Boost Your Email Deliverability
Whether you are an e-commerce-only establishment or you operate a brick-and-mortar shop, digital marketing is a must to compete in an increasingly digital world. Your online presence builds relationships with current and prospective customers, and your email campaigns ensure you are top-of-mind when clients are ready to buy.
Unfortunately, effective email marketing isn’t a simple matter of clicking send on a hastily written message. The people on your distribution list get dozens - sometimes hundreds - of promotional emails daily. A variety of filters automatically screen a number of these out, and overwhelmed consumers are often tempted to hit delete on the rest.
Ensuring messages reach recipients’ inboxes is the first obstacle you must overcome. The second is persuading recipients to open your emails. The good news is that it is possible to put your messages in front of your intended audience and induce them to click “open” instead of “delete” with a few basic steps.
What Is Email Deliverability?
The Vocabulary of Email Deliverability
Click-to-Open Rates (CTOR)
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
What Is Email Deliverability?
The top three issues that prevent your emails from reaching your target audience and motivating them to buy include attracting attention from spam filters, a high bounce rate, or failing to engage recipients. These issues, alone or in combination, create risk for your entire campaign.
You will know something is wrong when open rates and click-through rates are unexpectedly low, but by then, it is too late. You have to start over. A better strategy is to minimize these issues before you hit send so your messages get to inboxes without delay.
Email deliverability refers to the first issue on that list: attracting attention from spam filters. Email service providers have sophisticated tools to screen promotional messages out, and your goal is to avoid landing in the junk folder.
However, that is not to be confused with email delivery - the second issue. When your email doesn’t make it through to its destination at all, it is said to have “bounced.” In other words, it was returned as undeliverable.
When To Optimize Email Deliverability
Measures to enhance email deliverability come before the rest of your digital marketing plan. Once you have developed a strategy, deliverability makes the rest of the plan possible.
Optimize your email deliverability and complete related testing before moving forward with the remaining steps.
Once you have ensured successful delivery, you can select and segment your target audience, create impactful copy, and design an appealing layout that draws readers into your message.
Then, it’s a matter of reviewing post-campaign analytics to determine which areas need tweaking before your next digital marketing move.
And Content (IRC)
Everyone knows someone who was taken in by an email scammer. These days, the solicitations are far more sophisticated than stories about deposed Nigerian princes.
Among other schemes, scammers have become skilled at using email to persuade recipients that loved ones are experiencing financial emergencies, or they trick people into giving up sensitive information like banking login IDs and passwords.
There are endless attempts to convince unwitting victims to invest in “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” and email fraud related to non-existent cryptocurrencies is a hot trend.
Email platforms do their best to protect their users from fraud by screening out suspicious messages. In addition, they work to reduce the amount of unwanted advertising cluttering up mailboxes.
Automated tools examine messages to identify untrustworthy senders or those that use dubious marketing practices.
Specifically, the technology validates that emails are providing accurate information about the sender, that they come from a reputable source, and that they contain content that is valuable to recipients.
The Best Way To
Minimize Email Fraud
One of the fastest ways to land in a spam folder is to send emails that can’t be authenticated. Automated tools examine each message for three identification protocols:
Sender Policy Framework (SPF)
DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)
These protocols are specifically designed to match the actual sender with details on where the message originated. If there is no match, you can’t be authenticated.
When that happens, the best-case scenario is being sent to a spam folder. The worst-case scenario is being blocked from the email service provider’s server altogether.
How Reputation Affects Email Deliverability
Once you have proven that you are who you say you are, additional tools evaluate your reputation. If your reputation score is low, your message goes off to the spam folder.
Several reputational factors are considered in choosing whether to mark your messages as spam or inbox material. Most are related to how users have responded to your emails in the past. If you have been blocked or marked as spam repeatedly, have high bounce rates, or are the subject of multiple complaints, your messages will go straight to spam.
On the other hand, if your name appears on many of your recipients’ “trusted senders” lists, your reputation is stronger. That means a lower likelihood of landing in a spam folder.
When evaluating a sender’s reputation, email service providers are interested in where you got your mailing list.
High bounce rates signal that you did not build your list organically by adding individuals who indicated interest or otherwise opted-in.
When a higher-than-average percentage of your messages are returned as undeliverable, it suggests you bought the list from a third party or are using outdated information. Neither helps build your reputation as a trusted sender.
It’s worth noting that the sheer volume of emails you send can work for you or against you. Spammers are working a numbers game, and they rarely bother with segmenting their audience.
Only a small percentage of their messages get a response, so they send massive amounts of email. Reputable businesses are in the habit of sending fewer messages to a carefully selected list of recipients. In most cases, email service providers can tell the difference.
Compliance with regulations that apply to email marketing is a critical factor in building your reputation. For example, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 is well-known for requiring email marketers to make unsubscribing easy.
