How to Make Sure Your Email Gets Delivered
Email delivery rates aren't vanity metrics; they're money in your pocket. There's no greater return on investment-defining figure than the number of successful deliveries your emails accumulate. It's easy to understand that improving your delivery rate equals more conversions. What's more, any incremental increase in your email delivery rate has a direct impact on your bottom line.
If you're new to email marketing, you might wonder just what issues there could be around delivery. After all, you write an email, you put in the recipient's email address, you click send and you expect it to arrive unhindered and immediately. Unfortunately, there are various hurdles each email must overcome before its intended destination is reached — hopefully avoiding the spam folder.
When you send a marketing email to your mailing list, not all of your subscribers are going to get it. In fact, it's not unusual for 10 percent or more to miss the message entirely. Nobody can click on a link in an email they never see, which is why deliverability is so important.
There are various mechanisms in place for identifying email as spam. The bad news is that it's not just spam that gets tangled by delivery nets. Some emails that people have opted into get snared too. The recipient never sees the spam email. It's either never delivered in the first place or it's relegated to a junk folder. With the sophistication and higher demands of today's internet service providers (ISPs), the probability of this happening is high.
Take the following factors into consideration when fine-tuning your deliverability metrics:
- When email isn't accepted by the receiving address, it's usually due to some technical issue. Such rejections typically trigger an automatic notification (i.e., a bounce) which tells the sender or sending system that the email couldn't be delivered and the reason why.
- Bounces are commonly categorized as "hard" or "soft." A hard bounce represents a permanent problem with delivery, such as when you send mail to an email address that doesn't exist. A soft bounce refers to a temporary problem, such as when the recipient's email account is full. The email delivery rate you find in campaign reports is simply the number of emails sent out minus those reported as bounced. Bounces indicating a temporary issue are less clear-cut, but your sending system should react automatically and appropriately dependent on the nature of the problem.
- Often a message is simply delayed until the problem is resolved. Email addresses with a permanent delivery problem should be taken off your mailing list. Otherwise, they're consuming resources to send emails that can't be delivered. Remember, sending email to dead addresses is one measure used to identify a “bad” sender.
- Blacklists are lists of dubious senders. When an email arrives from a blacklisted sender (i.e., one whose emails produce a large number of spam complaints) it's immediately tagged and treated as spam. Meanwhile, whitelists are lists of trustworthy senders, who are known to be sources of legitimate email. An email coming from a whitelisted sender will usually bypass many of the spam filters and tests.
- Throttling refers to a receiving organization restricting the amount of email that can be accepted over a set period of time from a particular source or the managing of volume of outgoing email to respect those limits. This usually impacts only those sending huge volumes of email.
- Reputation filtering refers to how different organizations rank, weigh and select reputation elements in different ways. It typically derives from a combination of user interaction with your messages, list hygiene (e.g., bounce management and spam traps), blacklisting and sending patterns. Reputation filtering looks less at the individual email and more at the origin of the message. Sender reputation is now probably the most important factor determining the fate of delivered email. ISPs look at how users interact with the messages previously delivered to email accounts from a particular source. Positive interaction contributes to a good sender reputation for future messages from that source and vice versa. The most important factor here is whether account holders are reporting your emails as spam.
- Content filtering is also a crucial part of the hundreds of individual tests conducted on each message. Spam-checking tools can be used to test how your email structure and content looks to popular spam filters, then they take corrective action as required based on the feedback. Email service providers like GraphicMail have such tools built into their systems, and stand-alone versions are available from specialist deliverability services.
- Email authentication is part of a broader move to more accountability in the email ecosystem. ISPs and others are implementing email authentication standards that allow recipients to confirm the true identity of the sender of an email. The role of authentication and domain-based reputation continues to grow, so ensure your outgoing emails support the authentication process.
The key success criteria for any technology solution should be making the management of email deliverability easier so marketers can focus on correlating delivery results to marketing practices to enhance a company’s bottom line and its relationship with customers. Improving email deliverability is a highly specialized and ongoing process. It’s a balancing act involving business and technical practices and management of the greater email organism, both inside and outside of your organization.
Wikus Engelbrecht is a member of the GraphicMail marketing team. Wikus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.