UK Elections - Can Politicians Deliver Like Their Email Programs?
12 Dec 2019
Britain goes to the polls again this week. Many will be delighted for it to be over – why can’t our politicians be more like good email programs: authentic(ated); good reputations; low complaints, and solid delivery?
Speaking of which – 4 weeks ago, I signed up with the political email programs for the main political parties and evaluated the way they established our new relationship. Now it’s time to re-visit them and see if they are delivering (pun intended!) against expectations! (for two parties - SNP and Plaid Cymru - the answer is a short one because I haven’t received any emails from them yet!
- Getting to the Inbox
For emails to be effective, first they need to get delivered! This is especially important for this winter election – the dark cold evenings make canvassing tougher and the trusted nature of email means it may get party messaging across voters’ doorsteps in a way that canvassing can’t. I reviewed the programs against 3 important points that affect email deliverability:
- Authentication: Important for mailbox providers (MBPs) to validate email legitimacy. For example, Gmail’s sender guidelines clearly state senders should publish an SPF record; sign messages with DKIM, and publish a DMARC policy.
- Reputation: Like a credit score, a reputation score evaluates sending practices to understand how MBPs perceive them. There are several providers, and I used Sender Score, Talos Intelligence (previously Senderbase), and Reputation Authority for this analysis.
- Inbox Placement: For emails that deliver successfully (i.e. no bounces or blocks), what percentage are placed in recipients’ inboxes, and not in their spam/junk folders? The benchmark inbox placement rate (IPRs) for the UK is 89% according to Return Path’s latest benchmark report.
Here’s how they performed:
- Authentication results were generally good, although neither the Brexit Party nor the Conservatives have published a DMARC record. Senders using DMARC can monitor and protect their domains from fraudulent emails, which in turn promotes greater trust between sender and subscribers.
- Reputation metrics were generally good, with one exception. Reputation Authority categorises how email traffic is perceived, and almost 70% of volume from the IP address used by Labour’s emails is classed as “spam” or “suspicious”. They share this with other programs, so it may not be Labour’s emails generating these metrics, but they will be penalised through association.
- This may explain why Labour is generating the worst (IPRs) at 82%, meaning almost 1 in every 5 emails is not seen by the intended audience. Only the Liberal Democrats (99%) are achieving best-in-class performance against this metric! (Note: The Green Party’s email volumes are too small to get an accurate reading).
- Most programs are using US-based platforms to send their emails. The one exception is the Conservatives, who use French vendor Mailjet. For a party hammering home their “Get Brexit Done” message . . . there are plenty of very good UK-based email service providers – just saying!
- Gmail Tabs
Even getting to the inbox is not the end of the story! 1 in every 3 UK email addresses is now held with Gmail (over 50% in the 18-34 age group). This means the topic of Gmail tabs is important – which part of the inbox?. The most used tabs are “Primary”, “Promotions” and “Updates” (also Social and Forums). When Gmail launched its tabbed inbox there was much talk about “How do we get into “Primary?” but this has evolved into “How do we get into the tab where our subscribers expect to find us – consistently?”
It’s this question that’s posing a challenge for the Conservatives and the Greens. Based on the 100+ emails I’ve received during this analysis this is how they’ve placed:
The tabs are intended for different email types. “Updates” (22% of all Gmail traffic) includes information about users’ purchases, such as receipts and shipping updates, while “Promotions” (68% of all Gmail traffic) generally means some form of advertisement. There is a potential performance impact for the programs generating “Promotions” placements, as the following data from Marketing Charts illustrates:
Gmail provides guidance on how to achieve consistent tabs placement. This includes “send consistently from the same address for each mail category.” I classified the emails by whether the “friendly from” was an individual (e.g. “Boris Johnson”) or an organisation (e.g. “Conservative Campaign Party”).
The results breakdown looks like this:
- The Conservative’s and Greens send more emails from individuals, meaning less sender consistency. (The Brexit Party is an outlier – most of the 75% is one individual, chairman Alan Matthews). With Labour and the Liberal Democrats, more emails are sent from “Team Labour” and “Liberal Democrats”, meaning greater consistency.
- The Lib Dems actually use a hybrid approach, merging individual and organisation (e.g. “Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrats”). This helps to blend the twin needs for name recognition and sender recognition.
- It’s also fascinating how few of Labour’s emails are from individuals, and less than half of those carry Jeremy Corbyn’s name. Many Labour canvassers are choosing not to mention their leader in their pitches, and it looks like their email program is doing the same!
Gmail’s second guideline is “avoid mixing different categories in one message” and the emails placed in the “Promotions” tab provide potential clues here too:
This subject line would not be out of place during Black Friday week, and will probably be reinforced by the multiple links in this email.
Gmail does say over time classifications automatically adjust to match users' preferences and actions. However, the short-term nature of this election means there is limited time for these corrections to be processed and applied.
I think I’ve got one more “election and email” blog in me so watch this space! In the final instalment, we’ll have a look at how supporters are engaging with their emails, and whether it provides us with any clues about their voting intentions!