Email Expert Talk 3: Zachary Aab, Senior Deliverability Strategist at Trendline Interactive
In our series 'Email Expert Talk' we discuss all things email with distinguished experts who know about the struggles and strategies of working with high volume emails. We talk about how they cope with daily challenges, what their opinions are on the latest industry developments and how they manage to stay on top of the ever-changing email landscape.
This week's Email Expert Talk features Zachary Aab, Senior Deliverability Strategist at Trendline Interactive. During his career he has tried many different things - from video production and digital marketing, to system administration and computer reparations - but none of these excite him more than deliverability and privacy. In his current role he enjoys helping businesses maximize the potential of their infrastructure. He does this by creating scalable solutions for long-term deliverability success.
Zach enjoys advocating to senders on behalf of users and to receivers on behalf of the senders, it makes him feel like he's contributing to the improvement of the overall email industry. Are you Interested to find out more about his approach? Read along!
What does a typical workday look like for you?Zach: "There isn’t really a “typical” workday, but I’d say most days consist of some combination of the following: catching up on industry news, examining data and troubleshooting for any consulting clients with urgent problems, reviewing our reputation monitoring, compiling reports and audits, consulting with colleagues, and studying for certifications or just filling gaps in my knowledge."
In your opinion, what is the most interesting trend or recent development in your field of work?
Zach: "It's hard to pick just one thing! The recent COVID-19 email trends have been all over the place for different senders and keeping us on our toes; the retrospective on that will be very interesting."
The recent COVID-19 email trends have been keeping us on our toes
"An interesting (and worrying) issue is the apparent lack of funding for GDPR enforcement in the EU, which may lead to stricter spam filters at the major receivers/ISPs if abusive practices become more common due to lack of immediate consequences."
What are the most common deliverability challenges you encounter in your work and how do you tackle them?
Zach: "A common challenge is definitely senders disregarding or simply not understanding the importance of the expectations - or lack thereof - held by the users on their lists. Just because a user has opted-in to one thing in the past does not necessarily mean they will expect new or unrelated emails."
Just because a user has opted-in in the past does not mean they will expect unrelated emails.
"Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are always looking closely for indications that the user didn't ask for any given bulk email. Often the solution is biting the bullet and suppressing users whose expectations have "expired" or are simply no longer relevant as unsubscribes. In many situations, though, a really creative re-opt-in or "opt-down" request can re-set expectations as well as give the sender updated interest/targeting information to make their emails more relevant, and that is definitely what we strive for whenever possible."
What type of clients do you assist with deliverability (ex. Brands vs ESPs)? Does the work you do differ depending on your client?
Zach: "We work with enterprise brands as well as Email Service Providers (ESPs). We help ESPs set up and upgrade their infrastructure and policies as well as troubleshoot difficult deliverability issues or help cover personnel gaps in their own deliverability teams."
Some of our work is simply stepping in and being the "bad guy".
"We work with email programs that are just getting started and that need a good plan to grow as well as plugging into large, established teams to provide governance and solidify good reputations. Some of our work is simply stepping in and being the "bad guy" when new marketing schemes are formed without considering deliverability, and of course we are often called in to help handle the consequences of an ill-considered send or investigate and resolve an unexpected reputation problem. Often, client work is very investigative and involves organizing information from many different teams or people. Those projects are the most fun, but sometimes the sender simply needs us to improve their reporting, pick out meaningful KPIs and create executive-level takeaways from the avalanche of data they receive from their ESP."
What are some of the biggest challenges you face when working with different Internet Service Providers?
Zach: "The biggest challenge is probably figuring out why one ISP is showing a reputation problem and another isn't. This is where staying current on industry knowledge and maintaining connections to ask for help becomes vital. Sometimes one ISP has simply spotted an issue first and the rest will soon follow suit, but sometimes it's an issue specific to that receiver and the difference can be very tricky to identify."
Looking forward, where do you see email deliverability in 2025? What new challenges will we be facing and what current issues may be tackled by then?
Zach: "The machine learning algorithms that sort good mail from junk mail are only getting more complex and more sensitive. It may become more difficult to start a new email marketing program with good deliverability in 2025. Hopefully improved anti-spam legislation will allow ISPs' filters to relax a bit when seeing new marketing senders, but this is definitely an area in which the industry can shoot itself in the foot. Lobbying for weak legislation just forces receivers to be stricter and more cautious about new senders. "
Improved privacy and anti-spam legislation will improve the industry for everyone
"Improved privacy and anti-spam legislation instead, will improve the industry for everyone.CASL, GDPR, and CCPA are excellent progress on that road, so hopefully we'll see more legislation like that in the next 5 years. If not, the lead/build-up time for a new marketing program or growing a new list will probably become significantly longer than most senders need it to be."
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in email deliverability?
Zach: "Make friends and listen to everyone; the old saying "if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room" is very true and fortunately there's an excellent brain trust of very experienced deliverability professionals around, especially in the anti-abuse community."
Consider the context of people's opinions carefully.
"Consider the context of people's opinions carefully, especially when they disagree with others or seem inconsistent with your own experience. Be honest with yourself and your senders about what you do and don't know - Avoid getting caught up in the cargo cult of thoughtlessly duplicating things that worked once and instead be analytical to determine what and why; deliverability is a moving target and not understanding why you succeeded can be just as problematic as not understanding why you failed."