5 strategies to ensure your email's deliverability
By Mitch Lapides, President FulcrumTech
Did you know that spam volume increased 100% over 2007, reaching more than 120 billion spam messages per day according to a recent study by IronPort? Breaking past the barricades put in place by Internet service providers (ISPs), companies, and subscribers is tough business. You can do so much right with your design and copy, and still achieve less than optimal results. Pay attention to the issues surrounding what is called "deliverability," though, and you can keep your email program humming. Check out our 5 top strategies below for getting your messages to your subscribers.
What is deliverability?
As defined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, "deliverability represents the ability of an email marketer to consistently deliver email to a recipient's inbox with full HTML or text functionality as indicated by the recipient in his/her preferences."
What affects deliverability?
Your ability to deliver emails can be caused by many factors, but the bottom line is that deliverability is something that affects you, the sender’s, ability to deliver any email. According to a recent study by ReturnPath, 77% of delivery issues occur because of the sender’s email reputation. To note, "reputation" is a specific term defined by the email marketing industry. More on that below. Content only plays a part in 23% of delivery issues, with only 17% of those relating to factors such as the words, fonts, images, or spelling being used in the email.
What is "reputation?"
So, you may ask, what is reputation? ISPs look at a variety of factors which they use to determine whether an email may be coming from a spammer. They then attach what is called a “reputation score” to the IP address actually sending the email. Then, they make decisions about whether to allow email through from that IP, based on the reputation score.
The types of issues that affect a sender’s reputation include any of the following:
- The number spam complaints (when a subscriber clicks on the "mark as spam" button)
- The number of bounces resulting from email sent your IP address
- The number of invalid email addresses attempted to have sent mail to
- The sheer volume of email being sent from your IP address over a particular time period (and likely its relationship to the above items)
Each ISP has a threshold of what is acceptable, and when that threshold is exceeded, your reputation becomes damaged. It is a lot easier, and better, to keep your reputation solid from the onset rather than having to pick up the pieces and repair a tarnished reputation later.
How to keep your reputation solid?
Tip 1: Don’t send to those who don’t read your email
Many emailers strive to build the biggest list they can, the fastest way possible. They just keep piling name upon name in their list. With email in particular, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Why?
A study done by Jakob Nielsen, renowned Web usability expert, found that users often don’t unsubscribe in real life when they are no longer interested in the emails they are receiving. What do they do instead? They create a rule to put email they no longer want into the junk box or just mark it as spam, and, after a bunch of these, “poof,” the ISP may lower your reputation score.
To address this problem, go through your list periodically, and segment out the recipients who haven’t been opening your email over the last 6-8 months. As wonderful as your content may be, it will become less relevant to some subscribers over time. Keeping your distribution list free of these “unopened-email” subscribers can help keep your reputation in the clear.
Tip 2: Remove the complainers from your list
If someone considers your email as spam, get them off your list, and fast. With some email service providers (including what we use here at FulcrumTech), if someone marks something as spam, they'll be removed from the list automatically. You do not want to continue to annoy someone, and, it's a violation of the CAN-SPAM act not to remove them if they make the request.
Tip 3: Use best practices for list acquisition
Spammers don't care about the quality of their list. They'll resend to bounced emails. They'll send to people who have asked to be unsubscribed. They send to addresses that may or not be real addresses, etc.
A great way to keep your list quality high is to manage your bounces effectively. There are many different causes for a bounce, and, if you're sending a lot of mail, you should be sure that you have a way to actively manage the different types of bounces. Some may be caused by a full mailbox. Others may be caused by an invalid address. Make sure you track these and remove them off your list as appropriate. The email system we use at FulcrumTech, allows us to automatically set rules for what to do with the email address, depending upon what type of bounce message is received. This way, we keep our lists clean, and we don’t continue to send email to bad addresses.
Tip 4: Use best practices for list acquisition
There are so many ways to build your list, but you need to maintain high standards for who gets added to your list. If you go to a conference, don't just add everyone who dropped a business card into your raffle onto your list. They didn't ask for your emails, and don't assume they implied such consent. Be sure who gets added to your list explicitly has asked to be on your list. Add names willy nilly, and you'll watch your unsubscribes and complaints go up and fast.
When it comes to your Web site subscriptions (i.e. optin) form, carefully consider whether you want to use single or double optin. The safest is double optin, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Check out WebSite 101 if you’d like to learn more.
Tip 5: Use authentication to protect reputation
Spammers will use many different IP addresses that don't necessarily match the "From" address in the email. ISPs can recognize that and use the mismatch to mark email as spam. Many professional emailers use third party email distribution tools, known as email service providers, to send their mail. Not all of those systems have strong relationships with the ISPs and hence are not recognized by the ISP. As a result, the ISP may see the mismatch, and block it, along with marking it against your reputation score.
There are a variety of tools for authenticating your domain so that this mismatch doesn’t occur. Check out some of the options at Sender Policy Framework and at Microsoft. There are many options and advantages and disadvantages of each.
We have many more tips up our sleeve, so if these are of interest, let us know. As always, all of this takes a lot of time, effort, and attention to get right and to keep doing it consistently. We are here to help you in any way, so give us a call at 215-489-9336, or drop me a note with any questions. We’d love to hear from you.