Much is made of email marketing’s reputation for being a marketing channel that can deliver BIG in terms of ROI, but there’s one thing that can quickly turn dollars into despair. Oh you know we’re talking about email deliverability. If your emails aren’t landing in the inbox they’re about as much use as a chocolate teapot! Poor deliverability means even though you’re investing time and money, a significant proportion of your subscribers don’t hear a peep from you, most likely feeling a little abandoned, and that isn’t any way to nurture a relationship!
But it’s not all doom and gloom. If your email deliverability rates are low, don’t throw the towel in just yet. There ARE lots of things you can do to remedy this. A remarkable number of things that are under your control in fact. And to help take you on that journey from email doldrums to inbox bliss, we spoke to 24 experts who have decades of combined experience in this area, to get their thoughts on the steps you need to take to increase email deliverability.
Now it’s up to you. We’ve sought out the world-class advice for you, now you need to put it into practice. So scroll down the page and start learning about the changes you need to make to your email marketing program to get more of your emails hitting the target.
If you’ve used any of the tips shared in this article, we’d love to hear about the results you achieved in the comments section!
How to Increase Email Deliverability: 24 Experts Weigh In
“Which strategy will improve my email deliverability?” is probably a thought you have quite often if you run an email marketing program, and below you’ll find a top-level overview of all of the strategies that were shared in the making of this post. There’s no push-button secret shortcut that will improve your deliverability rates without any effort, but if you implement the advice shared by these experts, you’ll see gains in time.
- Reengage or Disengage (Gene Gusman)
- Implement Real-Time Email Verification on All Subscription Forms (Lauren Meyer)
- Seedlist Testing – Why It Is Important (Anthony Mitchell)
- Mind Your Canaries: Know Your Early Warning Signs and How to Monitor Them (Karen Balle)
- Differentiate Your Message Types By Sending IP and From Address (Anna Ward)
- Implement BIMI (Toshi Onishi)
- Know What the Best Practices Say (Vytis Marčiulionis)
- Email Authentication with SPF, DKIM, and DMARC (André Goermer)
- Deliverability Doesn’t Care About Your Business Model (Alison Gootee)
- Opt-Down and Reduce Cadence to Users As They Age (Zack Aab)
- Send LESS Email (Henry Gutierrez)
- Improve Engagement (Jennifer Nespola Lantz)
- Setting Clear Expectations for New Subscribers (Varun Srinivas)
- Build a Welcome Series (Dan Oshinsky)
- List Management is Key (Brett Schenker)
- Monitor Both Your Campaigns and Your Reputation (José Ramón García Layos)
- Inboxing – Constantly Warm Up Your Sending Domain and IP (Siva Devaki)
- Proper Data Management (Kevin Hopkinson)
- 3 Incorrect Beliefs that Could Seriously Damage Your Deliverability (Thibault Sarlat)
- Build the Trust You Need to Deliver an Email (Przemysław Kuciel)
- Avoid Big List Syndrome (Josh Nason)
- DO NOT BUY LISTS! (Mike Hillyer)
- Segment Your List (Scot Berggren)
- Be Ethical and Protect Your Inbox Reputation (Aleksandrs Vilums)
What the Experts Said: Deliverability Tips Explained
This section is where we’re hiding all the game-changing advice, where our experts explain their tips in greater detail for you. There’s so much value in what they’ve shared. I learned tons about deliverability by reading through each tip, and I’m 100% sure you will too!
If there’s one tip that catches your eye, you can skip right to it by using the handy filters below.
- Do Not Buy Lists!
- Real-Time Email Verification
- Improve Engagement
- Mind Your Canaries
- Segment Your List
- Send LESS Email
- Opt-Down/Reduce Cadence
- Data Management
- Change Sending IP and From Address
- Set Clear Expectations
- Protect Inbox Reputation
- Reengage or Disengage
- Build Trust
- Big List Syndrome
- Your Business Model is Irrelevant
- Seedlist Testing
- Monitor Campaigns + Reputation
- List Management
- 3 Incorrect Beliefs
- Know the Best Practices
- Build Welcome Series
- SPF + DKIM + DMARC
Build the Trust You Need to Deliver an Email – “Imagine that you are hosting a huge party, and the whole world is invited. Crazy, huh? Well that’s how it is to be an email provider.
Despite having security doing a great job by checking IDs (in this case SPF, DKIM, and DMARC) they can’t be sure that all guests will behave properly.
Finally, after a mandatory verification process they let you pass.
The lights hit your eyes, and in this very moment you acknowledge that you’ve gained a huge amount of trust.
Now, it is up to you. Will you start to build the trust you need to stay in the world-wide email party, or will you waste your opportunity and get kicked out for misbehaving (getting blocked). It is hard to get back into this splendid email party after getting kicked out – the hosts do not often give second chances.
But when you decide to be your best self in there, a huge world of opportunity opens. You are trusted. You are allowed to the special room out there, reserved just for trusted people – the Inbox.”
Seedlist Testing – Why It Is Important – “An E-Mail seed is an email address created with analytical purpose only. Basically, the test addresses you use for split A/B testing can be considered E-Mail seeds. You send an E-Mail to your test-address, to see if the subjectline looks good, if the content is okay and if and why the message was delivered to the E-Mail inbox, or not. Since manual A/B testing does not scale well, it’s recommended to use seedlist tools.
A Seedlist is a list with multiple seeds. Most typically, a seedlist contains various ISP seeds from various commercial ISPs plus a trigger seed, usually an address ending with something like “@app.inboxeverytime.com”.
The single trigger seed is used to receive and analyse content, authentication and mail headers.
The various ISP seeds are used to check to which folder (Inbox, Junk, etc.) this specific message and this specific address at this specific ISP was delivered. Typically ISP seeds contains email addresses from major international ISPs such as Gmail, Outlook & Verizon Media (Yahoo & AOL) plus other providers that are relevant to the region that is being targeted in your email marketing campaign.
ISP seeds have quite similar characteristics to spamtraps: By default, ISP seeds addresses do not open or click in any email. A good further read on how to exclude seed-generated clicks from your campaign analytics can be found under this link.
How Does It Work?
There are two kinds of purposes for seedlist tests:
- Testing to prevent issues. This is done by analysing the message content, authentication and header and by observing trends in inbox placement before a campaign is sent out.
- Testing to detect, reproduce and solve existing issues, usually done during or after the sending of a campaign.
The trigger seed helps to collate the information we have about a campaign and the entire seed list collectively. Once your email marketing campaign is setup and ready to be pushed live:
- Send a test first to the entire seed list.
- Sit back, and watch the results come in.
- Analyse the seed list results, for technical checks and Inbox placement rates.
During this process the trigger seed does most of the leg work, so to speak. The accumulated report allows for a full analysis of the whole email already in a matter of seconds. The reference seed checks the mail headers to ensure all is well with domain authentication, domain alignment and checks your body content, IP reputation and identifies what can be improved. That’s what you essentially really want to know before sending the campaign.
Now we’ve got that out of the way. The other, various seed addresses (major ISPs) have no other purpose but to show you where your email has landed, which is only moderately interesting for senders with organically grown data.
What are the Advantages?
