SEO and SEM For Email

Everyone who works in online marketing knows what SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) are. They have become large businesses with hundreds of millions (SEO) or billions (SEM) being spent each year. SEO and SEM are the tools a marketer uses to get customers or potential customers to visit his or her website via search.

But many marketers don't realize there are similar tools for getting customers and potential customers to see their email messages. As Matt Blumberg, CEO of our portfolio company Return Path, points out in this post, there are very similar tools available in the email world.

SEO is all about the things you do to make your website optimized to show up in the organic (aka free) search results. In email, the equivalent is "reputation monitoring and management". As you work on your email reputation, the likelihood that your email will get into the inbox goes up. And like SEO, there are both consultants you can hire and tools you can use to do this.

SEM is about buying traffic via search. In email, the equivalent are whitelisting services. If you have a good email reputation, then you can pay to be on various whitelists that are like "EZ Pass for email".

Just like SEO and SEM, you really should do both. Start with optimizing and then move onto paid services. If you want to learn more, Return Path is the leader in providing both "reputation monitoring and management" and whitelisting. You can learn more on their website.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. Michael Yurechko

    Hmm, these services seem to be useful for those doing ‘sketchy’ activities. If you stick with good practices and provide value in your emails – then why would you have to worry about ending up in the spam box?A better example would be copywriting and optimization. Increasing the open rates of your emails that sit in email inboxes and provide clear calls to action within the emails – whether it’s getting someone to buy something or sign-up on your site.

    1. fredwilson

      it’s exactly the opposite of thatyou can’t get any value from return path or any other deliverability serviceif you do “sketchy activities” because you kill your reputationreturn path doesn’t improve your reputation. you do. but they help youmeasure it and monitor itand if your reputation is good enough, they can get you on whiteliststheir customers are some of the highest reputation mailers in the world whounderstand the value of reputationthey won’t take you as a customer if you do “sketchy things”

  2. Bill Davenport

    We’ve had a really good experience with Return Path, started working with them a few months ago. The context of the engagement is that our company provides email campaign services to financial advisors (among other things), and increasingly we’ve found that the campaigns we help them with sometimes, at specific ISP’s, get flagged as spam. Return Path helped us identify systemic problems in what we were doing and gave us very clear steps to remedy.

  3. scottmag

    A distinction with email is that content arriving in the inbox appears equal – there’s no distinction to the recipient between high sender reputation score (increased organic deliverability results) and paid whitelisting (the email equivalent SEM in this analogy). Care should be taken by the industry – marketers and sender services such as Return Path – that increased inbox results coincide with increased sender reputation. Email has a difficult reputation to overcome. If the “bad guys” get access to the same sending services as legitimate permission-based marketers then it’s a never-ending arms race.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s exactly rightthere have been other approaches to deliverability that have come and gonereturn path has always based its services on reputationand that is why they are the leader in the market

  4. kidmercury

    i am still unclear on what return path does. do they send out emails for companies? like if i want to do an email blast, i import my leads into return path’s system and send it out that way? i feel like i’m wrong, but that’s the best guess i can make.

    1. mattb2518

      KidMercury – we don’t send emails. We make sure they get into the inbox after you send them. Happy to dialog more directly about this – matt at returnpath dot net

    2. fredwilson

      the companies that send mail for companies are called ESPs. Return Path isnot an ESPthey provide a set of deliverability services that you can use whether yousend the mail yourself or if you use an ESPthey provide tools like manager and monitor that are applications thatmonitor your reputation and deliverability and tell you when your mail isnot getting delivered and whythey also provide whitelisting services which allow you to get into the”fast lane” with many of the top ISPs and webmail services

  5. Dave Hendricks

    Fred – ReturnPath has been a great partner for many of us in the email business. They are a rare example of a business to business service which can lift all boats in an industry. Their service is an incredibly valuable piece of the plumbing. Their value proposition is clear and simple to the businesses that use them and transparent to the consumers who benefit from their work.Plus Matt and his team and jes plain great folks.You’ll likely get many comments on this thread that will demonstrate a lack of understanding of the offering as well as a lack of appreciation of the underlying ethical nature of the RP service. Legitimate mailers (read: brands, ESPs and Agencies) need this service to rise above the din created by the low barrier to emailing, one of the best and most enduring features of the public continues to be the most effective communications and marketing tools ever invented – here’s to RP keeping it both.

