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How to Improve Your Email Deliverability

Learn how to send emails that make it to your contact’s inboxes.

Deliverability measures how many of your contacts receive your emails, and it’s 1 of the most important factors for email marketing success.

For your strategy to work, people must first receive your emails. There’s no point in crafting perfect content otherwise. Although deliverability involves more than building an audience and pressing send, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Engaging with your audience through emails they actually want to read is the first step in building a list of loyal customers. Here you'll learn everything you need to know about improving email deliverability, and with a little effort, you'll have your marketing emails reaching the right people in no time.

What is email deliverability?

Email deliverability is the process of effectively reaching the inboxes of each of your subscribers. However, obstacles can stand in the way of this, including emails bouncing or landing in a subscriber's spam folder. That's why following email deliverability best practices is the way to go.

Why is email deliverability important?

There are many reasons why email deliverability is so important. As mentioned above, emails delivered to a subscriber's spam folder are more likely to be overlooked or even deleted, and marketing emails are useless if you can't get the recipients to read them. As a result, the lack of email engagement may affect your campaign data and increase the likelihood of your emails getting marked as spam.

Factors that affect email deliverability

To send an email, several technical steps happen behind the scenes.

  1. First, you compose an email in a service like Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, or on a platform like Mailchimp.
  2. Next, you click send, and the message is uploaded to a simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP), which passes the email between servers.
  3. The SMTP communicates with a domain name server (DNS). A DNS operates like a sort of online address book, which tells the SMTP where the recipient’s server is located. If the DNS cannot locate the relevant server, it will send you a “mail undelivered” message.
  4. Once the DNS locates and contacts the relevant server, the SMTPs pass the message between one another. The recipient’s SMTP then decides where the email belongs—whether that’s in their inbox, spam folder, or not delivered to them at all.

But what influences whether the SMTP sorts your email into a contact’s inbox, email spam filter, or blocks it altogether? Several variables come into play:

  • Internet service providers (ISPs). ISPs enable access to the internet, and every internet protocol (IP) address is linked to one. There are many different ISPs, and they don’t necessarily function the same way. Some lower-budget, lower-bandwidth ISPs may struggle with larger emails, for example.
  • Email service providers or platforms (ESPs). ESPs all have different capabilities. How an email is sorted, displayed, and delivered varies based on the ESP handling it.
  • Format. The way that an email is displayed can vary considerably from format to format. For example, emails typically look different on a smartphone versus a desktop. Emails can also be read via a smart speaker, which alters deliverability considerably.

Of course, you can’t choose which ISP, ESP, or format your audience uses, but there are other factors that you can influence. These variables have a big impact on deliverability:

  • Engagement. If you achieve regular engagement, this demonstrates that your audience finds value in your emails and that increases deliverability. The secret to engagement? Segment, understand, and keep your audience interested.
  • Sender reputation. This is a score assigned by an ESP to a sender. It’s based on data—similar to how search engines rank a webpage. Your sender reputation is based mainly on your audience’s engagement with your emails. But it also factors in the quality of the content, the frequency of your messaging, open rates, and authenticity. A poor sender reputation will result in ISPs automatically blocking an email or sending it to the spam folder.

Tips for improving email deliverability

To get into inboxes, it’s essential to have a good sender reputation. This is something that needs to be built over time (and on an ongoing basis), and it should be considered when designing any email campaign.

Here are the keys to building a good server reputation.

Send the right amount of emails

The best way to send emails successfully is to start by sending a limited number. Sending out bulk emails can make your IP address look like nothing more than spam to your subscribers. It's best to start with small batches and be careful not to send too many to any user in one day. Take it a step further and ensure you aren't sending out emails daily.

Over time, ISPs will identify patterns in send rates and adjust their metrics accordingly. But a significant change, like a sudden, substantial rise in the volume and frequency of emails sent, will alert the ISP to the possibility of a spam virus from this sender, which could result in being denylisted or blocked.

However, the more you grow your subscriber list, the more trustworthy your IP address will look. It pays to study others in your industry to determine the most appropriate email sending frequency. If you are above or below the industry standard, your emails may not be as effective.

Send high-quality content

Content that’s unwanted or irrelevant to your audience runs the risk of being flagged as spam, which lowers your sender reputation. Avoid this by sending high-quality, relevant content which won’t be considered “spammy.” And by providing valuable content to your audience, your unsubscribe rate should stay low, which is another important factor.

Increase opens and clicks

The more opens and clicks your emails receive, the better your sender reputation becomes. When your emails drive actions like clicking through to your website, it shows the ISP that your audience values your emails.

Keep the conversation going

It’s also a very positive signal to ISPs when your contacts reply to your emails. For that reason, you should monitor replies and respond in a timely manner. Moreover, avoid sending emails from an email address that cannot receive replies.

Build and manage your audience wisely

Keeping a clean and engaged audience is vital to maintaining a good sender reputation. Make sure your audience is free of spam traps (fake email addresses), unengaged subscribers, unknown users, or contacts who you don’t have permission to email.

Avoid hard bounces

Hard bounces occur when you send an email to an address that doesn’t exist. ISPs factor hard bounces into sender reputation because it can signal poor audience management. Soft bounces, on the other hand, happen when an email address has a temporary issue, like a full inbox. If you’re experiencing a lot of bounces, you may need to change how you grow your audience.

For instance, you could install a double opt-in signup method to help validate your new contacts. This is when a user submits their email address and they get an email in return asking them to confirm it.

Make sure your email looks legitimate

All of your email content—including imagery and links—will be reviewed by ISPs to determine whether or not it’s spam, a phishing attempt, and any other malicious email.

Watch out for broken links, misspellings, missing email headers, or excluding options to unsubscribe. These mistakes increase the odds that your email is perceived as spam.

Authenticate your emails

Email authentication is critical to deliverability. This vital step proves that your emails are genuinely from your brand. Maintaining a secure email and website infrastructure is critical in building trust with the ISPs.

Email deliverability don’ts

There are a few things you will want to avoid when focusing on how to improve email deliverability, including:

  • Buying email lists
  • Emailing those not subscribed to your mailing list
  • Using a no-reply email
  • Spamming your audience

When you purchase email lists, you’re setting yourself up for reports marking you as spam and unsubscriptions. Moreover, these types of email lists may contain spam traps. Along the same lines, never send your marketing emails to anyone who hasn't asked for them. Unwanted emails are enough to turn users off of giving you business.

It's also important to use an email address that recipients can reply to. No one wants to feel like you don't want to hear from them. Email addresses recipients can't reply to often feel like spam emails, something virtually no one wants to get.

Ensure email deliverability every time

Ultimately, a clean, engaged audience that leads to a strong sender reputation is the ingredient to deliverability. Keep an eye on your email reports and your audience data to ensure that you’re sending the right people the right emails. With knowledge of what deliverability entails, there’s nothing to prevent you from reaching inboxes.

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