However, that’s not the only rule to keep in mind. Marketing emails must be clearly labeled as advertisements, and you cannot use misleading subject lines or false header information. You are also expected to disclose your physical address - PO boxes and commercial mailbox services are acceptable.
Why Content Matters For Email Deliverability
Finally, your content matters when it comes to whether filters send you to the spam folder. Advanced review tools examine your messages for red flags. Certain words, phrases, and formats are common among spammers. If you use them, too, your messages will suffer the same fate.
More importantly, your readers can manually filter your emails by marking them as spam. When this happens, all of your future messages go directly to their spam folder, which means you don’t have a second chance to reach them.
Email service providers take note of senders who are regularly marked as spam. Likewise, if too many of your messages are deleted without being opened, email providers notice. They assume you are sending unwanted content, and they will automatically redirect you to spam.
Your content is more than what appears in the body of your message. Subject lines with spammy words can trigger a trip to the junk folder, whether because your message was caught by a spam filter or your recipient wasn’t impressed. In either case, your reputation suffers, and your email deliverability rate drops.
Best Practices For Ensuring Accurate Identification
Ensuring that email platforms can validate your identity is a top priority - without authentication, your marketing simply won’t reach your intended audience.
Some businesses choose an all-in-one solution like Salesforce’s Sender Authentication Package (SAP). Others prefer to tackle authentication tasks independently.
One of the most effective methods of ensuring you can be appropriately identified is by setting up a custom domain name. Your email address will match, making it easier to validate that you are a trusted sender - and reducing the likelihood that you will be relegated to spam.
Your MX (Mail Exchange) Record is another essential factor in boosting your email deliverability.
Essentially, the MX Record is housed in the Domain Name System (DMS) to indicate which server has been designated to accept emails on behalf of your domain and how your messages should be routed based on SMTP protocols.
If you skip this step, some internet service providers won’t be able to process your messages, so they won’t reach the individuals on your distribution list.
The ESPs receiving your emails will use a combination of tools to authenticate that the messages actually came from you. For example, SPF verifies your IP address and confirms that your web host is authorized to send emails from your domain, and DKIM validates that the owner of the email address is the actual sender of the message.
DMARC is a more advanced tool that uses information sharing to authenticate senders. Ideally, you will be set up with all three methods for maximum effect.
How To Improve Your Sender Reputation
In the digital world, your reputation as a sender is more than word-of-mouth.
It's like a credit score - you are rated based on specific factors that demonstrate your commitment to responsible email marketing.
Note that various email platforms measure reputation slightly differently, but they generally evaluate you based on similar criteria.
Best Practices for Warming Up a List
If you are new to email marketing or sending from a new IP address, gradually building your presence is more effective than plunging in with a massive campaign. A sudden barrage of messages from an unproven sender triggers spam alarms, and your emails are likely to be flagged.
Instead, warm up by starting with a small, targeted campaign, then increase your volume over time. This is best done at predetermined intervals rather than sending sporadic flurries of emails to portions of your mailing list.
Early campaigns should focus on recipients you have a strong relationship with - the ones who probably won’t mark your messages as spam.
Good candidates include customers who recently opted in to receive your newsletter and marketing emails or those who make regular purchases from your business.
Managing Your Reputation
If you are an established business with a history of marketing via email, managing your reputation begins with understanding your current status. You can check this through the following tools:
Collectively, these five tools cover a majority of email providers. If your results are poor, your email deliverability will almost certainly suffer.
Some providers give detailed information on how they determine whether your messages belong in spam folders, while others keep their methodology under wraps.
However, the specific criteria and how those criteria are weighted in scoring calculations aren’t necessary for improving your reputation. If you focus on the following factors, you will improve your reputation with every provider.
Most businesses choose an email service provider (ESP) and stick with it. Certainly, there are occasional changes, but that’s an exception rather than a rule.
If you frequently change ESPs, your reputation will suffer, as it appears that you are attempting to circumvent rating systems.
Low Complaint Rate
Every email service has a prominent “report spam” or “mark as spam” button that allows recipients to remove your message from their inbox. Unfortunately, every time they do so, it is logged as a complaint, and that counts against your sender reputation.
Even the best content from the most reputable senders is occasionally marked as spam, so you can expect a few of these with every campaign. However, if your complaint rate is above 0.1 percent or one out of one thousand, it’s time to make some tweaks.
Note: When recipients rescue one of your emails from the spam folder by moving it to their inbox and/or checking “this is not spam,” it positively impacts your reputation.
Low Percentage of Filtered Messages
There is a snowball effect when it comes to email deliverability, which can work for you or against you.
The more often your messages are filtered into spam folders, the lower your reputation score - which, in turn, causes more of your emails to be filtered.
Your goal is to move the needle in the opposite direction with high deliverability rates that build your reputation. That ensures the success of future email campaigns.
