21 Tips for Improving Email Deliverability [+Video]

If an email gets sent to an inbox and lands in the junkbox, does it make a sound?

  • Emails not getting delivered once in a while is typically an anomaly, but…

Have you ever sent an email that ticked off an inbox or two (thousand), sending it careening down the dark hole that drops your email into the “junk” box of half your list?

I have. I did. Last week. Maybe you noticed an empty hole in your inbox and missed us!

Ironically, it last Wednesday’s 17 Best Email Subject Lines email. The subject line itself, thankfully, had nothing to do with our little delivery glitch. The fact that I threw in a dozen email subject line examples did though. I spent the whole day working with our ESP, WhatCounts and through one test after another, we found that removing all of the subject lines fixed the issue. Hurrah! Also.. duh.

You see, you can say certain trigger words once or twice, even in your subject line, and get away with it. Say them a dozen times or more and…not so much.

Since we’ve got the power of reputation, our email did eventually rectify itself and our open rates barely even dropped half a percentage, but there were a few hours where I couldn’t even test an email without everything ending up in the black hole of my own inbox.

A little minor damage for a day, but if I ever decided to keep lighting my emails on fire like that every Wednesday, we probably wouldn’t kick back so fast the next time.

Is your deliverability poor? To measure a campaign without benchmarks is to guess at its effectiveness—and blind guesses rarely make money. Silverpop’s 2013 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study gives the following publishing / media industry averages. Take a look at these numbers and compare them to your email marketing numbers:

  • 16.4 percent unique open rate
  • 27.1 percent gross open rate
  • 1.65 opens per opener
  • 3.1 percent click-through rate
  • 19 percent click-to-open rate
  • 1.78 clicks per clicker
  • 18.8 kilobytes per message
  • 1.9 percent hard bounce rates
  • 0.19 percent unsubscribe rate
  • 0.07 percent complaint rate

Everyone needs a refresher, so today we’re going to share all the email delivery tips we know and are releasing our Solving Email Delivery Problems webinar, hosted by email marketing consultant Jeanne Jennings and delivery experts Len Shneyder from Pivotal Veracity and Stephanie Miller from Return Path.

Improving Email Deliverability Tip #1: Gaining Email Credibility

According to Jennings, more than 20% of the email you send will never reach the inbox. Before you ever send a rogue email, there are steps to take so that you “snap back” as quickly as we did. These simple steps will pave a better path to your inbox by the people who opted into your email list and truly want to hear from you.

If you’re having trouble with emails not getting delivered, try these credibility modifications:

  • Authenticate – Most email service providers will screen you before letting you into the inbox. This process is called authentication, and it’s used to keep the bad guys out. Although your email service provider can authenticate you across the board, if you ever wanted to figure out how to do it all by your lonesome, send your developers to OpenSPF.org and DKIM.org. Shneyder notes that there are more of the bad guys out there authenticating than legitimate businesses, but authentication also protects you from the bad folks using your domain to send bad emails.
  • Tell subscribers your schedule – Make sure that the frequency of the send and the content are consistent with what subscribers were told when they signed up.
  • Send what they want – Earn their permission to keep sending emails day after day by sending what they signed up for, not just what you want to send them. We’ve discovered through our own tests that sending more emails actually keeps people on lists longer as long as we make sure all of those emails have a point and some value.
  • Ask them to add you to their email address book – To first make sure you’re getting the best delivery rate, ask readers to white list you by adding your newsletter’s “from” address to their address book. Don’t actually say the words “white list” though, because they probably don’t know what it means. A good place to put this message is on your thank-you page after they sign up. Otherwise they may never even get your first email asking them to white list you!
  • Figure out the best delivery schedule and be consistent – Then conduct tests by scheduling your emails on different days and times to discover which delivery time works best. The timing of your delivery can also make or break your ability to reach readers. The email newsletter should be sent at regular intervals and delivered at an appropriate day/time (weekdays during business hours for B2B, weekends or evenings for B2C).
  • Put the unsubscribe link at the top: It might seem risky to put an unsubscribe link at the top of the email, but you’re better off making it easy for the user to get off your list if they don’t want to be on it. They’re going to choose the easiest way to unsubscribe, and many users still think that hitting the “junk” button will “automagically” get them off your list when in fact it could get you blacklisted across their entire ISP instead.

Improving Email Deliverability Tip #2: Managing your Reputation

Email reputation is a record of your email actions, which is used to predict your future efforts. For instance, if you consistently send out a newsletter on the same days and at the same times, your dedicated email recipients will most likely take note of this. To these recipients, a positive attribute of your reputation will be consistency.

