Practical Ecommerce

Five Steps to Improve Email Deliverability

According to a study by Return Path, 20 percent of email in the United States and Canada is still not making it to the inbox. That may seem like a small percentage, but it is actually a huge number that can adversely affect your campaign if you are among the email marketers whose message does not reach its intended destination.

The email industry dubs it as “email deliverability,” and it is at the root of every email campaign. If your message is not able to reach your intended recipient, you are wasting your time and energy.

There are several issues that can prevent your messages from being delivered to your intended recipients.

Bounce Backs

Bounces (emails that are returned as undeliverable) are the most obvious technical issue that affects deliverability. If your list contains any invalid or improperly formatted email addresses, those emails cannot be delivered and they will, as such, increase your bounce rate.

To avoid bounces, filter your email list and delete any invalid or improperly formatted email addresses. The most common problem is due to email formatting which may be missing @ signs or top-level domain names (e.g., .com, .net, and so on). The second most common reason is that the email recipient has changed addresses or no longer has access to that email address. To prevent this, make sure you keep your list up-to-date and process address changes promptly.

Anti-Spam Measures

The anti-spam filter is the biggest reason of all email deliverability failure issues. All email service providers have anti-spam filters in place that they strongly adhere to. Here are some of the issues:

  • Spam Reports

    If users did not request your email, they may mark your message as spam, which could result in their email service providers blocking future messages from you. This also can lead to your IP address as getting “blacklisted” on a third-party service that monitors spam. Make sure that the message you are sending is relevant and in good nature to your intended recipient.

  • Subject Line

    A good subject line gets users to open an email. But, if that subject line interferes with ISP anti-spam measures, it will get your email sent directly into the intended recipients’ junk or spam folders. Two of most common subject line mistakes are excessive use of exclamation points and having the subject line written in all capital letters.

  • Spammers Who Spoof

    It is a common practice of spammers to insert your business’s email address in the “from” field, pretending that the email is from your company. This is called “email address spoofing.” It not only fools the Internet service providers, but also negatively impacts your reputation. The worst thing that can happen is that a recipient gets an email with inappropriate content thinking it’s from you, and reports your email address as spam.

Shared IP Addresses

Deliverability and reputation problems that can occur if you are using a shared IP address to send out your emails and other senders on this IP address have been marked as spam or blacklisted. Many ESPs automatically use shared IP addresses across many clients.

For large email lists, consider investing in a unique, dedicated IP address. This could improve your email deliverability rate. Ask you ESP about adding a dedicated IP address to your services.

Five Steps to Improve Deliverability

  1. Ask recipients to recognize your email address. Many major ISPs and spam filtering programs automatically place bulk emails into a spam or bulk folder unless the recipient has identified the sender of the email as safe and desirable. Be sure to ask your subscribers to add you to their safe sender’s list at the time they first join your email newsletter list, and upon your initial email message confirming their subscription to your list.
  2. Ask your ESP to help prevent spoofing. Many ISPs are utilizing methods to determine whether a particular email is sent by a legitimate sender from your domain or by a spammer spoofing your domain with a bogus “from” email address. Make sure to ask your ESP if either or both of the following is in place:

    a. SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is an open standard specifying a technical method to prevent sender address spoofing or forgery.

    b. DomainKeys is an approach that adds an encoded digital signature in the email message, which helps ISPs verify that the email came from the intended domain.

  3. Unsubscribe promptly. Whenever there are recipients who attempt to unsubscribe from your distribution list, be sure to handle these requests promptly or you could be reported as a spammer.
  4. Use straightforward subject lines. Develop a subject line that is straight to the point of your message. Do not send questionable headlines that can get your intended message marked as spam before the recipient even opens the message, or just filtered straight into the junk or spam folder.
  5. Consider becoming an accredited email sender. This tells ISPs and spam filters that the emails they receive from you are legitimate, and not spam. There are many vendors, such as Return Path or SuretyMail, that offer services that allow email marketers to become accredited senders. Some of the vendors are expensive, and each of these them will have eligibility requirements or guidelines that you have to meet in order to receive your certification. But, it could be worth the time and money, given the fact that many of the top ISPs, such as AOL, Yahoo!, Google, Hotmail and others trust and deliver email from accredited senders.

Summary

The issue of email deliverability is something that needs to be addressed before, during and after email distribution to ensure the success of your email marketing campaigns. It takes active management and monitoring to ensure your emails get their intended recipients.

Ankush Agarwal

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  1. Louis Camassa May 3, 2010 Reply

    Ankush-good tips! One area I would also focus on is the text within the email. Email applications will usually scan the body of the email for certain keyword "triggers", and forward to the SPAM folder.

    Always test the email yourself by sending to a personal AOL, Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail account. If it gets through the SPAM filter there, it will most likely make it to your customers inbox.

  2. Alex Mulin May 5, 2010 Reply

    > Always test the email yourself by sending to a personal AOL, Gmail,
    > Yahoo, and Hotmail account.

    Doing this manually takes a lot of time and efforts. I prefer to use e-mail marketing companies like mailchimp or salesinaclick to send newsletters. They have features like check how e-mail goes through spam-filters before sending out.

  3. Louis Camassa May 7, 2010 Reply

    Alex-I don’t know how those services do it, but we use http://www.browsercam.com, which has a email capture system. If setup right, it only adds another 10 minutes or so to the send. If this helps prevent email from going to the spam folder, i think the time is well worth it!