Email marketing changes quickly, ISPs update their policies often, to change with new Industry Standards. It’s a great way to test what works! Any insight prior to going live can be advantageous, such as:
- Domain configuration / E-Mail authentication
- Mailserver setup
- IP-warmup metrics and evolvement
- Content quality
- Which mail-stream (i.e. marketing, transactional) is performing better
- Which ISP you face delivery challenges to and check for folder placement
- IP & domain reputation: Blocklists and spamfilters
And with the right interface, it saves you a lot of time testing.
Certain providers look closely at user engagement on an email account level. A full explanation would be sufficient content for another blog. Luckily, I have already written a blog about this subject in the past. When ISPs decide their actions on a per mailbox level, results for individual mailboxes are likely not to match your seedlist tesing ISP results. There is no (serious) way to implement those user based engagement metrics in a seedlist test. Instead, it’s better to look at the data from a bird’s eye perspective by observing trends. It’s neither scalable, nor necessary to see every detail. If many users show negative engagement metrics on a user-level, you are very likely to see the accumulated effect of that in your clean, unengaged ISP seeds. That way, it is possible to see what providers think of the overall setup and where you deliver by default.
Excessive testing to ISP seeds can also be damaging to your reputation, especially when you target seedlists with hundreds of seeds for every ISP worldwide. This is due to the fact that seeds do not engage with your email, it can be perceived you are sending to a large, inactive list.
Tip 1 – Test Before
Prevention can save your life, even if every test appears to be successful. It could, for example, happen, that a DNS administrator accidentally removes, let’s say, a DKIM record. This would be a once in a lifetime incident that could seriously damage the result of your campaign, or even your whole reputation. Through persistent testing any issue could be tackled before any damage can be done.
When issues are flagged, it’s a good idea to preventively fix them, even when they don’t appear to cause problems (aka. Junk folder delivery) at this very moment. The decision made by ISPs to put an E-Mail in the inbox or not is based on more than one factor. If the mentioned issue does not accumulate to problems today, it may accumulate to problems tomorrow.
Tip 2 – Test During & After
When you launch your campaign, always include a seed list and try to distribute the seeds evenly through your list. When sending to a large list of unengaged contacts, the result may worsen over time. This is where ISP seeds have the most relevancy. ISP seeds are a great way to observe trends within a campaign and at a global level. Important is again, to respond to each and every indicator before it can become a problem.
Tip 3 – Custom Seeds
To prevent reputation loss by excessive testing, it’s always a good idea to limit the seeds in your seedlist to the ISPs that are important to your marketing strategy.
It’s an obligatory exercise to find out which seeds are important to your marketing strategy. This information can be found by simply analysing your database to see the domain distribution of your database. Your seedlist should reflect the ISPs and ratios used. This way, the campaign volume covers up for the negative effects of testing.
If you have the option to use your own E-mail addresses in an automated seeding process, it even becomes possible to fake a certain user engagement per mailbox for analytical purposes. Note, however, that faking things is expensive and not “smart” per se.
Tip 4 – Automate!
A manual split A/B test is a lot of work. Automated seedlist tools help a lot, but you still need to spend time before and after each and every campaign to look at a test result. With an API for seedlist testing, it’s possible to automate the full, round process. Before sending a campaign, the seedlist is requested, mails are sent out, the result is collected and – if everything is alright – the campaign is being sent. The other way ’round, campaigns can be blocked from being sent in case of critical issues and alerts can be used to inform the responsible person.
If you really want to measure the success of your campaign(s), send one seed list test before and one test during each campaign. Keep it simple, automate and respond to flags in order to improve ROI for your email marketing campaigns.
See-d you later.”
Be Ethical and Protect Your Inbox Reputation – “There are a few best practices I would advise anyone wanting to improve their email deliverability to follow.
1. Think About Your Email Deliverability Reputation Score!
When email users open their mailbox, users have a chance to give reputation credit to email senders or take it away. This is done with functions that mail services provide to email users. When email users either mark or move an email message to spam/junk, delete unread messages or unsubscribe, they take away sender reputation credit. But when email users open, forward, reply to an email, categorize it, mark it as important, add the contact to the address book or move an email message from the spam/junk folder to the inbox, it gives reputation credit to the email sender. If sender reputation credit is high, senders have a better chance to deliver email messages into the inbox. And of course, email delivery speed is also better with a higher sender reputation score.
2. Keep Your Email Recipients Happy!
Before you send out an email message to your recipients, think about the value that they will get and how your recipients could react. Is the subject line interesting to them? Will they notice it and open your email? If the answer is yes, think about whether your content provides value, especially if your email recipients are receiving your email message for the first time. If these things all seem to be in order, do you expect some of your email recipients could mark your message as spam? If yes, think about why? What do your recipients want to receive and how frequently? Even if the email recipients didn’t remember where and how they joined your email list, if your message is interesting, the email recipients could continue to open your next email messages.
3. Check Your Email Delivery Quality Before You Send Out an Email Message to the Full List!
You have a list, you have content and your “from details” are set up for your email campaigns. Before you send out an email message to all your recipients, check if your content gets delivered into the inbox for your @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, @outlook.com mailboxes. If your test was delivered and landed in junk/spam folders then something is wrong and must be resolved before your message gets sent out to the full list and affects your delivery reputation. Sometimes problems could be with the service that you’re using to send out messages, so you could ask the service provider for help, but in my experience in most cases the problems are with content, sender reputation or sender settings. If you cannot resolve the problem yourself, you can ask deliverability specialists/consultants for help.
4. Use Email Delivery Reputation Monitoring Tools!
If your average open rate is below industry standards (or clicks to your pages from messages 7-10x less than your industry average open rate), you must use reputation monitoring tools for your company to check if your reputation is good enough to deliver your emails into the inbox. One of the free and easy to use tools that I recommend is postmaster.google.com.”
Setting Clear Expectations for New Subscribers – “The quickest way for an angry & impulsive subscriber to stop receiving emails is to click the “Mark as spam” button. This often happens if it is unclear to your subscribers what they are signing up for and when they’ll receive your message. The subscriber acquisition process is not just about adding another address to ‘the list’, it is about setting expectations up front about the email program and the value it provides.
Here are some best practices, to establish trust and retain subscribers:
- Use the subscribe landing page to explain email programs to subscribers.
- Outline objectives and subsequent incentives to the subscriber.
- Always be clear about mailing frequencies, be it once a week, twice or even daily.
- Mention display names and from addresses that will be used.
- Share sample content to the subscribers from the get-go. This will prepare them as to what to expect.
- Always be ‘TRANSPARENT’ about your business practices.
Morning Brew’s welcome email, confirming your subscription and telling subscribers that they can expect to receive news Monday to Saturday is a perfect example ensuring that the subscribers know what to expect.
Setting clear expectations at the beginning of the sign-up process reduces the risk of spam complaints or unsubscribes, thereby helping build trust with your subscribers.”
Deliverability Doesn’t Care About Your Business Model – “In my time handling an abuse desk for an ESP, one frequent refrain I heard was, “But you just don’t understand our business model!” This would be followed by an explanation as to why spamming people is integral to the sender’s business. Believe it or not, deliverability requirements are the same across all industries and businesses: send mail people want and expect, nothing more or less.