If you’re having trouble with emails not getting delivered, try these reputation modifications:

  • Regulate the volume of email sent – The more consistently you send from month to month, the better your reputation will be. However, there are a few mistakes that can be made pertaining to volume that will send red flags to your recipients. A spike in sending your emails is one thing to avoid. An increase of up to 10% from one month to the next is acceptable, but that’s the highest you should strive for. Going beyond the 10% point will look suspicious and make it easier for your email to be deemed spam. Furthermore, very light sending is also an issue to avoid.
  • Avoid sharing an IP address – Sharing an IP address, where multiple publishers are sending from the same IP, might appear to be an enticing benefit for small mailers to increase their volume, but for the reason above, it can still pose as a problem. Your email marketing programs should remain balanced in terms of amount mailed, to be most beneficial.
  • Reduce bounce rates – When you receive a bounce, it means the email you are trying to send is not deliverable. Often time this means the email address you are trying to reach does not exist. Take note of the bounces you receive. Ideally, you should remove undeliverable addresses on a regular basis so your bounce rate stays low. A single digit bounce rate is not be a problem, but if your bounce rate is 30% or more, your email reputation will become damaged. Being proactive with your email strategy will keep your numbers low and reduce the chances of being considered a spammer. Experts say that you should remove hard bounces from your list in a timely manner.
  • Eliminate complaints – When people hit the “send to spam” button in their email client, they’re sending a complaint about you. Despite whether someone opted in to your list, “spam is in the eye of the beholder,” says Jennings. If it looks like spam to the person you’re sending it to, you don’t have any control over whether they click the button and no way to debate it.  This is a good reason to pass around your promotions before sending them and making sure that your “unsubscribe” buttons are in good working order.
  • Avoid honey pots – Honey pots are email addresses that were created in order to catch spammers. They aren’t real accounts and have never been voluntarily opted into lists. They do however, end up getting scraped off of sites and across the web by spammers. If you send too many emails to these honey pots, the ISPs report you as spam, which can quickly get you blacklisted. The lesson here: Don’t harvest email addresses, build your list organically.
  • Strive for longevity – The longer you’ve sent emails, the better your reputation. If you have a long history of sending compliant emails with a clean list, then your reputation will be great and you’ll be easily delivered to inboxes.
  • Send clean emails – Create clean email code, because you can be judged even more harshly on your code than on the content in your email. More on this later.

Improving Email Deliverability Tip #3: Design for the Inbox

The words you send out, the message you send and the code that contains it can all have a drastic effect on your email deliverability drastically. One foul line of code sent over an over again can have damaging effects in the long term.

If you’re having trouble with emails not getting delivered, try these content modifications:

  • Optimize your “from” line – The “from” line of an email newsletter should clearly identify the sender and be quickly recognizable to the recipient. Studies have shown that when viewing their inbox, readers start by looking at the “from” line; engaging readers here has been shown to increase open rates. Businesses should use their website’s name or their business name, unless there is a well-known person at the company whose name would entice opens.

Contactology’s email spam tester lets you test your subject line, from line and body

  • Use your subject line to talk about what’s inside – The subject line should be engaging, benefit-oriented and talk about the content of this issue of the email newsletter. The key message in the subject line should be first; subject lines are often truncated,
    • Avoid ALL CAPS.
    • Avoid exclamation marks.
    • Avoid false promises that lose the trust of your readers over time.
    • SubjectLine.com does a good job of analyzing just your subject line.
    • MailChimp has a free subject line suggestion tool available to all users (even free ones).
    • Check out our list of spam trigger words.
  • Use HTML – Even in this day and age, email delivery experts caution against using CSS in your emails. The biggest reason is because it’s easy to write sloppy CSS code, the second reason is  because some inboxes still don’t want to read them. The wonkier your code, the less likely you’ll be delivered. Pure, clean HTML is only better than pure, clean plain text.
  • Keep images simple – When sizing images, be sure to keep image size small. If your overall email size is over 70k, it may be too big to download via mobile and may run into other delivery complications too.
  • Follow CAN-SPAM rules – Readers have come to expect to find certain information in the footer of an email newsletter. Some of it, such as a way to unsubscribe, is required by CAN-SPAM regulations (assuming the email’s purpose is promotional).
  • Implement win-back programs – Email relationships often fade over time. Combat against this by offering incentives to those who have stopped participating over time. Let them know you miss their insight and want more of it. If email recipients haven’t opened any of your messages in a long period of time, say 6-12 months, segment those names out of your main email file.
  • Keep reminding them – It might seem redundant, but you should include a blurb at the top of every email that says something like “To ensure receipt of our emails, please add Mail@GardensDaily.com to your Address Book.”
  • Make it easy for them to change their email address – Sending emails to a dead email address won’t do you any delivery favors either, especially if it’s bouncing back. Provide a link at the bottom of every email that says something like “Change your email address” or “Update your email preferences”.

If you’re not whitelisted, it doesn’t mean you’re blacklisted. Blacklisting is what would happen after you’ve been sending for some time and you continue to have hard bounces or your content is spam. You’re a good, reputable publishers, so you shouldn’t ever get blacklisted. But if you do, I hope these tips helped.

A few resources to visit that will help you check out your own domain and IP addresses for red flags:

Comments
    radhika

    One more Tip:
    Consistency …
    Many times in forums people ask – ‘I have an old list of 2000 subscribers into my ecourse. I haven’t send them anything after they received the ecourse. What can I do with the list?’

    If publishers sends an email to them after a long gap of silence, most of them already out of the loop and tend to unsubscribe.

    If you are in constant contact with them, they wouldn’t forget you.

    Reply

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