Volume of Messages
The quantity of emails you send isn’t of particular concern in absolute terms, but volume plays an important role in your reputation relative to other factors.
Your reputation is built on how metrics like filtered messages, bounce rates, and complaints measure when compared to your total volume.
Receiving one complaint out of 5,000 emails is not an issue. Receiving one complaint out of 100 emails is more of a problem.
Email platforms may also notice if you have a sudden increase or decrease in message volume.
Again, that’s not necessarily an issue in isolation, but if it coincides with other red flags like increased complaint rates, higher sender rejected rates, and so forth, your reputation may be impacted.
Low Sender Rejected Rate
There is a fate worse than getting caught in a spam filter. An email service provider can reject you altogether.
If your reputation is quite poor or you can’t be authenticated, your message is blocked. If you have a high sender rejected rate, it’s a big deal, and it means you must rework your entire strategy from start to finish.
Not only are your marketing efforts doomed, but you may also be violating digital marketing regulations, which can result in costly fines and penalties.
Low Unknown User Rate
Email platforms keep an eye on email delivery statistics and notice if you have many invalid addresses on your mailing list.
Spammers tend to use outdated lists that include mistyped addresses, so a high unknown user rate is a red flag.
Your goal is to avoid unknown users or bounced emails by growing your distribution list through a legitimate opt-in system.
Regular hygiene practices like validating email addresses and clearing out old information are effective in keeping your unknown user rate low.
No Spam Trap Hits
Spam traps are set up to catch disreputable senders, so it is critical to avoid them. That’s relatively easy to do. Pristine spam traps are email addresses that have never been used.
The only way they can make it onto a distribution list is through “scraping” websites for email addresses or buying mailing lists from a third party. Getting caught in a pristine spam trap even once can land you on blocklists for life.
Recycled spam traps are a little different. These are email addresses that have been abandoned by users for a year or more. The original user might have opted-in to your messages at one time, but they are no longer using that mailbox.
Email providers notice if you continue to send messages to obsolete addresses, so be sure to scrub your distribution list regularly.
10 Tips for Engaging Content
You can use a variety of techniques to reach inboxes the first time, but staying there is a bigger challenge. If you want subscribers to open your emails rather than hitting the delete or mark as spam keys, you must have high-quality content that engages readers.
Otherwise, your email deliverability will drop quickly. Recovering after the reputational damage of multiple complaints is difficult, and you will never get some of those recipients back.
Optimize messages for mobile devices - that’s where most people read their email.
Offer HTML and plain-text options, as not everyone is set up to receive HTML messages easily.
Stay away from spammy language in the subject line and body of your messages. That includes words and phrases like earn money, make money, any use of dollar signs, free, fast cash, miracle, dear friend, you are a winner, and once in a lifetime.
Use professional formatting and punctuation. No need for excessive exclamation points, multiple question marks, or all caps lettering.
Provide the content you promised. If your subscribers signed up for informative blog posts, don’t pester them with basic marketing materials.
Tailor content for unique audiences. Break your distribution list down by interests, demographics, and similar, then send relevant content to the sub-groups.
Keep branding consistent across channels and through email campaigns so your messages have a familiar look and feel.
No-reply email addresses don’t score any points with email service providers and recipients. If at all possible, send from an account that can accept replies.
Public link shorteners seem like a clever way to keep things simple. Unfortunately, they are a favorite tool for email fraud. Best not to risk being flagged as spam for using them.
Find balance with the frequency of your messages. Too many, and recipients will mark as spam to declutter their mailboxes. Too few, and recipients will forget they signed up at all.
Even if you hit all ten of these best practices, your email campaign can result in a high unsubscribe rate if you forget the most fundamental rule of content marketing: every message you send must be well-written and contain useful information for readers to find it valuable.
Attractive formatting can’t hide grammatical errors, so enlist the services of quality content creators and copy editors for every message you send.
Analyzing Email Marketing Success
The moment your emails go out, data starts coming in. Bounce rates are available almost immediately, and it doesn’t take long to determine how many of your messages were filtered into spam folders.
Other key performance metrics like open rates, unsubscribe counts, and complaints take a bit longer to collect, but every piece of information is crucial to your long-term success.
Use the data from current campaigns to make future email marketing efforts more effective. That starts with scrubbing distribution lists when you receive notification of outdated or incorrect email addresses.
Honor unsubscribe requests immediately and pay attention to the feedback provided if you use an unsubscribe form. Are your messages no longer relevant? Too frequent? Something else?
Low open rates indicate you aren’t connecting with your audience, either because recipients aren’t engaged with your brand or your subject line isn’t compelling. Low click-to-open rates show that you are drawing readers in, but they aren’t motivated to take action. Consider why and reconfigure future content.
Consider every email campaign an opportunity to learn what works - and what doesn’t - with your current and prospective customers. Adjust accordingly to increase the success of future email marketing efforts.
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