If your business model necessitates sending unsolicited email (also known as spam!), that also results in conversions of some kind, then your business is untenable. There is no legitimate business that can experience high deliverability while simultaneously sending spam–they are mutually exclusive. Forced opt-in? Spam. Scraped data? Spam. Industry contact list? Spam. Even if you KNOW the audience will be interested in your product if they could just see an email about it? Still spam, I’m sorry. Any time you send mail to recipients who didn’t ask for it, they will unsubscribe, mark the mail as spam, or –yikes– report you to your ESP.
Any time you send to an audience obtained through unsavory means, you also run the risk of hitting spam traps; those inscrutable addresses that can get you blocked and/or blacklisted. Since spam traps are indistinguishable from regular email addresses and receive mail without bouncing, even a list validated by a cleaning service won’t be able to suss them out. If you value deliverability, then the (very real) threat of having your mail blocked likely outweighs the (very imagined) benefits of spamming an audience of people in the hope that some of them will be so elated about your offerings that they’ll overlook the inbox intrusion and purchase anyway.
If you’re still thinking, “Okay but you really don’t seem to understand my business. We need to reach out to cold lists in order to build our list!”, then ask yourself these questions:
- When’s the last time you purchased something from an email you didn’t sign up for?
- Do you have a good impression of the brands who send you spam?
- If these truly are promising prospects, then why make a bad first impression?
3 Incorrect Beliefs that Could Seriously Damage Your Deliverability – “I can remember it like it was yesterday. My mentor explaining to me that Deliverability is the ability for an email message to get to its intended target without any modification.
Simply put, a message is either delivered (be it to the spam folder), or it is bounced. Sending and delivering one personal email message to Aunt Lily is a piece of cake. Sending hundreds of thousands or even millions of bulk messages in a matter of minutes to the same ISPs is another story. Why ? Because ISPs fight Spam. That is a good thing. You just don’t want your campaigns to fall victim of that raging war. So, since the other experts are putting forward the do’s, I’ll take the don’ts.
There are many rules and best practices that experienced professionals in the email marketing industry will tell you to follow. Blogs are filled with top ten lists of what you should do. Hell, I even wrote some myself, and I always enjoy reading new ones. Lots of these lists are very good, useful and properly rooted in the realities of our field.
Part of my consulting experience has shown me that senders don’t always follow what you advise them to do, even if they know perfectly that it is for their own good. Many times, I’ve met senders that need to be told what the bad moves are to realize the risks they are taking. That is why I have chosen to tell you which ways of thinking or which moves will surely make your program fail.
Remember that an email marketing program starts when you gather your future recipients’ emails and ends up with all the form that churn can take (unsubscription, spam complaint, hard bounce, long lasting disengagement, etc.).
In between is a daily battle to make your messages relevant, interesting, and expected. The right message, to the right person, at the right time and on the right channel. Easy to say, right?
So here is a list of the 3 wrong beliefs that could seriously sour your email marketing programs:
1 – The bigger (the DB), the better
Size doesn’t matter. The biggest ears don’t make you the best listener. Have you ever tried to put a cost on managing useless, unengaged contacts? Start by not subscribing them. Most of the time, the bigger the DB, the more bitter the results.
You must make the effort to ensure that the people who are entering your email marketing programs are doing so Freely, Easily and Willingly. Call it F.E.W. if it helps. Make sure that each of these adverbs apply. Do not be satisfied with 2 out of 3.
That means not only do you have to enlighten your soon to be subscribers at the point of registration, but to make a solemn promise, and live by your word. These are the happy F.E.W. after all. No sneaky wording, no opt out, no double negation, no funky business here. See it as wedding vows. It may not last your whole life, but you must live by the promise you made for as long as the relationship lasts. So, make it simple, and make it true.
Technically, this means that Double Opt In is your best friend here because nothing can show willingness and prove freedom of choice more than the 2 clicks needed. While you are at it, if Captcha is not mandatory, it is highly recommended. It’s the best defence against unwanted and dangerous contacts entering your database.
Half empty glass people will tell you that doing so you will lose many contacts compared to Simple Opt In. Of course. So what? Good riddance! How much do you think an unengaged address is worth?
Be smart and get rid of all subscribers that come from the same IP, the same day. It doesn’t make sense unless they are working at the same company and are sharing the same infrastructures. Don’t rush into sending them the first lot of marketing content. There are so many automated checks that can be done almost in real time. Not caring and acting on that can have you blacklisted in a blink of an eye. Preventing is preferable to curing.
2 – The more I send, the more I earn
Wrong! It’s not a linear relationship at all. Long gone are the golden days of mass marketing when all messages landed (at that time no one really cared where they landed anyway). Attention is scarce. Engagement is king. ISPs are masters of their own domains. Their wishes have become unwritten laws. I mean you are knocking on their doors. They are defending their castle and they make it their mission to keep their users and customers happy with the filtering they provide. How can you please the ISPs then? Segmentation.
Even daily deal sites should have some sort of segmentation to avoid overusing the trust they were given. For retailers, it’s even more important that they cherish and cuddle up to their most engaged contacts for as long as it lasts.
If your new contacts are not all Double Opt In (they rarely are), do not assume that freshly gathered contacts are necessarily engaged ones. Have them all pass through a nicely built welcome/activation program. Not just one email. A real sequence works better because not everything can be said in one message. Do not bombard them right away with your marketing content. Be patient and subtle and earn their trust right from the start. The most precious gift you can give them is to care for who they are and what they want.
If you are not sure, ask. The best welcome programs I’ve encountered were set up like a small poll.
Today, major ESPs can gather as much data as you can imagine. They include a DMP and Engagement Data Platform. So feed the beast, make it gather valuable information and you will for sure end up with actionable insights.
ESPs save all click and open related information. So, there is no good reason to not include engagement criteria in your most commonly addressed segment. Not caring to define what is an « engaged » contact in your business could easily be your downfall. It’s the number one rule for the ISPs: Target Active Contacts (T.A.C.). Ignore it at your own risk, but do not complain when your inbox delivery rates drop or even your open rates plummet to the ground.
For the less engaged, or the disengaged contacts, use automated reactivation programs. They will be the best investment of your time at that point in the customer lifecycle. Their indifference to your messages is a sign that they lost interest at one time or that you lost focus on their expectations, or both. The sooner you realize it and act on it, the better. Trying to rekindle the flame is not easy though. Don’t wait too long. If they are well thought out and built, no one should not open or click any of your messages for more than a few weeks.
3 – Keep them forever
When people are no longer interested in your content, it shows. Rates drop. So, after a time, let them leave. Hell, make it easy. After having done all that is technically possible, marketing wise (outside of full-blown reactivation harassment of course), you have to make it easy for unengaged contacts to leave. Never hide your unsubscription link. Put it both at the bottom and at the top of all your emails. Test it regularly. Make sure it’s working and that the process is simple to follow.
