Causes of poor email deliverability and tips to improve| August 16, 2020
One out of every five commercial emails never reaches the inbox. So where do they go? They can be delivered to junk, spam, or even go missing. Getting emails delivered to the inbox involves more than just hitting send.
Deliverability is key to a successful email marketing program. After all, subscribers can’t engage with emails they never see. At Return Path, we study global inbox placement rates so we can help our clients improve their sender reputation, subscriber engagement, and ultimately their email deliverability. We’ll help you reach the right inbox and increase your email ROI by getting more email delivered to more of your subscribers.
How do you know if you have a deliverability problem?
- You’re experiencing a drop in engagement rates like opens and clicks.
- You see an increase in email bounces.
- You’re being blocked at a mailbox provider.
The deliverability landscape is changing, and it’s only getting harder to reach your subscribers’ inboxes. Inbox placement and deliverability impacts the success or failure of your email marketing program, and ultimately your email return on investment.
FIVE CAUSES OF POOR EMAIL DELIVERABILITY
- Negative Sender Reputation: Maintaining a positive sender reputation is vital to the success of your email program. Sender reputation is an indication of the trustworthiness of an email sender’s IP address and sending domain. Mailbox providers take various metrics into consideration to determine your sender reputation, including spam complaints, mailing to unknown users, industry blacklists, and more. Find out your sender reputation at senderscore.org.
- High Complaint Rates: The key to email marketing is to ensure you are sending relevant and timely emails to people who want to receive them. If you aren’t, then you are opening yourself up for subscriber complaints. And the more complaints you receive, the worse your email deliverability can become. Keeping your subscriber complaint rate low is crucial to maintaining a positive sender reputation and high deliverability rates.
- Getting Listed on a Blacklist: In the world of email, there are whitelists, greylists, and – of course – the dreaded blacklists. A blacklist is a list of domains and/or IP addresses that have been reported to be “known” sources of spam. They are available to the public and exist to help mailbox providers protect their users from unwanted email. If your practices or your content look spammy, you could wind up being blacklisted, regardless of whether or not you’re a legitimate, permission-based sender.
- Poor List Quality: Maintaining a high quality subscriber list is imperative to ensuring your emails are delivered to the inbox instead of the junk or spam folder. In addition to complaints, there are three other major culprits of poor list quality: spam traps, unknown users, and inactive users.
- Spam traps are email addresses that don’t belong to active users and are used to identify both spammers and senders with poor data quality practices.
- An unknown user is a recipient that never existed, has been terminated by the mailbox provider, or was abandoned by the end user.
- Inactive addresses represent customers on your list file who have not opened, clicked, or taken some kind of action for a significant amount of time.
- Lack of Email Authentication: Authentication allows the receiver of an email and the mailbox provider to confirm the identity of the sender. If the identity of the sender cannot be authenticated, mailbox providers may reject the message or put it through additional filters to determine whether it should be delivered.
Here are 14 do’s and don’ts to avoid having your email blocked or blocklisted:
- Do use double opt-in to confirm email list subscribers. This helps ensure that subscribers are signing up with their own email addresses and that those email addresses are valid.
- Don’t repeatedly send the same or similar content. Every email you send should consist of unique content. Not only will this help keep you stay off of blocklists, but it will also keep your subscribers engaged.
- Don’t string readers along with vague content. Include a clearly written subject line and call to action.
- Don’t send attachments, it’s a sure way to get blocked. (Sending attachments may get your email blocked, but not blocklisted. The effect on deliverability may be the same, but the remedy is to simply not send attachments rather than working to get removed from a list).
- Do include information on how to unsubscribe in every email.
- Do watch your sending frequency. Send email regularly while being careful not to overwhelm readers.
(we recommend at a bare minimum to send a message at least once every six months to keep your email list fresh. Unless you are a daily sender like Groupon, most email senders should avoid sending more than once or twice a week.)
- Do send email from a legitimate address that is checked by a real person. Email addresses with random letters and numbers trigger spam filters and can lead to your email being blocked.
- Do ask subscribers to add your email address to their contact list.
- Do practice good list hygiene. Regularly clean your email subscriber list to avoid repeatedly sending email to bad or non-existent email addresses.
- Don’t use punctuation (such as exclamation marks) or words that are often used by spammers. These include free, win, and opportunity.
- Don’t blind carbon copy (BCC) your list.
- Don’t use too many images. Strive for a healthy balance of images and text to avoid triggering spam filters.
- Don’t use all caps in your subject line – or any other part of your email. Instead, use bold, italics and underline to show emphasis.
- Do protect your email server from malware. An infected email server can be used as part of a botnet to send spam.
(We once had a prospect come to us with severe deliverability problems not explained by their mailing practices. When we looked into it, we found that their web server had been infected and was sending out email spam. They’d had no idea. Once we cleaned that up, their deliverability improved a great deal.)