You click send, and your marketing email is off on its journey into subscribers' inboxes. But when you go back into your ESP to view performance, 10% of the mailing list didn't even receive it. What gives?

The emails you spend so much time strategizing about, crafting, and scheduling aren't worth much if they don't actually reach your target audience.

An essential marketing measure that many marketers don't pay much attention to is email deliverability.

What is it?

Deliverability seems simple: It's an email's ability to reach recipients' inboxes rather than a "junk" or "promotions" folder.

However, different sources define the concept in different terms, creating a lot of misconceptions. Some email vendors promise deliverability rates as high as 99%, leading you to believe your emails are reaching almost all of your recipients' inboxes. But, in fact, those vendors see deliverability as emails simply being delivered, regardless of the folder in which they ended up.

But just because an email is sent, doesn't mean it is delivered to a person's inbox.

When you drill down into it, deliverability can be complex. A variety of factors, such as whether a recipient has opted in to receiving your emails, your sender reputation, and the quality of your email content, affect deliverability. If you aren't aware of those factors, you could be dooming your email campaigns before they are even sent.

Here's how to improve overall email engagement for better deliverability

Boosting Your Reputation

Deliverability affects your sender reputation, which can then further affect deliverability. Your sender reputation improves every time someone has a positive interaction with your email, such as...

  • Opening an email
  • Clicking within an email
  • Forwarding an email
  • Marking an email as "not spam"

On the other hand, negative actions can hinder your sender reputation:

  • An email lands in the spam folder.
  • A recipient marks an email as spam.
  • An email bounces.
  • A recipient deletes your email.

Though some of these actions are out of your hands, there are things you can do to encourage positive interactions, limit negative ones, and boost overall deliverability.

List Health

It was once believed that the larger your subscriber list was, the better your email would perform; but today it's quality over quantity. A quality list means all members were obtained on your own, not purchased, and they have opted in to receive your emails. Using double opt-in is effective in ensuring list quality.

Also, after a person subscribes, you can track their activity within a certain period of time. If they don't engage with your email content in that timeframe, you can remove them from your list.

Even when you have a well-established list, you must nurture it to keep it clean and consistent. Regularly check your list for...

  • Duplicate contacts
  • Inconsistent naming conventions
  • Misspellings
  • False, spam contacts
  • Contacts that have bounced or unsubscribed

Bounces can happen for various reasons. Soft bounces mean the email address is correct and the email reached the server, but it still bounced because of a full inbox or a server issue, or because the message is too large. Hard bounces mean the message was rejected because the email address is invalid or doesn't exist.

Your ESP should allow you to decipher between the two bounces to determine whether a subscriber should be kept in your list or removed.

Email Setup

Your list is vital to the deliverability and performance of your emails, but equally as important is the email content itself.

So, select an attractive and clean template. An email with a bunch of different colors, fonts, and font sizes is a signal that you may be a spammer.

The same goes for text. Wording and grammar aren't necessarily going to kill your deliverability, but they will affect your reputation in the eyes of your subscribers. Misspelled words, all caps, a lot of exclamation marks, or unprofessional language are all surefire ways to increase unsubscribes.

Although you can get creative with your email design and messaging, keep your cadence of email sends standard and regular. Sporadic, spontaneous one-off sends or multiple sends a day will flag you for monitoring entities and blacklists. Moreover, keep your list size relatively similar from one email to the next to establish expectations from your subscribers and protect your reputation.

Finally, ensure your HTML is clean. Messy code will raise suspicions and could land your email in the spam folder.

When It's Time to Send...

The list is organized; you've got a well-put together email ready to go; now it's time to get a little technical. A few basics you should make sure you have for every single email send:

  • A clear "from" name and email address
  • A physical mailing address
  • A link to social platforms
  • An option to unsubscribe

That last item is of utmost importance. Failing to include an unsubscribe link can be costly to both your reputation and your marketing budget.

To remain in compliance of the CAN-SPAM Act, the unsubscribe link must be clearly visible. One way to limit the number of unsubscribes is to offer options to change preferences; that way, a subscriber can limit how often they receive emails or choose to receive only certain types of emails rather than opting out altogether.

In addition, don't attach any files to an email. Attachments not only add work for readers but also increase the size of your email, which means it may not reach certain inboxes. Instead, include a CTA link to relevant materials.

Once you've checked all those boxes, you're just about ready to click that "send" or "schedule" button. But, after all your effort, you'll want to make sure you aren't still flagged as spam.

This is where an ESP's spam scoring feature comes in handy. It scans text, links, and domains within the finished email, alerting you of anything that may cause it to be flagged as spam. If your email vendor doesn't offer the capability, you could still end up in "Junk" when all is said and done.

* * *

As with all your marketing efforts, your strategy for better deliverability won't have a noticeable effect overnight. It's also not a one-and-done process. Maintain your subscriber list on a regular basis; keep your emails clean, relevant, and user-friendly; and be transparent.

You'll find customers are more engaged and loyal to your brand.

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What Every Marketer Needs to Know About Email Deliverability

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Jay Miller is SVP of marketing at Maropost, a unified customer engagement platform. He brings over 20 years of SaaS marketing experience to Maropost, with a focus on scaling customer-centric companies.

LinkedIn: Jay Miller