You do not want the recipients to find that spam complaint button appealing. The only acceptable diversion from that path is to set a preference centre or a poll form between the unsubscribe link and the actual unsubscription. You may be able to keep a few in, with lighter marketing pressure, but in any case, try to learn why they are leaving. Just as you wanted to learn about them when they got in, you should learn why they want to go out. But don’t sit on that information. Use it to cross-reference that reason with the source or time or marketing operation they were subscribed to. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn about your « providers » practices that way. Maybe their « gold » vein has dried up and you can move to better lands.
Keep in mind that abandoned addresses can be turned into recycled spam traps. Try to always address any subscribed contacts at least three times per year, regardless of their engagement status. But at the same time, you must apply a rule for unengaged addresses to be unsubscribed or discarded after too many attempts at reactivating them.
I’ve tried to focus your attention on the three major moments of the customer lifecycle: gathering consent, retention send outs, disengagement/churn. I’m sure other authors have described in more detail precise moments of that cycle and brought to your attention precise solutions to apply. Keep in mind that a sender reputation is more easily damaged than built and maintained, and that your patient efforts can easily be ruined and will likely cost you a lot of time, effort, money and not so fun discussions with your team. Remember, when in doubt, ask your deliverability support contact, and in the meantime try your best and…”
Proper Data Management – “I’d estimate that about half of all email deliverability conversations I’ve ever had, in some way or another, morph into a conversation about data management. It’s the elephant in the room that many people don’t understand is hurting them the most, and that’s what I will gently touch on here.
Always make sure you have a program setup that naturally churns emails out of your production for good after X number of sends/days with no engagement. Just look at it as a cost of doing business if you purchased the list, because it’s not necessarily those folks who are buying and sending emails that are the problem like most will allude. It’s all of those senders who are ignorant to the fact that delivering the same email into perpetuity is not a good strategy.
With that said, one of the worst data management strategies out there is when marketers demand email quotas in their lists counts. Now that is a practice that became obsolete the exact same day it was thought up. The end result is always years of sending to emails that will never engage; emails that are doing more harm than good by staying on the list. Keeping unengaged users on a list for years on end is like holding up a big sign that says to the filters “I don’t care!”. Folks implementing strategies like that should do a list hygiene scrub and take a gander at their Recycled trap metric.
That said, email providers and filters are incredibly sophisticated nowadays; and they are particularly good at how they are able to track reputation. The data you’re pushing through their systems tells them everything they need to know about you as a sender. In fact, their AI probably has ways to match data points that we can’t even think of. They are able to bucket every single email attempt at their users, which also happen to be their most important asset. Without the email user, ISPs cannot harvest engagement data and present them relevant advertisements. Their mission is clear – to protect those users at all costs. So please manage your data accordingly.”
DO NOT BUY LISTS! – “You may get approached about buying lists, but it’s the worst possible thing you can do. It’s tempting to think that you could potentially gain thousands of new people to reach with your message, but what you’re really getting is a minefield of spam traps, honeypots, and people who never asked for your message.
Buying a list is the quickest way to get blacklisted not only by the mailbox providers, but by the Email Service Providers (ESPs) who scan uploaded lists to try and catch list purchasers before they can start sending and ruin the ESP’s reputation.
Did your boss hand you a purchased list and ask you to get on it? Rather than send them email, use the list to generate lookalike audiences in other channels, craft a compelling and relevant ad copy, and point clicks at a landing page that encourages them to sign up for your list. Now you have a clean list of recipients who actively signed up for your content and a safe way to expand your email marketing footprint.”
Avoid Big List Syndrome – “Great deliverability always starts with sending emails to those who opted in/want to receive those emails, but another common misfire is what I call “big list syndrome” — when marketing likes to tout their list size.
The problem? A healthy chunk of those big lists likely haven’t engaged in quite some time, resulting in lower than expected inbox placement rates due to low engagement levels.
We always recommend cutting off email recipients that haven’t opened in more than two years and pushing them to a re-engagement campaign. From there, senders can likely cut down even more depending on what the stats tell them (ex. how soon someone unsubscribed following signup).
By cutting down on inactive recipients, senders can get a more realistic idea of their active list and why and when recipients are dropping off. That also can become beneficial following the cleanup as you can get a better sense of how your active users are responding to your campaigns, especially if open percentage is a key metric.
Keeping continually tight marketing lists is an easy way for senders to increase engagement and cut out the fat.”
Implement Real-Time Email Verification on All Subscription Forms – “We all know that email addresses are marketing gold.
It’s commonly mentioned that email has an ROI of 42:1. That’s a return of $42 for every $1 that you spend on email marketing.
That is four times higher than any other digital marketing channel.
And research shows that it’s 5x less expensive to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one.
So once your potential new customer has finally reached the point where they are actually willing to give you their email address, the last thing you want to do is collect incorrect information from them.
Normally that kind of mistake leads to a hard bounce, or potentially the address could be a typo spam trap. Both of those have a negative impact on deliverability.
In a world where competition is tight, studies show that 95% of visitors will come to your website or physical location only once, and never return again.
That means you have only one chance to collect their email address.
By implementing real-time email verification on all subscription forms, marketers are able to verify email addresses in real-time at the point-of-capture, and can even prevent the user from hitting ‘Submit’ until they have entered a valid email address.
This allows companies to not only reduce their hard bounce rates, but also to avoid missed connections with potential new leads, and build a larger and more qualified email list, which will inevitably lead to more revenue for the company.
It’s unlikely that unsuccessful subscribers will realize they fat-fingered their own address and come back to sign up again if your welcome email never arrives in their inbox.
Implementing real-time email verification on all of your subscription forms can ensure the email addresses you’re collecting are valid, and that your content will arrive in their inboxes as expected.”
Know What the Best Practices Say – “Know the best practices! When you know what the best practices are, you will be better placed to realize where you may have stepped out of line and what exactly you can fix to earn the favour of mailbox providers. And there is always something to fix, mainly because the email industry is very fluid and keeps changing constantly.
Here is where I recommend to start.”
Reengage or Disengage – “These days, one of the primary factors influencing email inbox placement is engagement. Even if you are doing all the right things in terms of permission, authentication, frequency and content, if your subscribers are not opening, clicking, responding, or otherwise engaging with your emails, then deliverability will suffer.
Sometimes people change their interests, change their minds, or simply get tired of the same thing. If that is happening with your email campaign, get their attention and find out what they do want. When someone has not interacted with any of your messages in a while, it’s time to change the conversation.
Maybe they are just not responding to the current subject matter, so change the Subject line and pre-header to include a call to action. The subject line and pre-header are your only line of communication until they open the email. And, since they have not been interacting, lower the frequency of sending.
Don’t wait until a subscriber has not engaged for six months before changing your message. It is not uncommon for an audience to open and click less frequently with time. When you see this happening, try offering an incentive or some new and special content to rekindle interest in the program.
Consider creating a segment of your list that was previously active, but not within the past 3 to 6 months (the time period could vary with your program). Send these subscribers a different message before they lose interest entirely. If they have not engaged within the past 6 to 12 months (depending upon your program), they now require a concerted reengagement effort and should be placed in a segment outside of the primary mailing list. If they still do not interact after some weeks (once again, the period could vary with your program), you should send a request to reconfirm their permission. If one or two of these are unsuccessful the address should be deactivated.
