Email Peeps 24: Brad Gurley
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got to where you are today.
My start in the email industry came after quite a bit of career exploration (including a brief stint in door-to-door vacuum sales) and was actually the result of a Craigslist ad. It was 2004, I had been working in customer-facing roles for a few years, and a local email service provider startup was in need of their first Director of Support. I applied and got the job, despite knowing little about commercial email marketing, and I’ve been learning ever since.
My responsibilities in that first role included deliverability, compliance, and ISP relations, and I began to gravitate toward that side of the house. As I progressed through my career there and with other ESPs, I became more focused on those areas. Now, nearly 2 decades later, I’ve had the pleasure of troubleshooting delivery issues for thousands of organizations of all sizes – with no plans to stop anytime soon.
What’s your favorite email deliverability tip?
Maybe it’s cheating to call this a single tip, but so much of deliverability boils down to expectations and engagement. Set clear expectations at the time of opt-in – specifically, what you’ll be sending and how often – and keep subscribers interested by targeting content based on their patterns of engagement. If you’re missing the mark on expectations, recipients may be unhappy with the content or frequency of your mailings, causing them to ignore your messages or even mark them as spam. If you’re not using engagement data to target recipients (and decide when to stop targeting them), you run the risk of sending to unused or inactive accounts, which also hurts your reputation with mailbox providers.
What are some of the biggest myths about deliverability?
1. There are “secret switches” that can be pulled to resolve all deliverability issues. Every mailbox provider uses a unique set of filter criteria and mechanisms to determine what mail gets delivered to the inbox, the spam folder, or rejected outright. These systems are typically very complex and often take into account dozens or hundreds of factors for their decisions. Even for an ESP or deliverability expert that has close relationships with these providers, resolving issues is more complex than talking with the “right person” who can make an adjustment to the filters. Many of the algorithms used to filter mail rely on little or no human input, so even if you do find a helpful contact you’re not likely to get an easy fix.
2. It’s the ESP’s fault when something goes wrong. When a sender has trouble getting their mail delivered to the inbox, there’s often a kneejerk reaction to blame the ESP they use to send their mail. While there are certainly cases of a less-reputable provider needing infrastructure improvements or other customers on the network causing delivery issues, it’s far more common that the sender’s mailing practices are to blame. Before pointing a finger at the ESP, it may be wise to evaluate your organization’s acquisition and sending processes for any potential areas of improvement.
3. A single metric or tool can provide a comprehensive view of deliverability health. Every few days I see a marketer ask how they can check their overall deliverability health, with many looking for an easily digestible number or rating they can use to indicate to themselves, a manager, or coworkers how they’re doing. Unfortunately, such a tool just doesn’t exist. Instead, determining your deliverability health requires evaluating multiple metrics and sources of data. A typical holistic approach to deliverability might take into account traditional metrics like pixel loads, clicks, and bounces, but also integrate purchases, brand interactions, and other data about the recipients.
What’s in your email marketing toolbox?
- Macbook Pro
- Dual Dell Monitors – too much data for one screen!
- iPad Pro with Apple Keyboard case – primarily used when I’m on the go and don’t want to unpack my Macbook, but sometimes you just need 4 screens on your desk at once
- Logitech M720 multi-device mouse – allows easy switching between my Macbook and iPad as needed
- Logitech C920 Pro webcam – replaces my Macbook cam since I keep my laptop plugged in under my desk most of the time
- AirPods Pro – I love the fit and the noise cancellation, and the audio quality is great for calls and even the occasional podcast
- Google Workspace – Mail, Docs, Sheets, and Slides
- Monday.com for project management and tracking progress
- Lattice for team management and updates
- Slack for day-to-day live communication
- Zoom for all those video calls
- Snowflake/Snowsight for querying customer data and performance dashboards
What’s your favorite email campaign of all time? Why?
The infamous “Integration Test Email #1” sent by an ill-fated HBO intern. I loved it because it got literally everyone talking about email, but also because it exposed an often-unspoken truth – we all screw up sometimes. I really enjoyed the conversations it triggered among email professionals about their own mishaps and how they were able to move past them.
How do you manage work-life balance?
Working from home has advantages, but having your office down the hall from your kitchen can make it difficult to fully detach from work. For me, I find a steady routine works best – I get ready in the morning as if I were leaving for work, then head into my office to get the day started. At the end of the day, I leave my office and (try to) stay out until the next morning. It seems like a small thing, but I don’t get notifications from Slack or my work email on my watch – if an issue is urgent enough I’ll get a phone call or text that will get my attention.
Most of all, I’m fortunate to have an employer with a great culture that encourages work-life balance and allows me flexibility to do my job and have a fulfilling family life outside the office.