Email marketing is useless if your messages do not reach your intended audience.
Effective email campaigns can have a real impact on companies of all types, but only if the communications make it to a subscriber's inbox. There's nothing worse than crafting the perfect message only to have it never see the light of day. Deliverability is the most basic building block of any successful email marketing effort. In addition to other key email analytics, deliverability rates should be evaluated regularly as a performance indicator, since they can impact future campaigns. While it may seem simple enough, there could be several factors preventing your messages from reaching your target audience.
What is email deliverability?
Also referred to as "inbox placement," email deliverability indicates where an email ends up once it reaches the recipient. The final destination may be in the main inbox, a spam folder, a digital trash bin or a designated space set by the contact. Deliverability rates differ from delivery rates, which simply indicate whether email bounces back to the sender.
According to the 2020 Deliverability Benchmark Report, 1 in 6 emails never make it to an inbox. That means for every six carefully planned messages, a marketing team curates and sends, one may not be delivered due to spam filtering. This frustrating fact should inspire companies to examine deliverability closely, but what determines where an email lands in the first place? [Read related article: Best Email Marketing Software for 2021]
What affects email deliverability?
There are three main points of consideration that dictate email deliverability rates:
Sender reputation. Internet service providers (ISPs) use a sender reputation score assigned to every outgoing mail server to determine if an email should make it to an inbox or if it should be rejected. The sender score can range anywhere from 0-100 and is calculated by examining myriad metrics such as unsubscribes and spam reports. A score of 96 or above will almost always prevent an ISP from flagging the sender's mail as spam.
Identification. In internet lingo, identification refers to how ISPs authenticate email sender information. It may include the Sender Policy Framework (SPF), which specifies the servers allowed to send email from a domain; DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), an email tool utilizing cryptographic technology to validate a domain; and/or Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC), a reporting protocol that protects domain owners from spoofing. Deploying any of the above tools will help reduce the risk of your emails being rejected.
Email content. If your communications look and feel like spam, they will almost certainly be regarded as such. Poor formatting, broken links, and copy containing dollar signs or too many exclamation points may be signs of a spam message, so a round or two of conservative proofreading is a must before sending any email.
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What is a good email deliverability rate?
Ideally, every email sent would reach its intended target, but bounces and rejections inevitably occur from time to time. Realistically, an acceptable email deliverability rate is 95% or higher. Anything lower than this would signal an alarm for marketing teams to explore current strategies and pinpoint ways to improve email deliverability rates moving forward.
How to improve your email deliverability
If you're finding your email deliverability to be less than stellar, consider using some of the following strategies:
1. Start small.
Building up the reputation of your internet protocol (IP) address is an important step to defend against deliverability issues, and testing the waters is one great place to begin. Start campaigns by sending small batches of emails to your most engaged subscribers first, and slowly increase the volume. Segmenting contact lists by open and click-through rates can help streamline the process.
By reaching an audience that has already demonstrated they both accept and appreciate your communications, you'll slowly gain trust with ISPs. This is a simple yet effective way to improve email deliverability organically over time.
2. Scrub your contact list regularly.
Keeping a robust email list (and checking it regularly) is a crucial part of deliverability success. Contact information is expected to change over time, so routinely removing inactive or questionable subscribers routinely is imperative. Remove contacts who have not opened or clicked on your communications in several months.
Remember bounce rates play a role in how ISPs judge an outgoing mail server, so eliminating any email addresses that have sent back hard bounces is worth the time and effort. An acceptable bounce rate is around 2.5% – anything more than that may negatively affect sender reputation scores.
3. Know your numbers.
Speaking of sender scores, it's a good idea to keep track of where your IP falls on the scale to improve email deliverability. These scores may vary slightly depending on the ISP, since they analyze data sporadically and can fluctuate over time depending on reconciling factors. As mentioned above, a score of 95% or higher is ideal and will typically avoid spam flags.
Companies can find their scores for free using ReturnPath. The sender reputation score is one of the biggest reasons why ISPs reject emails, meaning marketing teams will want to perform routine checks to ensure they're on the right track.
4. Don't fall for spam traps.
ISPs love to catch junk mail aggressors in the act, and spam traps are one of their favorite ways to do it. A spam trap (sometimes referred to as a honeypot) is an email address created by an ISP specifically meant to flag spammers and stop them in their tracks. They may be embedded in websites and obtained through scraping, appear on purchased contact lists, or come from the recycled addresses of formerly active users.
To prevent being caught up in a spam snare, avoid buying email lists, and verify the correct spelling of addresses already on your list (typos are often a sign of a trap).
5. Choose your "from" name carefully.
Personalizing emails is an easy yet powerful way to increase engagement and reduce spam complaints at the same time. Placing your brand along with a first name in the "from" line of an email (for example, "Rachelle from BDC," as opposed to "info" or "marketing") adds a personal touch that’s likely to resonate with the subscriber.
Adding the contact's first name in the subject line has also been shown to boost open rates, so consider deploying both personalization methods to improve your odds of clicks. Engage with your emails, and extend a friendly tone sure to impress.
6. Double your opt-ins.
Inviting website visitors to opt in to emails is fantastic for building a subscriber base, but going the extra mile from the beginning will pay off in dividends through better deliverability rates over time. A double opt-in requires the new contact to verify their decision to receive your company's communications via a confirmation email.
Deploying a double opt-in can help ensure a submitted address is indeed receiving email and hoping to engage further, a win-win for any marketing team.
7. Schedule campaigns consistently.
Careful email campaign planning is key for a variety of reasons. Sending regular marketing emails (without being overly intrusive) can help maintain relationships with your audience while also helping to prevent ISP rejection. Erratic email scheduling is viewed as suspicious and may lead to spam reporting from subscribers who forget they opted in.
Try sending one email a week and analyze the analytics to inform future strategies. Communicating once per month should be considered the minimum to keep subscribers engaged.
8. Explore feedback loops and blacklists just in case.
If you've exhausted all of the tricks on this list and you're still struggling to improve your email deliverability rate, you may want to check if your IP has been reported for bad behavior. Complaint feedback loops (FBLs) are gathered by ISPs and contain information about email recipients who have complained about the sender's communications. Deploying an FBL provides insight into which campaigns are especially problematic for marketers.
DNS-based blacklists contain IPs that have received a large number of spam reports. ISPs scour these blacklists, automatically rejecting emails from domains named. Companies should avoid being blacklisted at all costs, since the process of removal is extremely time-consuming and complicated.