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Email Deliverability: Why It Matters (And 4 Tips on How to Improve Yours)

Communications Strategy // While there is no single metric to track email deliverability, these four simple steps can help you optimize your chances of getting to the inbox.

Brad Gurley
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Numbers matter. Whether you’re a retailer, trade association, event organizer, publisher, or a small business owner, you know that the more times people see your organization, brand, or message, the better.

More interest in your cause, more visits to your site, or more attendees for your annual conference can only be a good thing…right?

In the search for new and innovative ways to increase reach or get in front of more people, many marketers are missing one of the most important factors – email deliverability.

Is deliverability on your radar?

For years, organizations have focused on sheer list size – more names in the database means more chances to be seen, of course! It’s a sound argument and the math (usually) holds up.

But what if most of the names on that list never see that email? Or worse yet, what if they never check that mailbox at all?

If your email deliverability is poor, you could be missing out on exposure without even knowing.

Related: Google’s Push to Purge Your Low-Engagement Emails

Defining deliverability

Email metrics around deliverability can be a bit confusing, so here’s a quick primer:

Delivered rate (sometimes also called delivery rate) is not the same as deliverability.

The delivered rate relays what percentage of the mail was delivered to the intended recipient. This could mean it was delivered to the junk folder, quarantine, or even lost after being accepted by the mail server.

Deliverability doesn’t have a specific metric, but the key component of deliverability is the portion of the mail you send that actually reaches the inbox.

Let’s use the analogy of a letter being sent to your home. If the letter is marked as ‘delivered,’ that indicates it successfully reached your street address. What you don’t know based on that metric is whether the letter was left on the lawn, the front porch, or in your mailbox. The concept of deliverability is the process of improving the chances the letter ends up in your mailbox.

Each day, hundreds of millions of emails are sent around the world – and the vast majority of those are spam. Your spam filter is tasked with catching and stopping those messages, and most filters have gotten so good you’ll rarely see most of those blatant spam emails. They’re either dumped in your Junk folder or rejected outright.

As a legitimate email marketer, you must also be mindful of those filters: they can often dump your messages into the Junk folder alongside those scams and malware. Statistics indicate that around 15% of all legitimate email marketing never reaches the inbox.

You spend a lot of time crafting the perfect content, targeting the most receptive audience, and optimizing your send times – shouldn’t everyone on your list get to see your messages? If you’re not paying attention to deliverability, there’s a good chance that many of your recipients never will.

4 tips for maximizing deliverability

If you’re not sure how to check or improve your inbox delivery, you’re not alone. While there is no single metric to track deliverability, a few simple steps can help you optimize your chances of getting to the inbox (and staying there!):

1. Monitor your open rate. A high open rate is usually an indicator of good deliverability. Open rates vary widely by industry and audience, but consistent open rates of 30% or above are uncommon for senders with delivery issues. Conversely, very low open rates (1% or less) may be a strong indicator your mail isn’t getting to the inbox.

2. Review your bounces. Messages that are rejected (bounced) by the receiving mail server should be accompanied by bounce details that will often alert you to deliverability issues. These bounce details provide useful information that allows you to identify and address problems preventing your mail from being delivered.

3. Know your audience. Your content and sending patterns should be tailored to your recipients. Provide options for recipients to choose what they want to receive – or use marketing automation and segmentation to trigger emails based on their activity or interests. Recipients who didn’t opt in or who receive content that’s irrelevant to them are likely to ignore your messages or report them as spam – both of which hurt your deliverability.

4. Keep your list(s) clean. When you know your audience very well, you should also know when a recipient can be considered “disengaged.” Recipients who haven’t opened an email, visited your website, made a purchase, or otherwise interacted with your organization in the past 12 months or more may have moved on. They could have abandoned the address, switched jobs or internet providers, or simply are no longer interested in your messages. These addresses are much more likely to cause harm to your delivery through complaints, inactivity, or blacklisting, so just remove them.

Is deliverability something you’re thinking about? If not, it might be worth it to take some time for a deliverability audit.

Another way to improve your email marketing, on the whole, is to improve your segmentation. Your subscribers want to receive content that’s relevant to them.

Download the Engagement Trends Report 2020

Brad Gurley

Director of Deliverability, MessageGears

Brad is the Director of Deliverability at MessageGears. He has over 15 years experience in email marketing with focus on deliverability and ISP relations, as well as extensive knowledge of email standards and best practices, deliverability monitoring, and consultation. He is a frequent presenter and contributor of blog content, and is active in email delivery industry organizations.

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