6 Things You Need to Know About Deliverability
When you hit send on a marketing email, you can’t be 100 percent certain that it’s going to reach its destination. Every email has to clear a number of hurdles before it gets anywhere near the intended recipient.
The first hurdle is delivery – whether you even have the correct email address for your recipient. After that, it all comes down to deliverability.
What is Deliverability?
Deliverability is the likelihood that your email will end up in the recipient’s inbox, rather than a spam folder. Also known as inbox placement, deliverability depends on several factors, such as the subject line, title, and content.
Most important of all is your sender reputation. ISPs keep track of email domains, and they keep track of anyone who might be a spammer or sender of malicious emails. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a low sender score, which hurts your ability to deliver an email to someone’s inbox.
Worst case scenario, you could get blacklisted entirely. If this happens, then every email from your domain gets blocked automatically.
You may think this could never happen to you. After all, you send legitimate emails that everybody loves, right? But plenty of senders run into problems with deliverability, and it’s often due to some avoidable mistakes.
How to improve deliverability
1. Authenticate your domain
When you authenticate your domain, you’re certifying that you’re really who you say you are. This helps your sender reputation, as it shows that your identity has been verified. More importantly, it prevents malicious parties from spoofing your email address, which can be a risk to your members.
Domain authentication is a very technical process, and you may need your IT team or tech consultants to help. The pillars of domain authentication are:
- SPF – Sender Policy Framework
- DKIM - DomainKeys Identified Mail
- DMARC - Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, & Conformance
2. Be consistent with sender info
Sender info consists of two things: the email address and the sender's name. For example, your email might be firstname.lastname@example.org, which shows up in the recipient’s inbox as Ken Lee.
To improve deliverability, try to send all emails from the same mailbox, and use sender information that’s easy to recognize. For example, send your regular newsletter from email@example.com, with the sender’s name set to The Association Newsletter.
3. Avoid sales-ey subject lines
Spammers are very keen for you to open their email. That’s why they use excitable subject lines with lots of emoji, exclamation marks, and phrases like “act now!”
You don’t need to use these techniques if your email is of genuine value to the reader. Instead, use the subject line to explain what that value is, such as “Annual conference preview” or “New e-learning tools available.”
4. Remove hard bounces
Sometimes you will receive an automatic email to tell you that your message couldn’t be delivered. These bounce messages will usually tell you the problem, which is generally one of the following:
- Domain not known – there’s an issue with the part of the email address after the @ symbol
- Recipient not known - there’s an issue with the part of the email address before the @ symbol
- Mailbox full, disabled, or cannot accept incoming emails for some other reason
If it’s a problem that can’t be fixed, then you should just remove the email address from your distribution lists. When you keep sending undeliverable emails, it can affect your sender reputation.
5. Give up on lost causes
If people are routinely ignoring your emails, then it may be time to stop trying to contact them. Even if the recipient isn’t flagging you as spam, those unopened emails show that you’re not sending valuable communications, which can hurt your sender score.
There are some exceptions – your newsletter generally has to go to all members, even if they don’t open it. Where possible, however, you should remove dead leads from marketing shots. Try giving them a break for six months and then send them a win-back offer. If they ignore that too, take them off your lists permanently.
6. Use email verification
Errors can creep into your distribution lists over time. You may end up with some email addresses that aren’t even valid, such as those that contain illegal characters. An email verification tool can weed these out so that you’re not sending excess emails.
Email verification can also help you to spot spam traps. These are fake email addresses used by ISPs to catch spammers – send an email to one of theses addresses and you’ll be instantly blacklisted. Even if you’re sure that your distribution list is legitimate, it’s worth double-checking with the right tools.
What happens if you don’t improve deliverability?
Email is so fast and cheap that you can be tempted not to worry about this stuff. Rather than spend time and money improving deliverability, why not just go for the spray-and-pray approach to email marketing?
If you don’t focus on deliverability, you’ll run into some serious problems, such as:
Your email costs go up
Email is a very cheap method of communication, but it is not free. Most associations use an email automation service which charges on a per-send basis, so every email counts. Focusing on the rules of deliverability will help cut down on wasted emails.
Your sender reputation suffers
There’s no system of appeal for your sender reputation. It’s based entirely on the quality of previous emails sent, which means that when you send garbage, your score plummets and there’s nothing you can do about it.
You’ll be added to blacklists
Blacklisting is the worst-case scenario. It means that anything you send will be automatically rejected, cutting you off entirely from all recipients at that domain. You might be able to convince the email server administrator to remove you from a blacklist manually, but that’s entirely at their discretion.
People who want your emails won’t get them
Deliverability generally works on a per-domain basis. If one person at that domain flags you as spam, it will affect inbox placement for everyone at that domain.
For example, imagine that Donna and Larry work together at Omnicorp Ltd. Donna is an existing association member, while Larry is a potential lead. You bombard firstname.lastname@example.org with lots of poor-quality marketing emails, which he flags as spam. Eventually, the omnicorp.com email server will start blocking all messages from you – which means that email@example.com won’t get her newsletters or other vital member communications.
Maximizing email deliverability isn’t hard. It’s just a matter of following best practice – authenticate your domain, maintain your distribution lists, and send great emails.
About Jason Green
Jason has an uncanny ability to communicate complex technical solutions across client teams while executing from non-technical descriptions. He has a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology Web Management and spent 13 years working at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Having worked in an association for that length of time, he knows how best to communicate the value of technology solutions to empower the member experience.