A list with too many inactive addresses can damage your reputation and negatively impact deliverability. As the mailbox provider focus on engagement has increased, they may also look at the percentage of the addresses that are engaged as a factor in determining inbox placement. It is therefore important to incorporate an activity-based segmentation strategy so that it is integrated rather than an occasional task. Review your program to help determine the appropriate time periods for each segment. Addresses that have passed through the phases of decreasing activity, have been given a chance to re-confirm their permission and have failed to do so should be removed from your list. DISENGAGE!”
Jennifer Nespola Lantz
Improve Engagement – “There are many nuances to deliverability and why email goes where it goes. When approaching any deliverability issue, there are some basic items that need to be in place before any other strategy is employed otherwise you may be met with diminished impact or no effect at all. These basics include the infrastructure and MTAs follow best practices, authentication is set up correctly and passing, the sender employs sound data collection practices (and there are many), and the sender is mailing wanted and expected mail to OPTED IN individuals. Once those items are reviewed and checked off, then one of the most successful ways to address a deliverability issue can be summarized in one word, engagement. Use it, love it, live by it.
UNDERSTANDING THE VIEW
I love analogies so when I think about ISP filtering, I think of it as if it were an event promoter. Each event can be measured by a multitude of factors that determine if it was successful enough to promote again. Customer activity is the most direct and impactful signal about how it was received. If an event triggers a thunderous applause, you’ve got yourself a hit, even if there were issues such as lighting, some boos, dull moments along the way, or a delayed start. If you hand an ISP a stadium full of 60,000 people and only 600 are clapping, the performance going on inside that venue will feel a little lackluster and, frankly, a terrible entertainment experience that does not warrant being repeated. However, move that performance to an auditorium that seats 700 and 600 people applaud, it makes a much bigger impact. This is the goal. Frame how the ISPs view what they are receiving. In some cases, it comes with the necessity to reduce the number of people you are sending to (I’ll get to that in just a sec), but the impact on what will happen to your mail is much greater. Once you build a positive reputation, then you can start to develop larger venues, so long as that also grows the enthusiastic audience in the same proportion.
REFRAMING THE PICTURE
To reestablish or build your reputation, start by restricting your list to customers that have engaged with the email within the last 3 months (30 days for more dire circumstances). This will naturally improve the quality of the audience. Customers that look for your mail, move it, open it, click it, star it, add a reminder, reply to it, forward it, etc. are your most valuable asset. They are the ones that will attend your next event. The only thing the unengaged customers are doing for your reputation is reaffirming to the ISP that the filtering was right and your performance was a dud. Removing them leaves you with a larger group of people that are telling the ISP that the filtering to the inbox is indeed what they want. And bonus! It also will weed out spam traps that may be hiding in your list. The higher quality list and the better metrics are huge signals to the ISPs that there is value in what you are sending.
Once in place, let that new selection sit. ISPs need a history long enough to help adjust their algorithms before reputation and inboxing will follow. This period of time is your way of telling the ISP that your customers “Like me, they really like me!”. During this time, keep an eye on any automated campaigns that may also be contributing to the negative metrics. Those should also be capped if so or potentially paused and set aside for review. In some cases, reputation could take 3-4 weeks before you’ll see a change. I had one client experiencing reputation issues and we implemented engagement restrictions on 2 of the 3 sends per week from an open mailing that was sent 3 times per week. After this sat for about a month, the MOM open rate increased 3 percentage points and the number of customers opening by 43%.
In life and in email, it’s easier to ruin reputation than it is to rebuild it so don’t expect fast changes or a quick build back to ‘normal’. As you start to see your open rate and your reputation return to normal after the first 3-4 weeks with the new targeting, begin your expansion. When you are ready, move from 3 months to 4, then 5, then 6. Give it at least 2-3 weeks between each subsequent jump. You can sometimes jump more aggressively, but that really depends on your business and how much your deliverability was impacted. As you start to go beyond 6 months, you’ll want to tread more carefully. Some clients will have a sweet spot of 6 months, some 9, and some 12. Once you get reestablished, your targeting can also lean on metrics from other sources, like purchase data, website activity, etc.
For each expansion, factor in volume changes as well. If you are sitting at a lower volume due to the restrictions, you’ll want to make sure your expansion doesn’t spike volumes or dilute the metrics with an influx of unengaged customers or spike complaints, and so on. Otherwise, you’ll be at square one again. Portion out the expanded audience over a couple of launches. It allows you to ramp up the volume, manage the audience makeup, and temper complaints from those that may have been sitting for a while. I like to break up the audience so jumps are around 10% at a time. In some respect and views, this is a very conservative approach. I prefer this though because by doing it this way, it allows me time to monitor and see if there is anything else impacting the mailings. Flexibility in rebuilding what was lost is very important. Pull back when you see a backslide, push forward when you are doing well.
For the long-haul and health of your program, you may not get back to business-as-usual, but an altered version of it. I see the most success when there is an engagement cap in place, generally 12 months or less. Again, there is value in the lesser/unengaged population, but if you are going to reach out to them, be strategic. It should not be a part of your everyday operations. At some point reengagement series and repermission series should come in to permanently weed out those that have moved on from the relationship. Reengagement series could start as early as 3 months, repermission as early as 6 months, but this is all dependent upon the business, service/product lifecycle, etc.
Lastly, while you are working through remediating your deliverability issues, I would also recommend a self-discovery session to review the mailing program. What is going out? Is it relevant? Is it timely? Is it too much? Too little? What can you do to keep your core list as engaged as possible to minimize attrition? What drove the issue to begin with? And ultimately are you connected with your customer? If your mail is wanted, expected, and timely, deliverability issues often fade away.”
Differentiate Your Message Types By Sending IP and From Address – “Every business has different types of messages they send — login-related transactional messages, purchase confirmations, automated marketing series, monthly newsletters, legal notices, etc. Since each of these messages has a different vulnerability, if you’re sending them all from the same IP and domains, you’re putting *all* your mail at risk when something goes awry with just *one* type of message.
For example, if a form on your website gets hacked, your promotional messages could also see excessive bounces and blacklistings as receivers try to block the abuse. If your marketing team accidentally sends to the wrong list, complaints and poor engagement could quickly result in poor deliverability for transactional messages too.
Differentiating your message types by sending IP and From address whenever possible creates separate sending reputations the receiver can rely on. That protects your messages against widespread deliverability issues when small problems inevitably surface (it also makes identifying those problems much easier!). At the very least, I recommend my clients use different subdomains for transactional and bulk/broadcast messages to better monitor their sending reputations and keep them healthy.”
There are several ways in which a sender can segment for campaigns, but here are a few.
First, if you are seeing a drop in performance due to fewer emails landing in the inbox, try sending to just those on your list that have engaged (opened/clicked) recently to help improve the IP/domain reputation. As you begin seeing an improvement, slowly expand the reach until you find your sweet spot. Some of the major ISPs pay close attention to who is engaging with your email to determine whether it gets delivered to the inbox or junk folder.
