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Email Deliverability Is Job One

December 8, 2012
By Michael Neubarth

All the work you put into in creating compelling emails is wasted if the emails you send never make it to your recipients’ inbox, which is why experts put so much emphasis on deliverability.

As Return Path reported in its latest deliverability benchmark study, there has been a marked increase in the worldwide number of senders and a sharp decline in emails that reach the inbox. The increase in worldwide spam volumes, said Return Path, has caused ISPs to adopt tougher standards for reputation and inbox placement rates.

The hazards that can undermine your deliverability include bounces, spam traps, spam complaints, low sender score, poor sender reputation, and blacklists. ISPs look at the IP address, volume, content, subject line, images, and other elements to determines whether your emails should be blocked. 

Lyris VP Alex Lustberg says ISPs are increasingly looking at user engagement as a means of gauging the legitimacy of emails and their senders—including open, click, and response rates. Thus, says Lustberg, sending relevant content and developing a reputation for doing so are the best ways to ensure ISPs direct your emails to customers’ inboxes. 

A means of gauging your deliverability is to obtain a Return Path sender score, which is based on a scale of 1-100. Return Path says it analyzes “various sending behaviors” to determine its sender scores, three key components of which are complaints, unknown users, and spam traps. A significant percentage of businesses might find themselves with scores between 60 and 80, says Return Path, with the result that many of their emails will be blocked or filtered as spam.

Complicating marketers’ effort to optimize delivery is the fact that the formulas ISPs use to label emails as spam are closely guarded, essentially black boxes. As Laura Atkins relates, the exact thresholds that ISPs set, such as acceptable open and click rates, are "secret sauces the ISPs just don't share with folks."

Thus, maximizing deliverability is no simple task. As Chris Kolbenschlag of Bronto cautions, “Even the best marketer, with clear permissions, triple opt-in and a notarized document signed by the end user is not exempt from having emails hit these filters and land in the bulk folder or get quarantined." 

Likewise, says Kolbenschlag, spam filters can be complicated, fuzzy and a challenge for legitimate marketers to maneuver through.

Best practices to maximize deliverability include only sending to people who have explicitly opted in, confirming their opting in, and making it easy to unsubscribe. Experts also advise avoiding using spammy words such as “Free,” “Save,” “Discount,” and “$$” in the subject line and the content of your email, and to avoid using all caps and exclamation points.

As ISPs continue to aggressively filter messages, says Silverpop, marketers can improve their chances by becoming whitelisted, including employing email authentication, reputation, and accreditation services to aid in the effort.

Alex Lustberg also advises keeping your distribution lists clean. A good way to start, he says, is by removing all hard bounces after every campaign mailing, and eliminating any users that have not opened a message in six months.

Likewise, Wikus Engelbrecht counsels that list hygiene increases delivery rates, warning that, “The higher the proportion of emails you send to dead addresses, the more your sender reputation suffers."

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