    1. awaldstein

      No question abt the value of email as a communications tool. But after using a number of vendors in the space, the value of their management tools while, significant, were far inferior in importance to the value of the list itself. After looking at their site, its not obvious how their approach is different. I’m interested and this is a call to RP to market their uniqueness. Lot’s of folks are looking for an answer.

      1. Dave Hendricks

        Ultimately three things matter in email: how/why data was collected(list), what is sent (content) and whether it reaches the end user atthe right time/at all.ReturnPath helps with getting mail delivered – a very importantelement. They do other things too, but this is the bane of themarketer’s existence and in this respect RP is very effective.Their tool set is great and many of the best ESPs have integrated itinto their products. Very disruptive.

        1. awaldstein

          Thnx. Great input.

  6. Kevin Stecko

    Fred, consider this a request for a “Return Path Lite” for companies that don’t send out millions of emails per month. We send out anywhere from 120 k to 250 k emails per month and Return Path is too expensive at our sending level.

    1. mattb2518

      80sTees – contact me offline so I can figure out with you what’s going on. Some of our services are extremely inexpensive. matt at returnpath dot net

      1. chefbikram

        We are even smaller with any email (under 10k). We are just about to re-enter email land. I’m curious which ESPs Return Path likes. There are so many. Our short list includes: Vertical Response, GetResponse, Aweber, Icontact, Yesmail and Mail chimp…and Software provider Interspire email Marketer. But we’re pretty small and rely on our Blog as a means of communication. We used email marketing a few years ago via Constant Contact, but do not want to use them again. Our customer email lists are in need of refreshing and likely our initial bounce rates will be high.So again, curious what Fred, other commenters and RP recommend for a small business ESP.

        1. fredwilson

          Normally I’d recommend constant contact. I’m curious what went wrong with them. I’m sure others would like to know too

          1. chefbikram

            Fred, it was a customer service issue — after we’d been a customer for a 2-3 years, we somehow had a “bad” email address added to our database. don’t know how. we don’t purchase lists. again, we’re pretty small and started with a list of book customers, folks in the travel world, and subscribers and athletes that also either contacted us, read our book etc. So, CC refused a list — small one too — over this one email address. I just felt it wasn’t right. Mistakes happen. Anyway, the service was just fine in terms of how it worked. It was for our team a principle thing. hope this helps.

          2. fredwilson

            got it thank you

        2. mattb2518

          Chefbikram – email me directly at matt at returnpath dot net please!Matt

  7. Mihai Badoiu

    I can see how Return Path can help legitimate companies send email and get ahead of purely spam email. It’s good to see somebody tackle the email spam problem. :)However, what if one doesn’t want to receive any kind of extra email from companies, legitimate or not? I suspect most people want this, ie, no email, except for personal one.–mihai

    1. jamesuk

      Agreed it is getting to the point that even emails i might have in the past read and been interested in are being instantly deleted due to amount of spam received and where i have given email out the firms seem to be increasing 10 fold the amount being sent so they getting deleted too. So yes for me ideal personal only.

  8. nintendo ds r4 card

    Most of this kind of this email goes to SPAM. And nobody try to read it. Then how SEM via email get benefits.

  9. senan

    SEO is something that should be considered from the get go when putting together a website. Also, the ‘paid for’ services of SEO and SEM do not have to be too expensive, there are plenty of providers.

  10. markallenroberts

    Thank you for this post,As the economy gets more difficult, it seems email marketing gets worst as I discuss in my blog post: http://nosmokeandmirrors.wo…Mark Allen

  11. SEO girl

    Generating quality links is the surest way to monetizing your sites. Building a good email reputation takes time but pays well. Its advisable to hire an SEO expert if you doubt your expertise. seo firm

  12. poker rakeback

    The bulk of the emails will be ignored or deleted, so I dont see it being very efficient from a money or time standpoint.

  13. Nick Stamoulis

    These days it really takes every single aspect of online marketing to become visible online in the search engines. Things like consistent PR, industry articles, social media and email marketing are a must. With spending at historical lows it really requires companies and brands to be visible from every corner.

  14. Wine Consumer

    If the email subject is interesting enough, then it gets highest opening rate. But I do agree it is necessary to be on commercial whitelists when sending out commercial email so we dont get marked as ‘spam’ by the recipient’s inbox.