Second, if you have a preference center be sure you are following the choices recipients checked. Some on your list may prefer to receive emails once a week versus daily or a digest of emails at a specified time. If your emails include multiple categories, such as different women’s and men’s items, only send to the subscribers’ preference. This will not only limit recipient complaints, but also help with subscriber fatigue. Honoring what your subscribers signed up for and allowing them to update their preferences goes a long way to building trust.
Other ways to segment are by purchase history and amount spent. For those who have made a recent purchase, look at following up with complementary items or be proactive about when their item(s) may be running out and it’s time to reorder. Regarding amount spent, is there a way to treat your top customers differently with non-monetary invites or events versus sending a discount offer to those who haven’t bought in some time?
One thing to think about is be sure to not over segment or you might find your lists become too small and aren’t useful anymore.”
Implement BIMI – “BIMI stands for Brand Indicators for Message Identification. It is a new standard that allows senders with good reputation an easier opportunity to get your logo displayed next to your message in the inbox. BIMI not only improves your visibility and brand awareness, it’s also designed to prevent fraud and support deliverability.
A recent study by Verizon Media on its Yahoo Mail BIMI beta program showed that there was an average 10% increase in open rates for email messages that had brand logos on them. And while BIMI is still a pilot program which only Verizon supports, Gmail has indicated they will start trialing BIMI sometime this year so it is reasonable to assume more mailbox providers will most likely follow suit in supporting this new standard.
So how do we implement BIMI? This can be done in 3 simple steps:
- Publish and set appropriate DMARC tag status
- Create and Publish the BIMI image
- Establish a good reputation by following deliverability best practices
Publish and Set Appropriate DMARC Tag Status
DMARC is an authentication method built on top of existing email authentication mechanisms. However, one of the features is the ability to publish what policy you want the mailbox providers to apply when your email fails DMARC authentication and alignment checks. This is shown in the “p=” tag within the DMARC record and it applies to your primary domain, as well as all the subdomains unless a “sp=” tag is used with a different value.
To qualify for BIMI, this “p=” tag needs to be set to either “quarantine” or “reject”. However, as all organisations have different email infrastructure, consult your hosting provider or whoever that manages your DNS to set this up as some additional work will most likely be needed.
Create and Publish the BIMI Image
To be used in association with BIMI, the logo must be formatted in a way to be readily recognizable as associated with the brand, easily displayed at various resolutions, and include characteristics that support verification and security. Specifically:
- The logo must be square
- The logo must be saved as a version of the Scaled Vector Graphic (SVG) format as defined by the SVG Tiny 1.2 profile published by the W3C in 2008.
- The logo cannot include anything else such as tags, external links, secondary Word Marks, unregistered marks etc.
Once your BIMI logo has been created, it needs to be stored at a HTTPS location. Make sure you note down this HTTPS path, then contact your hosting provider or whoever that manages your DNS to publish the BIMI record and map it to the HTTPS path.
Establish a Good Reputation by Following Deliverability Best Practices
One of the aspects of BIMI is that the mailbox providers can determine at their discretion whether to display the sender’s logo or not. In order to have the sender’s logo published, they require that the sender comply with deliverability best practices and establish a good reputation.
If you know your mailbox provider supports BIMI, then you can test by sending to a test account at that mailbox provider. If you see your BIMI logo (the SVG file you uploaded), then congratulations!, you are authenticating correctly and have been considered as a trusted sender by that mailbox provider.
If you don’t see any changes, then continue following deliverability best practices to improve your sender reputation. Mailbox providers are continuously reviewing and, if they determine you to be a sender with a good reputation, it will only be a matter of time before you will see your logo next to your messages.”
José Ramón García Layos
Monitor Both Your Campaigns and Your Reputation – “Monitoring your campaigns is paramount when it comes to understanding if your deliverability is in a good health. Except for some odd exceptions (mainly Russian ISPs), it’s quite difficult to know what your inbox placement is like (meaning how many emails you’re sending are landing into your subscriber’s inbox), so monitoring your campaigns the right way and the reputation of your IPs and subdomains where available can provide you with a pretty accurate picture of how your program is performing. That way you’ll be able to pinpoint any scenarios where your emails may be landing in the spam folder or getting blocked.
You should ensure you pay attention to:
This is the most popular metric and, even though you shouldn’t judge your email marketing program just by looking at them, they will give you a clear understanding of whether something may be off. This is the reason it’s important to look into open rates broken down by recipient domain. This way, you can count on:
- Aggregated data over time that will indicate you how each ISP usually performs, their trends, ranges and natural peaks and valleys.
- A clear picture across your entire database, because by breaking down open rates by domain, you’ll ensure a problem with a particular ISP won’t get lost in the big picture / other ISPs with more presence in your database.
Usually open rates will follow a trend and that trend will be the same across each ISP. In order to pinpoint a deliverability issue, look for things that stand out in that trend, mainly steep decreases in opens that would indicate either emails being filtered to the spam folder or bouncing back because of a problem (that you should be able to identify by looking at the bounce message).
#Click Through Open Rate (CTOR)
While many marketers look at click through (CTR, clicks/deliveries), CTOR (clicks/opens) will precisely tell you how relevant, engaging and actionable the content of your email was. And to increase the magic of this metric further still: if you observe a lower open rate alongside a spike in the CTOR, that’s a clear indication a portion of your emails landed into the spam folder, while the most engaged users (these who not only opened but clicked) still got them into the inbox.
#Reputation with the ISPs
Some ISPs will provide you with information about your current IPs’ and subdomains’ reputation, which you then can use as a data point to infer inbox placement. The most common ones are:
- Microsoft Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) – You can enroll your IPs and you’ll get daily info (with a 24 hr delay) about their reputation. Each IP will have a color, which will point you to any issues and to the amount of emails that are expected to land in the inbox: green (>90% emails in the inbox), yellow (between 10% and 90% in spam) and red (>90% emails into the spam folder). Just create an Outlook account or log in with an existing one at https://sendersupport.olc.protection.outlook.com/snds, go to “Request access” and follow the instructions.
- Google Postmaster Site – Here you can enrol your sender domain(s) and you’ll get daily data (with a 48 hr delay) about their reputation. Each subdomain will have high/medium/low/bad reputation, which will give you an idea of how many emails are sent to the inbox by Gmail. Just create a Gmail account or log in with an existing one at postmaster.google.com, click on the “+” symbol and follow the instructions.
- Mail.ru Postmaster – Very useful if you send emails in Russia, the Mail.ru postmaster site provides with an incredible amount of information to senders:
- Engagement – Know how many people are reading your mailings and how many delete them without opening them.
- Complaint rates – Know how many subscribers have marked your mailings as spam.
- Delivery rates – Stay informed on the progress of the mailing process: how many emails have already been sent and delivered, how many were marked as spam or were blocked. This is very uncommon among ISPs, so it’s a very valuable piece of information.
- Yandex Postmaster – Same as Mail.ru, the Yandex postmaster provides with an incredible amount of information to senders:
- Engagement – Know how many people are reading your mailings and how many delete them without opening them, how many read and still have them in the inbox and how many are unread and still in inbox.
- Complaint Rates – Know how many subscribers have marked your mailings as spam.
- Delivery Rates – Stay informed on the progress of the mailing process: how many emails have already been sent and delivered, how many were marked as spam or were blocked. This is very uncommon among ISPs so it’s a very valuable piece of information.
