7 Email Deliverability Myths
When it comes to email marketing, email deliverability in particular, there is a lot of misinformation floating around out there…
Some of this is simply due to the fact that email is a moving target. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, the ISPs (i.e. Gmail, Hotmail/Outlook, etc.) change the game.
There’s also a vested interest on the part of many email service providers to perpetuate some of these myths for personal gain. (See Myth #5 below, in particular.)
So let’s go ahead and debunk some of the common myths and give you some tips and pointers surrounding each of them.
Myth #1: My list is all optin, my emails should be delivered.
It’s a common misconception to assume that because you have an optin list (or even double optin list) that all of your subscribers want everything you’re sending them, or that that they have given you PERMISSION for all of the emails that you’re sending them.
First off, the ISPs have no way of knowing whether or not your list is purchased, single opt-in, double opt-in or if you’ve used some other list collection method.
They have certain data points they can look at including things like:
- Engagement rates
- Complaint rates
- Spam Traps
- List Quality
Naturally, a double optin list, is going to have fewer complaints, fewer bad addresses, etc. And it would, theoretically, have higher engagement rates (assuming that you are conducting frequent re-engagement campaigns).
But, if you’re abusing the relationship by sending email they didn’t ask for (i.e. they signed up for your weekly newsletter and you send them 3 offers a day for products and services), then they will unsubscribe or, worse, click the spam button in their email client, letting the ISPs know that you’re sending unwanted mail! (EVEN IF they opted in).
The lesson here is that just because they opted in ONCE, doesn’t mean that your messages are bound for the inbox. You’ll want to keep a close eye on unsubscribes, complaints, and engagement and run re-engagement campaigns frequently to keep people interested in what you have to say.
Myth #2: My email is not spam. I tested my content with Spam Assassin (in my email software) and it came back as zero.
Most email clients that you use to send your emails from will have some tool that will allow you to “check for spam”.
These tools look for specific words or phrases, like “free” for example. Generally a single word or phrase, assuming you’re not marketing Viagra products ;-), is not going to make or break your individual email.
You might be asking, “Why even use these if they don’t really give you an indicator as to whether or not the ISPs will determine if my message is spam?” The simple answer is because it’s the first line of defense, and it’s a tool you have access to. Additionally, many individual servers use tools like SpamAssassin to block incoming “spam” from their servers. In other words, if you have a subscriber with an address of email@example.com, there’s a good chance their server is protected with SpamAssassin, so if your message has a high SpamAssassin score, then your emails won’t get through to that subscriber, or others using SpamAssassin or similar.
These tools should be used as a warning as a first line of defense, with the goal being to get the message as close to “zero” as possible.
Having said that, just because you have a “0” likelihood of being flagged as spam by SpamAssassin doesn’t mean that the ISPs will not flag your emails as spam. The ISP filters are much more sophisticated and catch a whole lot more than individual keywords, so just because the keyword tester in your email software has a low spam score, doesn’t guarantee delivery to the inbox.
ISPs look at overall message content, similar content that’s been sent to their subscribers and how their subscribers interact (or don’t interact) with the messages, domains in the email, etc.
The best way to test is to set up test email accounts with the major ISPs and test yourself and modify the overall content until the message inboxes.
Myth #3: I have a high Sender Score. My emails should be hitting the inbox.
“Sender Score” is a single reporting tool that you can use to determine how good or bad your email program is (or if you’re using a shared IP address, the overall quality of the other senders you’re sharing your reputation with).
While it serves as a good “guide” to the overall health of your email program, it is simply a snapshot of your program at the moment.
Think of this like a credit score. It fluctuates all the time. We’ve even seen Sender Scores go up and down significantly in a matter of just a few hours depending on activity.
Some ISPs will use this information to make delivery decisions. Others will report data to them. And still other don’t have anything to do with the score you find here.
The ISPs will generally have their own metrics that they’re looking at. For example, you may have a high complaint rate with one ISP, but still have a high score. So, you need to be constantly watching your program and making changes as necessary.
Myth #4: XYZ ESP says they have relationships with the ISPs.
This is a relatively short one!
There’s not “bat phone” into the ISPs! Each ISP has their own method of contact, and a process for escalating problems. Some have an email address that you send information to while others have long forms that you must fill out all sorts of information in order for them to look into your email program and consider making any changes such as removing rate limiting, removing you from blacklists, and so on.
Some ESPs are easier to work with others and it is just a matter of staying on top of things.
Myth #5: I have 99% deliverability. That means my emails are hitting the inbox
This one is a bit of a gray area! The “technical” definition of “email deliverability rate" is the percentage of emails that were delivered. In other words, if you sent 100,000 emails and 98,000 were not REJECTED, you have a 98% deliverability rate.
But that’s not really the metric that matters to the marketer, advertiser, or publisher.
In theory, you could have 100% deliverability WITH 100% of your emails going to the spam folder.
The metric that you’re really wanting is inbox deliverability. The problem with this is that there’s no REAL way to provide this information. Sure, you can use seed lists to get a general idea as to whether or not there’s an underlying problem, but you’re really only seeing how many emails make it to the inboxes of the seed addresses.
This doesn’t take into account engagement with your own subscriber, or lack thereof. It doesn’t take into account list composition. You may have 75% of your subscribers using Gmail, but the seed list may have only 18% of their subscribers with Gmail. So, take these seed lists with a grain of salt and pay careful attention to your open rates.
This is the one metric that you can really use to determine whether or not your subscribers are getting your emails. It’s also a good way to see if there is an issue with a particular ISP. In other words, if you see a drop in opens from Hotmail, then you may have a problem with Hotmail that you need to diagnose and address.
This is why it is so important for you to be monitoring your message content, keeping an eye on your reputation (i.e. complaints, bad addresses, etc.), and why it’s critical to manage your subscribers effectively by removing unengaged users, offering manage subscription options, and so on.
Set up internal seed lists for monitoring your own messages and pay close attention to open rates by ISP.
Myth #6: I don’t have control over my own email deliverability
The truth of the matter is… you have much more control over your deliverability than you might think.
Your content plays a HUGE role in deliverability.
Gone are the days where a high IP reputation meant you were destined to the inbox.
While IP reputation still plays a significant role, there are other factors which are equally, if not more, important. These include overall message content, sending domains, domains in the emails, destination URLs, from addresses/domains, and more.
Assuming that there’s not a specific problem with the IP address or the sending (return path) domain, it generally points to a problem with content.
Myth #7: Gmail is killing my email marketing and deliverability.
Every year, there’s something (often Gmail-related) that causes email marketers, publishers, and advertisers to panic for a short while. Then, they realize there’s nothing we can do about it and learn to adapt!
All of the ISPs go through changes fairly regularly. They change displays (i.e. Gmail Tabs).
They add features to make it easier to clean up unwanted mail (Microsoft Clean Sweep).
At the end of the day, ISPs are always changing to (1) combat spammers that figure out how to get through the filters, and (2) make THEIR user experience better.
The ISPs sole goal is to their subscribers and to make sure they’re getting the email they want, and NOT getting the email they don’t want.
Inevitably this is not a perfect science and things are always evolving.
When ISPs make changes, simply:
- Keep a close eye on changes that the ISPs make
- Find ways to adapt to the changes (i.e. training your subscribers, modifying your content, etc.)
NOTE: Subscribers can be trained if you’re proactive about your email program.
Author: Heather Seitz
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