Email is one of the most powerful channels for business growth, but email deliverability, which is the key factor in ensuring emails cultivate a loyal audience and improve conversion, is often overlooked. Efforts to craft the perfect subject lines, content, and call to actions (CTAs) are all for naught if an email never lands in the recipient’s inbox.
Email deliverability, or the rate at which your emails arrive in inboxes, is vital to cultivating a valuable and lucrative audience list and getting the most out of your campaigns. According to a Deliverability Benchmark Report from email and data solution company Validity, 20% of all emails never reach an inbox. That means one in five emails you send may never fulfill its purpose.
“If you have high deliverability, all of your emails will be delivered to the inbox, but if you don’t, most of your emails could land in the spam folder.”
What is email deliverability?
Email deliverability is the percentage of emails that land in inboxes, rather than in spam folders or the ether of the internet. Emails are vetted through filters designed by email service providers (ESPs) to screen for suspicious content and ensure the trustworthiness of their senders. Then, they are often categorized into a folder, like Primary, Promotions, Social, or the dreaded Spam, for example. The latter marks deliverability failure and indicates that your email was deemed untrustworthy or was blocked by the ISP.
Why does email deliverability matter?
Carefully planned and thoughtfully crafted email content is intended to be consumed and inspire action. When your emails aren’t delivered correctly, you’re not only missing out on potential leads and jeopardizing conversion, but also investing financially in a campaign with a stunted return. Moreover, email deliverability matters en masse, not just on an individual or campaign level. If enough of your content gets flagged as spam, you lose credibility as a sender, and the deliverability of your future content could suffer as a result. On the other hand, a high deliverability rate can be an observable antecedent for maximized conversion.
How to Improve Email Deliverability
This task might seem intimidating, but don’t fret. There’s a host of actionable steps you can take to boost your rating as a sender and ensure your email is delivered. By implementing these proven techniques from the start of your campaigns, you’ll prevent deliverability failure and improve your long-term deliverability rate.
1. Authenticate Your Email Domain
Email deliverability relies largely on the “rating” of the sender, or how trustworthy and reliable the servers deem it to be. When you’re sending from a brand new account, there’s limited information to judge you by, so authenticating your email domain is a crucial signal that you’re legitimate. Authentication acts as a driver’s license and shows that you’re a qualified sender. In order to send mass emails without being blocked or landing in spam, you need to complete four types of authentication:
1. SPF (Sender Policy Framework)
Authentication through SPF creates a record of your DNS (Domain Name System), listing all the servers that are authorized to send emails on your behalf. When your recipient’s ESP (Email Service Provider) scans the email you’re sending and sees that it’s SPF certified, it logs a clean chit for your domain.
2. DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail)
DKIM prevents email spoofing by creating a digital signature that’s identical to your DNS records, verifying to your receiver’s ESP that your email comes from an authorized source.
3. DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance)
DMARC also boosts your email deliverability. It builds on your SPF and DKIM records to confirm to the receiver’s ESP that your email is not suspicious. The DMARC records will help your email land, even if an internet service provider (ISP) restricts your IP address or domain server.
4. Custom Domain
Custom domains make your business appear more legitimate in the customer’s eyes, with the added benefit of improving your deliverability. Seeing [yourname]@[yourcompany].com seems significantly more professional than [yourname]@gmail.com or the like. Plus, tracking links within your email’s body texts are less likely to trigger spam filters, since they’ll match the domain that’s sending the email.
2. Maintain Proper IP Allocation
ISP filters work overtime to battle against spam by assessing the validity of the IP address that content is sent from. This is how they determine sender trustworthiness. So how can you build a good reputation for your IP?
First, start sending small batches of emails to recipients who you know are engaged. The ISP will see that recipients are interested in and engaging with your emails, making your IP more trustworthy. As you build credibility, you can increase the volume and audience of your emails with improved odds for deliverability.
This strategy is a great way to establish yourself as a moderate, enjoyable presence in your recipient's inbox. We’ve all subscribed to an email list, only to be suffocated by a barrage of constant content. Sending an excessive volume of emails is a recipe for unsubscribes galore – or worse, being marked as spam. In fact, research by Omnisend showed that the fewer emails a brand sent per month, the higher their open rate was. The key is to strike a good balance: send enough emails that your audience has several chances to engage, but not so many that they feel overwhelmed and ignore them altogether.
3. Perfect the Opt-In Process
To help create an engaged audience that verifies the validity of your address as a sender, build an opt-in process that ensures only people who actually want to receive your emails are on your list. A double-opt in involves a confirmation email after an individual subscribes, asking them to confirm that they want to be added to your list.
A two-step opt-in process might seem counterintuitive, but as far as deliverability (and conversion) goes, a smaller, highly engaged audience is better than a bigger, disinterested one, and results in lower bounce rates, lower unsubscribe rates, higher open rates, and higher-quality leads.