- Yandex will provide hints about how to improve the engagement of the users based on the data they provide.
By putting all of these pieces together you’ll be able to pinpoint most of the deliverability issues you may be having and start troubleshooting them to get your messages back into the inbox!”
Build a Welcome Series – “A welcome series is crucial in the first 30 days after a reader signs up for your newsletter. A great series establishes a relationship with the reader, builds trust, and guides them through the next steps on their journey. But they’re also so important for deliverability. These emails open at a much higher rate than your newsletters or regular email correspondence, and every time a reader engages with an email, it improves your brand’s standing with inbox providers like Gmail. By driving that early engagement with your readers, it’s going to help you stay out of the spam folder.
In that first welcome email, make sure you introduce yourself and set the expectations for readers: What they’ll get and when they can expect to hear from you. But don’t stop with just a single welcome email. Make sure that over the course of the first month, you send a series of emails to help readers get to know you, your team, and your brand, and help them get the most out of their relationship with you. The more they engage, the more it should help your email deliverability in the long run.”
Inboxing – Constantly Warm Up Your Sending Domain and IP – “There could be hundreds of reasons why your e-mails are going to spam, and most aren’t your fault. If your domain reputation or IP reputation is poor, your emails will go into the spam folder without any doubt. Inboxing is a technique that fixes that by creating positive activity from your domain / sending IP, raising your e-mail reputation significantly. The process is done entirely in the background. You will see a significant difference that actual e-mails will start getting delivered and opened.
You can use your DNS provider and the email service provider. It is always easy to start with a fresh new domain in case your existing domain already has a bad reputation even though it is possible to repair your current domain provided it is repairable. Sometimes you can contact the respective organizations that have listed your domain in the blacklists and provide valid reasons to remove your domain from the blacklists. Once it has been removed from the blacklists, you can start repairing using the Inboxing service. If it is completely not possible to get the domain out of blacklists, then it is advisable to start fresh by using a new domain.
The Inboxing process is quite simple to understand. In the background, the regular emails are sent in volume to the seeded list worldwide to various ISPs from your domain and the IP address. The positive engagement is created between the sender and the seeded email list inboxes daily and makes sure no emails are in the spam folder. This ensures a 100% delivery rate and a higher open and response rate.
The following are the steps to get started:
- Identify a service provider for Inboxing (I’m biased, but I’d try massmailer.io)
- Go with your existing domain if it is not blacklisted or purchase a new domain.
- If your existing domain is blacklisted, contact the respective organizations to remove the domain from the blacklists.
- If you are purchasing a new domain, you can either choose to host it using any hosting provider or check with your Inboxing service provider if they can host it for you.
- Create an email inbox that will be used as the sender for Inboxing. You need to provide this to the Inboxing service provider.
- If you have an email service provider that you are using to send emails, find out the SMTP login details for the same and provide it to your Inboxing service provider.
- If you already have a dedicated IP address, which you want to warm-up, that will work as well or your Inboxing service provider can also assign a dedicated IP address to send the emails.
- You will make any changes necessary to your DNS settings based on the suggestions made by the Inboxing service provider.
- Once the settings are made, your Inboxing service provider will start the warm-up process of the domain and the IP address.
- It will take 1-2 weeks to warm-up a domain and the IP address after which you should be able to send emails.
- Inboxing is a continuous warm-up of your domain and the IP address that happens in parallel to your regular email sending.
- You will be able to see an improvement in the delivery rate, open rate, and response rate due to the Inboxing process.
The Inboxing technique is simple yet powerful to improve your email deliverability rate.”
Email Authentication with SPF, DKIM, and DMARC – “Internet Service Providers (Microsoft, Verizon, Gmail & more) across the globe have the goal to protect their recipients/customers from Spam and mostly from Phishing attacks. Brands have the objective to land with their marketing campaigns in the recipient’s inbox. One of many methods to distinguish between a marketing campaign from a brand and a phishing email is the verification of the sender.
SPF, DKIM, and DMARC are three acronyms with which email marketers will have to get more familiar in order to prevent email phishers from using a brand to spam or domain spoof, as well as being informed about phishing attempts through alert notifications.
Instead of drowning in jargon, let’s visit an analogy to explain the concepts of SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. The SPF record is a “document” that contains the name of the only authorized “virtual postman” – let’s call him Pat – who is in charge of delivering an email marketing campaign to the recipient. If done this way, the recipient will accept the message without batting an eye.
Sometimes Pat is sick at home and has to delegate the message delivery to his colleague, Jess. Most recipients will be suspicious of Jess, as they don’t know her. In this case, a forwarded email will lose the SPF features of the initial sender. However, with the help of the DKIM, Jess will also be able to deliver the message, because it will be properly signed by the original sender.
The DMARC dog, thanks to his good sense of smell, knows if the postman and his mail are fraudulent. He will start barking in order to alert the recipient about the upcoming scam danger. However, this smart DMARC dog can be also trained to let the postman pass through safely or, on the flipside, be trained to eat his mail.
This trio of SPF, DKIM and DMARC has now become a global standard, which means that your message can be properly delivered into the highly coveted email inbox. Almost all Internet Service Providers accept this type of safety measure.
1. SPF = Sender Policy Framework
When the recipient’s server receives the email, it compares the sender’s IP and the IP in the DNS and, if both are the same, it accepts the message and delivers it to the inbox. Otherwise, it returns a message by stating “Error 550 – Message rejected because SPF check failed” or delivers the message to the junk folder.
2. DKIM = DomainKeys Identified Mail
DKIM is usually a 1024- or 2048-bit encrypted key that must be coupled with the sender domain, used to fight email spoofing. Upon receiving the email from the recipient’s server, it verifies whether the key, published in the email header, belongs to the one related to the sender domain. If not, they assume that the email has been intercepted by third parties and modified.
As for the SPF, DKIM implementation requires publication in the DNS area with the public key and signature visible in the message header.
To reiterate, the possible results of the record check can be:
- Pass: the signature received matches with the public key
- Fail: the signature received is not related to the public key of the sending domain, which means that the message has been modified somehow.
Further possible errors could be Softfail, Neutral, None, Permerrorand Temperror. Obviously, only the Pass status is to be considered as a record correctly entered.
3. DMARC = Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance
By publishing a DNS record, you will receive an alert from the Internet Service Provider who does support DMARC whenever a domain that is not properly configured (doesn’t pass the SPF and DKIM validation) is used as sender. This way you know when, who, and how, your identity is used on the web.
In terms of Email authentication, using SPF, DKIM and DMARC is the best response to email spoofing.”
Mind Your Canaries: Know Your Early Warning Signs and How to Monitor Them – “Reputation is a function of engagement over time. It’s obvious when you start seeing blocks that there is a reputation problem but there are warning signs, or canaries, before blocks ever happen. Knowing what your canaries are can help you avoid blocks or minimize the impact of blocks when they do happen.
