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Email Marketing Deliverability Best Practices

Are you experiencing a drop in email engagement and you don’t know why? If your engagement rates are really low (i.e., an under 10% open rate), you should consider whether your recipients are even getting your emails — because the truth is they might not be.

Getting your emails delivered to the recipient’s inbox is no small feat. There is a long list of things that need to go right for your message to make it to its intended destination. Although the list is long, email deliverability can really be categorized into three main components:

  1. Email Authentication – Who is the email being sent from?
  2. Email Delivery – Who is the email being sent to?
  3. Inbox Placement – What does the email contain? And how is the email being engaged with?

Email Authentication

Before you send any marketing emails from an Email Service Provider (ESP) you should first authenticate yourself as a sender. Authenticating yourself as a sender is the most technical, yet controllable of the three components outlined.

You need to set up SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) to prove to servers that you’ve authorized your ESP (e.g., MailChimp, HubSpot, Constant Contact, Act-On) to send the message you composed on your behalf. The SPF record defines which systems are authorized to send mail on your behalf, and DKIM provides an encryption key and digital signature that verifies that an email message was not forged or modified.

In addition to SPF and DKIM, DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) is an emerging industry standard. DMARC builds on top of DKIM and SPF to provide finer control and enhanced security for both recipients and senders by reporting on the compliance of email sent on behalf of your domain.

Useful Tip: You can use Dmarcian to verify you’ve set up SPF, DKIM, and DMARC properly.

Email authentication is key to ensuring that your emails are accepted by receiving servers and not blocked by spam filters.

Email Delivery

Your email delivery rate is the percentage of emails being delivered — or the total percentage of emails that did not bounce. A bounce is simply when an email is rejected by a recipient’s email server. However, there are two different types of bounces that depend on the reason the email bounced.

hard bounce indicates that the recipient’s email address is invalid. There are a few reasons an email address may be invalid. For example, an individual may have left the company, or there may be a typo in the email address. Once an email address has hard bounced you should never try sending to it again from your ESP.

soft bounce means there is a temporary delivery issue to the recipient’s mail server. A soft bounce can happen for a number of reasons including routing errors, policy restrictions, spam filters, quota issues, bad connection, and more. You can try sending to emails that have soft bounced, but if your emails continue to soft bounce you should remove the email address from your list.

You should aim for a delivery rate of 95 percent or higher. If your delivery rate is lower than 90 percent, you’re probably working with a bad marketing list, since delivery rates are heavily influenced by the quality of your data. Be sure to remove hard bounces, opt-outs, and unengaged leads from your list to keep delivery rates high.

Useful Tip: If you’re sending to a new marketing list you should first use a tool like NeverBounce to verify and clean the email addresses on your list before sending. For more on sending to a cold list check out our article on How to Maximize Inbox Placement When Sending to Cold Lists.

Once your email is physically accepted (i.e., received by the recipient’s ISP gateway server) there is still a chance your email will not make it into your recipient’s inbox. This is because after your email is delivered, it can still be blocked by spam filters or sent to the recipient’s spam folder.

Both email authentication and delivery impact your sender reputation. Sender reputation is one of the most important factors of inbox placement.

Inbox Placement

Inbox placement is where in the mailbox the email was placed (i.e., inbox, spam, promotions, etc.). Inbox placement is the hardest component of email deliverability, but it is the best measure of success since emails that reach the inbox have a much greater chance of being opened.

There are a number of factors that impact inbox placement including email authentication, email deliverability, the number of emails sent and email engagement.

Useful Tip: Curious if your IP or domain has been blacklisted? You can run a free test with MxToolBox.

The number of factors that must be considered makes inbox placement tricky in and of itself. However, what makes inbox placement even more difficult is the fact that various ISPs each weigh and calculate the factors outlined differently. Meaning you could have a solid sender reputation and good deliverability in the eyes of one ISP, but have a bad reputation and poor deliverability with another.

The most complicated aspect of inbox placement is that ISPs are constantly changing their algorithms to give recipients (their customers) what they want. Initially, ISPs were focused on the content in the email. For example, text-to-image ratio used to be a key factor in inbox placement. While ISPs do still consider the content in the email, they appear to have a heavier focus on the number of emails sent, the engagement of emails sent from the sender, and even the engagement of the email itself. The more your emails are engaged with, the more likely they are to land in the inbox.

What does all of this mean?

  1. It is still critical to first authenticate yourself as a sender.
  2. Who you send to matters, especially initially. Your email delivery rate impacts your inbox placement.
  3. Email engagement is the most important factor in email deliverability today.

In other words, send helpful content to an audience that cares, and they’ll get the message. If you send aimless promotional content, your email probably won’t get seen and that’s probably for the better.

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