4. Simplify the Opt-Out Process
This is another strategy that might defy intuition. You don’t want users unsubscribing, so why would you make it simple for them? The key here is to prioritize the quality of your subscribers over the quantity. Once again, having a bunch of inactive subscribers on your list is worse than losing them.
Having a simple opt-out process with a clear unsubscribe link at the end of all your emails helps you clean house, but more importantly, it’s mandatory per CAN-SPAM laws. If a recipient can’t easily find an unsubscribe link, they’re far more likely to mark your content as spam. The more spam reports you receive, the lower your domain’s rating will be, which damages your email deliverability in the long-run.
5. Segment Your Lists
Another way to improve your engagement, and in turn your deliverability, is to categorize your recipients into different types of prospects. This works especially well for businesses that target multiple audiences, e.g. individuals and organizations. If you launch a new product for organizations, but half of your list is individuals, you compromise your open rate and overall engagement. If you segment your lists, you can target the relevant audience and maintain high engagement.
In fact, according to a study by MailChimp, segmented campaigns have a 14% higher open rate and receive 100.95% more clicks. Plus, according to content agency Marketing Insider Group, 78% of US internet users say that receiving personally relevant content from brands increases their purchase intent.
So how can you segment your lists? Here are four ways to categorize your audience:
- By demographic
- By location
- By past purchases
- By position in the sales funnel
- By engagement recency
Lastly, create suppression lists to prevent inactive subscribers from receiving your emails. Boost your engagement and thus your sender reputation and email deliverability by setting up your campaign to permanently exclude recipients who don’t engage.
6. Write Trustworthy Subject Lines
It can be tempting to include emojis in your subject lines (e.g. HUGE SALE INSIDE – UP TO 70% OFF 😍😱), but it increases the likelihood that recipients and spam filters will flag your emails. The same goes for deceptive tactics like including “FWD:” or “RE:” in the subject. This might make the metrics look good, because recipients will open the message on autopilot, assuming it’s from a friend or colleague, but when they realize they’ve been bamboozled, you end up with a high open rate and an even higher unsubscribe rate.
You can still write persuasive subject lines using regular sentence or headline case and friendly language, like “These are your new favorite fall outfits” or “5 Ways to Increase Sales This Quarter”. The reader will still be intrigued, and better yet, they’ll keep opening your emails because they know what to expect and don’t feel frustrated by your marketing tactics.
7. Be Consistent With Your Sender Name
Changing your sender name according to the nature of your content might seem strategic, but it can violate the CAN-SPAM act if it appears to be misleading. Also, changing your sender name can land your emails in spam folders and confuse your recipients. Sending “top tips” from your founder and promotional blasts from your brand name, for example, won’t do you any favors. Instead, use one recognizable sender name to establish reliability.
8. Create Good, Non-Spammy Email Content
Unsurprisingly, the content within your email is the #1 factor that determines whether you land in a recipient’s inbox or spam. Create content that keeps your audience coming back for more and follow these best practices to maximize your email deliverability:
- Perfect Your Text to Image Ratio
While visual content makes for dynamic emails and improved conversion, it can hurt your deliverability. Too many images can make an email come across as spammy to ISPs, and although plain text is making a comeback for non-engaged recipients, it doesn’t always perform too well with readers, especially within product marketing emails. In this case, it can be more effective to use more images to make it come to life.
A balance of 60:40 text to image ratio should keep your email interesting without ringing too many spam alarm bells.
“If your email is marketing a product, you can make it more effectively come to life with the use of images”
- Minimize the Number of Links
Links are vital for conversion, but using too many in one email is a giant red flag for ESP’s spam filters. In other words, excessive links aren’t worth the risk for your sender reputation and long-term deliverability. Limit your links to one or two CTAs to stay safe.
- Personalize Your Content
Personalized emails almost always lead to higher open rates, and in case it isn’t clear by now, higher engagement means better deliverability. Collect details like first name and company name during your subscription process that can be input for personalization when you create emails. Asking for too much personal information at this stage can feel excessive and put off the recipient from subscribing, so stick to the basics.
- Optimize for Mobile
Last but not least, ensure that the email content itself and whatever pages you may be linking out to with your CTAs work for mobile, not just desktop. A high click-through rate is virtually useless if all those leads land on a page that can’t be viewed on their phones. If your site doesn’t load on the recipient’s device, they probably won’t bother to switch devices – you’ll just lose the lead.
The single most important factor for email deliverability is sender reputation. You need your recipients’ ISP and ESP to know you’re an unproblematic sender. You can achieve this through a combination of strategic, reputation-boosting steps like authenticating your domain, maintaining good IP allocation, and sending emails optimized for engagement to make it clear that your audience wants to receive your content. Build your campaigns with these strategies in mind to give your emails the highest odds of landing correctly and your content the best chance to make a meaningful impact.