Want to know a secret? Even the biggest brands in the world have to deal with email deliverability issues.
And while every brand has their own practices for increasing the likelihood of their messages hitting their subscribers’ inboxes, major companies such as Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Disney and Groupon have a few more email deliverability tricks up their sleeves.
Here are three ways the top brands improve their email deliverability.
Inbox Placement Testing
It is undeniably important to monitor the performance of your messages after your subscribers receive them. But if your subscribers never even see your emails, open rates and click rates are moot.
All email marketing platforms allow you to preview your messages before they are dispatched to your entire list. But while the preview feature gives you a basic idea of how the email will appear on your subscribers’ screens and allows you to revise the design for a better user experience, it doesn’t allow you to see some pretty critical details about your campaign.
Big brands take advantage of software with powerful inbox placement testing capabilities. Inbox placement testing allows marketers to identify deliverability issues before campaign deployment. The process generates several key data points:
1. Sender Reputation, by Email Service Provider (ESP)
Every ESP collects information about senders who deliver large volumes of email to their users. The providers track how recipients interact with the brand’s messages and build the sender reputation around the users’ levels of engagement. Brands with a positive sender reputation will see high levels of deliverability, whereas a negative sender reputation will lead to poor deliverability. With inbox placement testing, marketers can see which ESPs are not delivering their emails and make the necessary changes to ensure they are in good standing with the top ESPs.
2. Folder Placement, by ESP
With an inbox placement report, brands can see into which folder their message will be delivered (Inbox or Spam) for multiple ESPs or if it wouldn’t be delivered at all. In the case of Gmail accounts, the report shows if the email would end up in the Primary, Social, Promotions or Updates tab.
3. Delivery Duration
Delivery duration is the length of time between when a message is sent and when it arrives. Some ESPs limit the number of emails they accept from a particular domain or IP in a certain period of time. So instead of blocking your messages outright, they’ll delay the delivery. This is referred to as a “soft bounce,” and while it won’t hurt your sender reputation, if an email is soft bounced enough times, it becomes a hard bounce. And too many hard bounces will hurt your sender reputation. By having insight into delivery duration, marketers can identify potential soft bounces and adjust the campaign accordingly.
Pro Tip: Sending emails to invalid or fraudulent addresses also increases the number of hard bounces. To avoid having your messages marked as undeliverable, take advantage of an email list verification service, which confirms the mailbox exists as well as active and is currently accepting mail.
4. Spam and Blacklist Detection
Email marketing software with inbox placement testing capabilities runs your messages through common spam filters such as Google Spam Filter, Barracuda and SpamAssassin to determine whether your emails could be identified as spam. It also cross-references your IP with the most common blacklists to see if your IP is included on any. In addition, the software analyzes the HTML code, text, links and images in your messages and identifies potential spam triggers within the content.
Brands should generate an inbox placement report for every major ESP 72 hours prior to deployment of each campaign to give the marketing and development teams ample time to correct any issues. Once the problem is identified and resolved, the teams should take preventive measures to avoid running into the same issue in the future.
SPF and DKIM
SPF and DKIM are two little acronyms that play a big role in your email deliverability. SPF (or Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (or DomainKeys Identified Mail) are the two most commonly accepted standards for email authentication. Major ESPs check for one or both of these types of authentication when evaluating whether to deliver a message to your subscriber’s inbox, so big brands pay a great deal of attention to them.
SPF enables ESPs to confirm incoming messages are being sent from an authorized server—in other words, one that is permitted to send emails from your domain. ESPs compare the server from which a message is sent to the list of authorized servers associated with your domain to determine in the integrity of the email. SPF helps prevent forged sender addresses (also known as “email spoofing” or “phishing”) and aids ESPs to reduce the number of spam messages that reach their users.
DKIM allows senders to attach a unique digital signature to each email that confirms the message is legitimately associated with the sender’s domain. Before an ESP will deliver an email, it reviews the signature and confirms it is valid. If it’s not, the message will be filtered into the recipient’s spam folder or bounced back to the sender.
The list of authorized servers and your DKIM are published in your email marketing software’s Domain Name System (DNS) records and require a specially formatted TXT file. (Author’s note: I apologize for throwing even more acronyms at you. The good news is your software provider should have an expert support staff who can guide you through the process of configuring your SPF and DKIM settings.)
Pro Tip: While you absolutely should set up SPF and DKIM records for the dedicated customer-facing email account (since without them, your messages have a much greater chance of being marked as spam by ESPs), don’t forget about the addresses of individual employees—especially members of the sales team. If these addresses aren’t connected to the authentication process, one-to-one emails between employees and customers or prospective customers may be blocked.
Mail Stream Separation
Every email campaign falls into a specific category—for example, retention, marketing or transactional. Each set of emails within a category is called a “mail stream.”
Smart marketers have a single dedicated IP for their customer-facing email account (which you should, too). But what the bigger brands do is create separate IP addresses for each type of mail stream and don’t use the same account for every email, regardless of its category. If all messages are associated with the same IP address, when there is an issue with one type of email, it affects the other categories of emails, as well.
Think of it this way: Once a message is sent, it travels down a road between your server and the ESP’s servers. If you use the same IP address for every mail stream, it’s like putting every email in a single vehicle. So if something is wrong with, say, your retention emails, the vehicle stops and neither your marketing nor your transactional emails can continue their journey. But if each mail stream has its own vehicle (for example, IP address) and one is experiencing an issue, then only that type of message will be stopped and the others can continue on their way while the problem is resolved.
Abiding by the CAN-SPAM guidelines and avoiding spam traps are just scratching the surface of improving email deliverability. Big brands use email marketing software to optimize deliverability, and so can you. It will almost assuredly be worth the investment.
Don’t let invalid or fraudulent emails hurt your campaign performance. Try our email list verification service today!