Email Deliverability: Why It Matters and How to Improve It

Despite all the wiz bang fancy ways to market to people today, email marketing remains a fundamental part of digital marketing. For one thing, people prefer email to other forms of communication, and for another, it is a marketing channel that’s easily optimized. But it’s not easy to do. In an ideal world, we would simply write our message and hit Send, but email marketing is far more complex than that, beginning with email deliverability. 

In a way, email deliverability is the foundation for a successful email marketing program. If you’re not getting emails delivered, you don’t have an email marketing program. Building a list, designing a template, creating attractive offers, crafting good landing pages…all of that is part of email marketing, but unless the deliverability rate is optimized, those other pieces will fail to perform as well as they otherwise would.

Why Email Marketing Deliverability Matters

To understand why email marketing deliverability is so important, let’s start with a common misconception about the difference between emails sent and emails delivered. An email marketer might send to a list of 50,000 recipients and see in the analytics that 91 percent of those emails were “delivered” according to the email service provider (ESP). However, that does not mean 97 percent reached subscribers’ inboxes. Just because an ESP sent the email to the recipient does not mean it showed up in the inbox. That number is known as the Inbox Placement Rate (IPR). It’s a measurement that matters more than the deliverability rate—and it’s going down.

According to ReturnPath’s 2017 Deliverability Benchmark Report, one in five emails is not getting to the inbox, meaning only 80 percent are: an 80 percent IPR. That might seem like a high enough number, but an email that fails to get into the inbox is essentially an email that was never sent. If you send 50,000 emails and 10,000 are not delivered to the recipient, that’s the same as having a list of 40,000 emails instead. A difference of 10,000 emails?

Yes! Translate that into lost sales: If 10,000 are not delivered to the inbox, and you typically have a conversion rate of let’s say 2 percent and an average purchase price of $100, that’s $20,000 in revenue that you’re not earning! 
All the countless hours you’ve spent on building your list, designing your emails, crafting your message, refining your subject lines, optimizing your landing pages…it’s all for naught when emails don’t get into the inbox.

Why Email Deliverability Is Hard

If you’re not getting 100 percent of your emails into recipients’ inboxes, it’s not a reflection on you as a digital marketer. It’s simply that email marketing deliverability is hard. Think about all of the obstacles you must overcome, for one thing:

  • You need a valid email address.
  • Your email has to get to past the ISP, webmail provider or corporate email filter.
  • Then you must get it past the recipient’s spam filter.
  • Then avoid the junk mail folder.
  • Once it gets into the recipient’s inbox, the recipient needs to engage with the email.

That’s a long list of formidable challenges! But they can be overcome by adhering to email deliverability best practices and making that deliverability effort something you regularly pay attention to. 

6 Email Deliverability Best Practices

Improving email deliverability is not a one-time endeavor, but an ongoing process, and one that ideally starts at the very beginning. But even if you have email deliverability issues already, you can make the situation better. These six best practices will help: 

Warm up your new IP address: Jumping right in with a new ESP is one of the biggest mistakes marketers make. When you switch ESPs and get a new dedicated IP address, the ISPs don’t know who you are. Your email sender reputation got left behind with your old IP address. If you start sending to everyone on your list without building your new reputation first, ISPs will assume you’re a spammer—because that’s what a spammer does. Warm up that new IP address slowly, by sending emails in small batches, establishing a good sending reputation, and gradually ramping up until you’re sending to your whole list. 

Monitor your email sender reputation: If you’re not aware of your sender reputation, start by getting your sender score. That way, you know if you need to improve or stay the course. Then keep an eye on your reputation to make sure you didn’t do something to make it go down. Your sender reputation is based on many factors, including how long you’ve been sending, if you’re sending to spam traps, your spam complaint rate, your send volume, your bounce rates and if you’re on any blacklists. As with any reputation, it’s easy to get a bad one, so pay attention.

Keep your list clean: Practicing good list hygiene will help your deliverability by lowering your bounce rates, keeping unengaged subscribers off of your list, and lowering your spam complaints. 

Strive for engagement: ISPs pay attention to your engagement rate once you get to the inbox. If subscribers aren’t opening your emails, that tells the ISPs that they don’t want them, and you start to look like spam. Segment your lists, test and optimize your subject lines, and send targeted, relevant and timely content to your subscribers so you’ll engage them and thereby improve your deliverability rate.

Watch your analytics: Sometimes everything is going along fine and all of a sudden your email marketing deliverability to one domain will tank. The sooner you know you have email deliverability issues, the sooner you can act to fix them. Pay close attention to your analytics and you’ll know when something goes wrong, but you’ll also see when things are going right as you… 

Plan for continual incremental improvement: The steps necessary to improve email deliverability are not something you do once then check off your list. Except for warming up a new IP address, improving email deliverability is a constant and ongoing process, one of the incremental improvements. For example, if you test your subject lines and find one performs even 2 percent better than the other, and the better-performing subject line boosts your open rate by even a little bit, you’ve just increased your engagement in the inbox which helps your sending reputation with the ISPs. Or if you switch to responsive design so your emails render well on smartphones, you’ll increase your engagement. Improving your deliverability rate won’t happen overnight, and the real results are the ones you gain by slowly and surely getting better and better over time. 

Although this is a lot to take in, these are only a few email deliverability best practices. As you master these, start to pay attention to other factors as well, because there’s no such thing as a deliverability rate that’s too high! 

Master Email Marketing and Boost Email Results 

Email marketing seems like it would be easy, but in reality, it’s hard, not just the deliverability piece of it but all of it. And most digital marketers learn email on the job—which doesn’t lead to the best results because it is a complex marketing channel that’s constantly changing as technology evolves. 

If you’re tasked with email marketing at your company and you have room to improve, earn a certification in Advanced Email Marketing to make sure what you’re doing is in line with best practices. Email is easy to do wrong, even when people are experienced with it. Get email right—starting with your email deliverability rate—and you’ll deliver much better results and ROI.   

About the Author

Nikita DuggalNikita Duggal

Nikita Duggal holds an honors degree in English language and literature and is working with Simplilearn as a content writer. She is a passionate digital nomad who loves all sorts of writing. In her free time, she is a veteran of poetry and philosophy.

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