bit you can weather that and that can be an effective strategy.

Kurt (02:53): I agree with everything so far. Start ramping early, if you’re going to change your volume or have significant change for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Monday or Tuesday, start now or start by at least November 1. If you’re changing that volume don’t try anything new during that time period, as we think about Black Friday one of the things we think about is it’s not one size fits all. So, what you’re going to do with your Gmail audience you probably can’t do with Microsoft, they’re not going to tolerate that. So again, I feel sorry for you because you are probably working on Black Friday and Cyber Monday hitting those buttons and sending that mail but pay attention to what goes out. If you were going more aggressive on Microsoft and you have multiple campaigns, be ready not to send the second one because it might not be worth it. So just being aware and looking for those signals coming back to seeing change in behaviors, seeing if you’re getting those engagements that you want to get. Time-based sending is going to be huge, just for a connection, if you do have time-sensitive mail not sending at the top of the hour but sending it a little off the hour. Last year we saw a lot of issues with Microsoft specifically having resource limitations. They couldn’t accept the mail as fast as we were sending it to them. So just be aware of that, there’s different strategies to kind of game the system and make sure you’re getting the best out of the holiday season.

John (04:07): Absolutely, if you’re going to do something stupid do it immediately, do it now and then get it cleared up by the time the holidays come. So, kind of what these guys said, you don’t want to do reengagement on Cyber Monday. I think all that stands, the ISPs are watching very closely at what volume you regularly send and the way your audience responds, how much spam complaints, opens, clicks and if they see all those metrics tilt in the wrong direction very quickly that’s when they react quickly. Also, if you are going to send a little more, maybe you’re going to send again to those that did open but didn’t convert. If you’re spiking your volume in any way you may want to throttle it out. If you’re timing the hourly, by the minute, by the hour is essential. Hotmail has been a little bit quirky about their hourly volume rates. So, if you can fan that out over a few hours sometimes that will keep you under the radar, those hourly throttles. Obviously, watch whatever signals you can. If you’re using eDataSource, watch your inbox rates like a hawk. If you have your relative open rates for each domain, what was the open rate in Gmail? What was the open rate in Yahoo? What was the open rate in Hotmail? Watch this daily if not more. Make sure one of these isn’t taking off.  

Tony (05:33): My particular pet peeves are: don’t wear white after Labor Day; and do not warm-up new IPs or change ESPs after Labor Day. If you want to do that, do it in the summer and be ready going into Labor Day. The last thing is, don’t keep on mailing people that are not engaging. Looking at your own test segments, if you go through and you go into a user journey for your own inbox and you see 90 days of mail daily with no open and no clicks, this person is not going to buy from you. They’re not going to buy in October and they’re not going to buy in November so you’re just dragging your whole list down.