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Understanding and Addressing Email Deliverability

White Paper

Your subscriber will never know you sent the message if it does not show up in their inbox. You own the relationship; it is your responsibility to ensure you are visible. What does it take to make sure that your message makes it into the inbox?

Not all “legitimate” messages make it into the inbox. Many end up in spam and some even get blocked. As a marketer, it is your responsibility to ensure that the message you send is delivered to your intended recipient. A number of factors affect deliverability.

Our focus in this eGuide is to help you understand the key challenges that can have an adverse effect on deliverability. We want to give you best practice solutions to enhance deliverability, and provide you with the guidance so you can continue to perfect your email engagement strategy.

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Defining Deliverability

Industry experts defne email deliverability rates by dividing the successfully-delivered mail by total messages sent. Some of these “undelivered” messages might bounce; some can get blocked, while some end up in the spam folder. Every email marketer should always monitor this important metric and look for ways to minimize the undelivered messages.

Your List and Promise

Brands can get into a big deliverability mess if they trick their recipients into subscribing for campaigns. List purchases, co-registrations, and email harvesting are acquisition sources that will result in significant deliverability problems. It is important to have permission from your recipients.

It is also important to remind your recipients why they are receiving your campaigns. During the sign-up experience, it is vital to define the value proposition of your email stream clearly and stick to what you have promised. Increasing the frequency or subscribing the recipient to other lists is going to disengage the recipient, or even cause them to take adverse action (mark you as spam). Your past email performance will serve as a reputation reminder to the subscriber.

Understanding Authentication and Sender Identity

SPF (Sender Policy Framework), Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM), Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), are all authentication protocols used to validate the sending domain and to make sure your email is not being spoofed by a third party. They confirm the domain is a trusted component of a sender’s identity. A blacklist is an anti-spam tool which lists all senders’ identities that don’t conform to expectations. Historically this always listed the sending IP, but more recently it also incorporates sending domains as the primary sender identity.

SPF - An authentication protocol which confirms that the network sending an email is authorized to send on behalf of the sending domain. This prevents malicious actors from spoofing the sending domain.

DKIM - An authentication protocol uses encryption in each message to confirm that it is sent on behalf of the sending domain.

DMARC - Leverages SPF and DKIM to confirm the identity of the sender. It also allows a sender to receive feedback regarding their sending domains. This reporting will detect if there are indications that their domain is being spoofed. DMARC also allows a domain owner to broadcast an anti-spoofng policy which would effectively tell all participating ISPs not to accept spoofed mail from their sending domain.

Email Blacklists - A blacklist operator will curate a list of the IP addresses of all email servers that do not conform to their standards. For example, if a blacklist identifies that a server is mailing to a purchased list, it would list the sending IP to alert the rest of the internet that mail from that IP does not meet the blacklists standards. There are over 100 blacklists and each decides its own criteria. Most blacklists are relatively inconsequential but there are a few which do have a significant impact on deliverability.

Perfecting Your Message

Your actual message plays a significant role in determining legitimacy. Let us look at three considerations: the “from” field, subject line, and content.

The “from” field should be recognizable to the consumer. Ideally, the message should come from who you promised would send the message. Some companies use their brand name, or a brand ambassador, or “message type” from brand. For example, Promotions@email.BrandName.com or Information@email.BrandName.com. Being consistent helps with digital identification. Avoid Do-Not-Reply@email.BrandName.com — it looks unprofessional.

A good subject line can evoke an open. A couple of things to avoid: do not be deceptive and avoid excessive use of symbols. Spammers tend to send an email with “RE:” or “FW:” in the subject line which implies a past interaction. Avoid this tactic — it is frowned upon both by the recipient and ISPs.

Content should include a balance of text and images. Many subscribers turn their images of so it is important to have words that can define the image. Your content should be responsive across devices — this way the consumer will find it easier to interact with your message. You should avoid third party shortened URLs as links (e.g. tinyurl.com). These are commonly used by spammers and a legitimate marketer making this mistake could be unfairly punished.

An Engaged List

If a subscriber interacts with your email campaigns, you should continue to show up in their inbox. Conversely, if a significant percentage of legitimate subscribers stop opening your email campaigns for an extended period of time, your campaigns could start moving into the spam folder and eventually get blocked by the internet service provider. Know what your “extended period” is and nurture your subscribers to interact with you.

Analyze Everything

Test the deliverability of your messages on your seed list. Your bounces need to be analyzed and actioned. Some companies will try a soft bounce three to five more times before removing the email address from the list. Your bounces need to be tied back to your server.

Some mailbox providers (e.g. Hotmail.com) allow senders to receive information back from subscribers who have complained, so the sender can remove that email address from future sends. This is referred to as a feedback loop and it is strongly recommended to leverage these as much as possible.

Do a little investigation as to when and why people are unsubscribing from your campaigns. It could be dissatisfaction with the brand or newsletter, the subscribers’ inability to reduce the frequency of campaigns, or even perhaps a technical issue that can be corrected.

Make It Easy to Unsubscribe

The unsubscribe link should be easily found; if the subscriber cannot find the unsubscribe link, this makes the ‘mark as spam’ button their best option.

Should You Use Confirmed Opt-In (Also Known as Double Opt-In)?

A confirmed opt-in shows your email service provider (ESP) that you have a clean subscriber list at the point of confirmation. However, this does not have much bearing on what your subscribers will think of the quality of content you are sending or your mailing cadence. All senders should continuously ask themselves, “Is the majority of my audience interested in each of these messages?” and take action accordingly.

Enhancing Legitimacy

Enhancing your legitimacy can be done in a few ways:

  • Assure the subscriber that you do not sell/rent lists and that you protect subscriber information.
  • Remind the subscriber as to why they are receiving your email campaigns.
  • Offer the subscriber an alternative way to contact you or provide you with feedback.

Removing the Disengaged

Continuing to send email campaigns to disengaged recipients will hurt your ability to deliver to the inbox. If a recipient has not opened, read, clicked, or engaged with your email campaigns over a period of time, send them a final re-engagement attempt. If they do not respond to this, consider removing them from your list.

Getting Started

The sending IP address should be “warmed up” prior to you launching a large volume campaign. If you suddenly start sending campaigns from an IP that was previously inactive, the ISPs will be suspicious of spam and may limit your ability to be delivered.

Being Consistent

Sudden spikes in sending volume are frowned upon by ISPs. Similarly, your subscriber might also be alarmed by the sudden increase in campaign frequency.

Conducting a Spam Test

Proofread your subject lines and content for words and phrases that may be mistaken for spam. Ensure that the balance between images and text does not trigger the spam filter. Ensure that your links are working. Avoid embedding attachments and video unless thoroughly tested. Also, score your content for spam prior to campaign launch.

In a Nutshell

Pre-launch Check List

  • Spam test content
  • Verify links
  • CAN-SPAM compliance
  • Responsive to various email environments?
  • Will it evoke engagement?

Five Steps to Deliverability Success

  • Authentication - Are you registered correctly?
  • Reputation - Blacklists, complaints, bounces, interaction?
  • Expectation - Are you delivering on the sign-up pro?
  • Interaction - Is your subscriber, list engaged?
  • Content — Will it pass spam flters?

Driving Deliverability Success - If your recipients start ignoring your messages, your messages will drift into spam and eventually drop out of their consciousness. An email delivered to the spam folder reeks of unprofessionalism; that is if the consumer even bothers to check their spam folder.

Finding a Solid Partner - Your ESP should provide you with all the help you need to ensure superior deliverability. Talk to your ESP about their recovery plan in case you run into trouble with your online reputation.

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