First, track any major changes to your email program in a spreadsheet or other easily searchable database. Since reputation is a function over time, blocking rarely happens immediately. It’s more likely that you’ll start seeing changes 2 weeks to 2 months later. Major changes include, but are not limited to, adding new list sources, rebranding, changing your mailing patterns or significant changes to content. When you start seeing problems, refer to this list to see which changes could be the root cause. Whenever possible, when you make a significant change, create a corresponding roll-back plan or a plan to alter how you’re using the data to make it easier to reverse potential reputation damage.
The easiest way for an experienced deliverability consultant to monitor your canaries is to monitor your block bounces. If you don’t have access to your blocks and a person who is knowledgeable about their meaning, you should use other signals like extending sending times or blocks at mailbox providers who are more prone to block more quickly instead. It’s also important to look at trends for your engagement metrics for your top 5-10 mailbox providers over the last three months. A slow decline in open and click rates, or an increase in unsub and complaint rates are other early warning signs. Not all ESPs provide per-domain reporting, so you may need to create multiple segmented sends or implement creative use of A/B testing to get per-domain reporting.
If you’re sending B2C email, monitoring send times; getting reporting for non-global domains like Comcast, Cox, and RoadRunner; and monitoring engagement over time by domain for your top five to ten domains are going to be your biggest canaries.
Keep an especially close eye on delivery times to Verizon Media Group (AOL, Yahoo, and Verizon). They have a series of traffic shaping temporary rejections that often preface a block. If mail to VMG is exceeding four to eight hours, it’s time to start rolling back some of your more recent changes. These traffic shaping temporary rejections are often your earliest warning sign. Microsoft also uses traffic shaping, but it’s less common that VMG.
The global mail providers – Gmail, Microsoft (outlook.com and hotmail.com), and Yahoo – are the biggest portion of most senders’ lists. Oftentimes, the early warnings are blocks happening at non-global domains like Comcast, Cox, and RoadRunner, and will start experiencing problems before the big three. Some ESPs allow you to pull reports based on domain. If your ESP doesn’t, you can segregate each send into two or more parts to separate the big three from your remaining domains. While engagement metrics won’t be identical, they should be similar across all parts and should be consistent over time.
Trends across multiple months are also important to keep track of for the big three. Gmail gives much less warning than other mailbox providers and is harder to resolve. Any immediate drop in open rates of more than 1% is cause for concern. Strive to maintain open rates above 12% for the big three. You also want to monitor open, click, unsub, and complaint rates over time. Optimally, open and click rates remain above 15% and 4% respectively, while complaints and unsub rates stay under 0.08% and 0.1% respectively. When you detect a worsening of engagement metrics, refer to your recent changes document. Find the change(s) that happened before your decline and start working to roll back that change or make adjustments to how you’re handling that data.
Note, Gmail does not send feedback loops, or complaints, unless a send has a very high complaint rate. Other mailbox providers send copies of most complaints to your ESP, which allows your ESP to suppress those subscribers and provide you with a complaint rate. Complaints must be under 0.08% to stay in the safe zone.
If you’re sending B2B email, there’s less warning before blocking, but there are two service providers that serve as early warnings – Mimecast and Barracuda. If these bounces are not available through your ESP’s reporting, you can use an MX lookup service like MXToolbox, xnnd.com, or Wise Tools – https://tools.wordtothewise.com/dns. Input the domain of the blocked email addresses (the part after the @) into the MX lookup box and submit the query. Look to see if the result includes barracudanetworks.com or mimecast.com.”
Opt-Down and Reduce Cadence to Users As They Age – “Unless a user is very active, the longer it’s been since they opted in, the greater probability that they are sending negative signals to their mailbox provider.
Offer an “opt-down” to re-engage and even if they don’t request the opt-down steadily reduce the frequency that they receive messages.
This allows them to convert if they become interested later while reducing the frequency and therefore impact of the negative signals they are sending to their provider, as well as reducing the likelihood they get sick of you and unsubscribe or complain.”
List Management is Key – “I find list management is the key to getting good deliverability today. Email service providers are looking for engagement as a key metric. That means they want to see opens, responses, and forwarding of email. People fall off of lists and lose interest over time which means that without proper management, you’ll just get more of these “inactive” addresses on your list, decreasing inbox rates.
While the specific needs for every sender will vary, the place I start with those who need help is figuring out what domains you’re having issues with. I look at the open rates at the domain level and see which ones are performing below the average open rate for the list.
For these domains, I’ll then target differently, sending to people who have opened an email in the past 30 days as an example. You’re criteria will vary for that. Then, it’s sending to that segment and seeing if the open rates improve (not the percent, the actual number of opens) and let it keep improving over time.
You’re sending positive metrics that way to the email providers which they like to see.
Doing this I’ve seen open rates go from single digits to over 50% with more opens than ever before even though they’re sending to fewer individuals.
From there, it becomes a math problem maximizing the amount of emails you send to a domain versus what the open rates are.”
Send LESS Email – “There’s a lot to focus on when improving deliverability but the most common recommendation is to reduce volume. It is also by far the most unpopular. Aggressive volumes will result in sending to unengaged subscribers, spam traps or receiving high spam complaints, which will all affect reputation and inbox placement. Before giving tips on how to reduce volume it’s best to understand how less can be more, and more can be less.
More is Less
Below is a situation encountered years ago where the sender became more aggressive with the size of their unengaged subscribers and frequency.
Volume and inbox placement show an inverse relationship, affecting the amount of opens. As email tripled in volume, the amount of opens dropped by three times the previous amount. Below is the average amount of opens by daily volume:
It’s clear there is an adverse effect when giving into the temptation of increasing volume. Less consistently gives this program more. More opens and more money, by far.
Reducing Volume Intelligently
Some points to consider when reducing volume to improve deliverability:
- Identify Level of Urgency – Is there an important sending date coming up? In some cases a sender can bounce back to 100% inbox placement in just a few days if aggressive enough.
- Identify the Damage – Are emails being completely blocked or heavily filtered? Also it’s important to identify where the problem is so that the list size/frequency is only reduced with subscribers at problematic mailbox providers.
- Reducing Frequency – This is usually the least painful way to reduce volume. Start by reducing frequency to the lesser engaged subscribers. This should cause minimal impact to ROI since those subscribers aren’t engaging with emails anyways. Never count out that reducing frequency across the board may also be a solution.
- Reducing List Size – Sometimes it needs to be done. The higher the composition of unengaged subscribers, the higher the likelihood of encountering issues. The ideal engagement level for a size depends on factors such as content, frequency, vertical, acquisition, etc. Most successful senders email subscribers that have opened or clicked a message from anywhere between the last six months to the past year.
- Aggressive – A sender had 90%+ of emails going to the Gmail spam folder. Decided to send to those who opened or clicked a message in the last 10 days. Gmail inbox went to 100% after 3 days, but a cautious increase continued until a breaking point was found where inbox filtering started to occur again.
- Cautious – A sender had a 70% inbox placement rate for Gmail and reducing list size was a tough pitch. Reduced list size to those that opened or clicked in the past 1.5 years, from two years. Sender then also reduced frequency for those that had not opened or clicked in the past year to 1.5 years. Inbox placement for Gmail peaked at 85% two weeks after changes.
As with everything, measure efforts with every data point possible. Never rule out sending less as a solution to deliverability issues, which more importantly can increase opens and ROI.”