The ABCs of improving email deliverability
How do you ensure your emails are reaching your recipients' inboxes? Columnist Scott Heimes discusses the steps you can take to stay in good standing with your readers and ISPs.
When it comes to email marketing, there is a critical question email senders concern themselves with: Did the recipient actually read the email? Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to determine whether or not a recipient has received and read an email, but what about when neither happens?
Typically, when a recipient doesn’t read an email, one of two things has usually taken place: The reader is not interested in the material sent, or the email never reached him or her in the first place. Again, as marketers, we’re pretty adept at determining whether a reader is or isn’t interested in our material, but we’re less certain when it comes to understanding why email deliverability sometimes fails.
Inbox service providers, including Google Gmail, Microsoft Outlook and Yahoo Mail, evaluate incoming email and block the delivery of harmful or unwanted email. However, these filters can also prevent the delivery of wanted email.
Only 80 percent of wanted email reached its intended recipient, according to a 2017 Return Path report. This is partly due to the sheer number of emails being sent — with over 120 billion (PDF) commercial emails sent and received every day — and the difficulty in filtering the legitimate email from the illegitimate.
So how can email marketers avoid being lumped into the illegitimate pile and achieve deliverability?
The answer is simple: Your organization needs to be proactive in its email marketing campaign and regularly check on its standing with recipients, ISPs (internet service providers) and more.
Specifically, an organization can take three actions to ensure deliverability to its target audience: The first is to check for spam complaints. The second is to build out your email infrastructure. The third is to always ask for permission from your audience and to ask regularly. Let’s dive into these actions now.
Check on your complaint status
The main reason most emails end up in spam or are blocked by ISPs is a high complaint rate. Typically, these complaints are registered with ISPs each time a user marks a message as “spam” in their email inbox.
In most cases, ISPs have a threshold for complaints. If your messages pass this threshold, your emails will be blocked.
Obviously, this is bad. To avoid being labeled as “spammers,” senders ought to use feedback loops. Feedback loops are powerful tools used to monitor email abuse and have a long history with ISPs.
With feedback loops, senders can investigate which user has complained about your email for deeper insights and, if need be, remove the complainer from an email list. Doing so helps your organization maintain both clean email lists and good standing with ISP partners.
Build out your infrastructure
When it comes to email infrastructure, you have two options: build your own, or partner with an email service provider. If your organization chooses to use an email service provider, then most of your infrastructure needs will be taken care of.
If, however, you choose to build out your own infrastructure, then you’ll need to make sure a few items are in order before you begin emailing, lest you be confused for a spammer.
First, you’ll need to acquire a dedicated server and the resources necessary to keep it up and running. Second, you’ll need to make sure your server is correctly configured. This is an important step, as improperly configured email servers can be confused with spamming servers.
Third, make sure you send email from a dedicated IP address, especially if you’re sending a lot of emails. Finally, make sure you set up administrative inboxes, like “postmaster” and “abuse” to keep tabs on abuse and security issues.
Good manners demand we ask permission before talking to a stranger in real life. It’s no different online. Ask your readers for permission to send them email on your website, in person and elsewhere before sending them anything. It’s not just polite; it’s a good method for building a receptive email list and an engaged audience.
However, asking for permission once isn’t enough. Tastes and needs change over time, so to keep your organization in good standing with readers and ISPs, regularly ask your recipients if they’re still interested in your material, if they want a reduced email rate or if they just don’t want to see your emails. This is especially important for ISPs, as many now pay attention to engagement rates to assess email legitimacy.
Finally, make sure you have an unsubscribe button for your emails and that it works. It’s a better alternative than being marked as spam, which can get your program in trouble with ISPs.
There is no panacea to ensure email deliverability, but the above steps will give your organization the best chance at staying in good standing with ISPs and subscribers alike.
And remember, by engaging with readers through permission-based programs, maintaining a strong email infrastructure and giving alternatives to complaints, your organization will have an advantage when it comes to maintaining a good online reputation.