5 Email Deliverability Myths Busted

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Dotmailer’s Chief Privacy Officer, James Koons, is responsible for data privacy, compliance, email deliverability and best practice leadership.

Download this cheatsheet to see him dispel some myths surrounding email deliverability.

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1.Plain-text messages

Sending plain-text messages to subscribers is good for your deliverability, inbox placement rate and open rates? False.

Honestly, I’m not sure which is more baffling: the fact that this myth was ever created or the fact that it has persisted for as long as it has. In reality, the sending of plain-text emails has zero effect on your deliverability, meaning the plain text has zero bearing on the ability to pass your email off to any internet service provider.

Plain-text messages also have no impact on your inbox placement rate. There are lots of factors that weigh in on your ability to get into the inbox (as opposed to the spam or bulk folders). Among them are domain reputation, IP reputation, content, etc. – but whether your email is HTML versus plain text isn’t one of them.

But the biggest part of this myth that needs to be busted is that emails composed in plain text receive better open rates than emails that are composed in HTML. I guess the idea here is that if it’s in plain text, the ISP will just pass it through straight to the inbox, having concluded: “This must be a personal message” or “this is just a transactional message”, and the recipient will be able to read it no matter what device or browser they’re using, so they’ll open it every time.

Not only is that logic wrong because one doesn’t correlate with the other, it’s also impossible to prove because plain-text emails don’t process opens at all! If it’s in plain text, there’s no image pixel to be downloaded, so there’s nothing to tell the ESP platform that the recipient opened the email.

2. In-email link clicks

If I get recipients to click links within my email, the ISPs will see that I am sending to engaged users and therefore my deliverability will be improved? False.

Last year I sat down with some key email program personnel, including Matt Moleski from Comcast, Paul Rock from AOL, John Scarrow from Microsoft and Sri Somanchi from Google. The discussion focused on how they measure activity within the inbox and what senders of commercial email should be doing from their point of view.

When asked about monitoring and or measuring user click behavior, each receiver agreed that they don’t look at that. None of them track what a user clicks within the message itself. In fact, they all view tracking what a user does inside of an email as a violation of privacy. Google showed me an internal privacy policy which prohibits the monitoring and/or tracking of what a user clicks on within an email!

Whether a recipient clicks on a link within a message or not has no impact on the reputation score that they give to a sender. So, while clicks do help show who is interacting with your emails, they do little to help improve your deliverability from a receiver standpoint.

3. Subject lines

One very interesting point shared by all of the receiver representatives was the fact that subject lines don’t impact deliverability. True.

That’s right – subject lines don’t matter: not size, not content, not special characters, not even FREE FREE FREE!!!!!!!!!!!! (Yes, you can have as many exclamation marks as you like – not that I’d ever advise you to do that in a subject line or an email!). They are not looking at subject lines at all.

That being said, if a subject line happens to trigger a user behaviour that is a negative signal, this will have an impact on inbox placement for that recipient. This means that although the receiver isn’t looking at the subject line, the users are, and if the users react negatively, it can hurt. When a user marks a message as SPAM, it will definitely affect any future emails to that particular recipient. If the negative reactions are large scale (meaning many users take the same negative action), there will most likely be a global issue as a negative reputation score will be assigned to you.

I would also caution any sender that words like FREE still matter to the FTC – so if you use it, make sure it isn’t misleading.

4. The right contacts

Ever heard that saying ‘It’s all about who you know’? Well, it doesn’t mean anything when it comes to ESPs, ISPs and email deliverability. True.

I’m obviously bringing you some of the information in this guide because I have access to industry contacts. I get to hear the truths and untruths from the ISPs when I attend events like the Email Evolution Conference. But just because I know people doesn’t mean dotmailer’s clients get preferential email deliverability treatment. I don’t have a special line that goes through to someone at Gmail who can override a couple of things, and I’m pretty sure other ESPs don’t either. We don’t have a silver bullet or secret path into the inbox, but information sharing, collaboration and doing the right thing on behalf of the entire email ecosystem goes a long way with receivers.

Automated filtering systems have a set algorithm and are adjusted for trends, like spam attacks, which mean ESPs are treated more equally. That being said, it’s obviously down to the sender to follow best practices. Every ISP has different rules but many of them are focused around common conventions of what’s right and wrong.

5. Less-obvious unsubscribe link

If we hide the unsubscribe link, or make it harder to see, then fewer people will opt out and we’ll get a better deliverability rate? False.

This one is insane. In fact, you’re just giving your subscribers even more reason to mark your email as spam. And spam complaints are detrimental to your sender reputation, which could lead to you being banned from emailing temporarily or indefinitely.

If someone wants to unsubscribe then, at this point, I’m sure there’s little you can do to dissuade them. You’re only adding fuel to the fire by making it difficult to do so. It’s also bad for your ESP’s overall reputation and is therefore in their interest to put something in place to prevent this from happening.

For example, with dotmailer, if an email address soft bounces too many times, it’ll be suppressed in the account to prevent you from sending to it. This helps to protect your sending address and server from being blocked for spamming. Contacts on suppression lists are placed there to ensure they can’t be sent any further emails, which is done to safeguard everyone’s reputation and deliverability rates.

The moral of the story: make it simple for your contacts to unsubscribe because if they’re going to, they will.


All marketers know the importance of getting the most compelling message to the correct recipient, and doing so with effective creative execution. But email marketers need to understand the principles of deliverability because put simply, email delivery cannot be taken for granted. I hope my tips in this guide will help you to maximize your email delivery rates.

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