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Expert Tips to Up Your Email Deliverability Game

Jun 17, 2013   |   5 min read

Knowledge Center  ❯   Blog

up your email deliverability gameOur previous blog on deliverability showed how increasingly difficult it has become to reach users’ inboxes, a condition that is requiring email marketers to adopt more sophisticated methods to succeed. As ExactTarget relates, batch and blast is no longer a viable strategy and having permission to send mail has become a starting point, not the finish line.

ISPs today are monitoring your email content, corporate identity, reputation and user engagement. Without the proper measures, your emails can be blocked or relegated to spam folders, and your company blacklisted. Spam traps, honey pots, spam filters and blacklists are only some of the hazards your emails must negotiate. Getting to the inbox requires technical know-how, attention to details and persistent hygiene.

As MailChimp explains, “deliverability is an art and a science and is more complex than it seems at first glance.” The art of deliverability is in crafting emails with messages, subject lines and images that avoid being flagged as spam. The science is in the realm of monitoring, analyzing, and performing technical operations to enable emails to reach the inbox.

Master the Technical Side

It is on the technical side that many email marketers need help to overcome the increasingly difficult barriers to deliverability. As MailChimp relates, “Deliverability is navigated by learning the expectations of ISPs, monitoring statistics, building a solid infrastructure and a whole lot of trial, error and patience.”

The science of deliverability includes employing techniques such as authentication, feedback loops, seed lists, DNS settings, dedicated IP addresses, message transfer agents (MTAs), WHOIS records, blacklist monitoring, spam filter monitoring, hard and soft bounce resolution, reputation monitoring, whitelisting and setting up email accounts such as abuse@, postmaster@ and fbl@. These concepts and more are explained in MailChimp’s “Email Delivery For IT Professionals.”

Another good set of tips for improving deliverability is Yesmail’s “10 Email Deliverability Myths Debunked.” The key takeaways in a nutshell are:

  1. Ensure your IP addresses are being scanned at Spamhaus (at least) every 24 hours.
  2. Generate inbox placement reports at ISPs at least 72 hours prior before every campaign.
  3. Ensure your mail streams are separated out onto dedicated IP addresses.
  4. Perform hygiene on your data at least once every 6-12 months.
  5. Have a contingency plan in place-know your next steps if a blacklisting or bulking issue occurs.

Other good deliverability resources are ExactTarget’s “Top Ten Tips to Optimize Reputation, Deliverability, and Inbox Placement,” Marketo’s deliverability resource site, HubSpot’s email marketing and deliverability guide, Return Path’s research reports and a collection by Graham Charlton of eConsultancy. These advisories jibe with TowerData’s own “Email Deliverability: 21 Steps to Success.”

Earning ISP Trust Is a Must

As these guides show, many deliverability measures are aimed at assuring ISPs you can be trusted. Authentication is one means of achieving this goal. As ExactTarget notes, “savvy marketers recognize the true value of authentication is that it allows ISPs to assign a reputation to a mail stream by accurately and appropriately identifying the originator of a given email message or mail stream.”

While some experts recommend using one or two methods of authentication, MailChimp recommends using all four of the major authentication modes: Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain Keys, DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), SenderID and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance).

Know the Score

Because your reputation is so critical to deliverability, it is important to know where you stand with ISPs. Many experts recommend Return Path’s Sender Score for monitoring your reputation and email campaign performance. You also can get a sender score at Just enter your IP address into the form and you will see your reputation score.

Knowing whether you have been blacklisted is another important criterion to determine. Among the better-known blacklist operators are Spamhaus, Spamcop, MAPS (Mail Abuse Prevention System) and SORbS (Spam and Open Relay blocking System). You also can check using a service such Lashback Unsubscribe blacklist, Blacklist Monitor, or the free check available via Return Path’s Sender Score.

Avoid the Bulk Shuttle

As ExactTarget’s Jay Miller explains, ISPs will send the vast majority of your email in bulk to the spam folder as a matter of policy when you’ve crossed a threshold of complaints or non-engagement. You may think all is well because your emails are not bouncing, but they may not be reaching the inbox.

The remedy for bulking, as for most deliverability problems, is to first determine the root cause. Generate an email performance by domain report to see tracking data for each domain. The open rates will show you whether your email is being bulked at particular services like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL. You can confirm this, Miller explains, with a seedlist test. Clean up the problem by segmenting your list, running a re-engagement campaign and rethinking your content.

Email Hygiene Is Key

Experts agree that data hygiene plays a major role in deliverability. As Yesmail relates, “data hygiene is an extremely important step that you MUST take to avoid ending up on a blacklist and improve your inboxing.” With more than 30 percent of people changing their email addresses every year or becoming inactive, Yesmail notes, removing inactive emails is one measure that can have a great effect on your deliverability and ROI.

While data hygiene alone will not guarantee that you will avoid blacklisting, says Yesmail, “it does significantly reduce the risk and is a process that should not be skipped.” Bottom line, says the report, keeping your data clean is “vital to sender reputation.”

Keep Current

Because email deliverability is a continually evolving area, you can never be complacent. As ExactTarget relates, ISPs currently are moving toward monitoring reciprocal communication as a measure of engagement. Several ISPs, says ExactTarget, have indicated they are measuring such things as time spent viewing an email as an indicator of engagement. Sending messages that are quickly glanced at and quickly deleted will negatively impact your reputation. In this scenario, “relevance will prove more important than ever under the new models measuring engagement.”

For even more on email deliverability, download “Email Deliverability: 21 Steps to Success” today!


photo credit: Ella Baker Center

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