Sorting through dozens of emails in my junk folder recently, I found a number of emails that I asked to receive and clearly weren’t spam. Are spam filters doing their job?
The answer is “yes” but spam filters inevitably snag some emails that should be delivered. According to Marketing Sherpa, spam filters mistakenly block one in six emails. Other estimates are worse, with aggressive spam blockers filtering out up to 20% of permission-based emails.
So chances are, some of your emails are probably being kept out of your subscribers’ inboxes.
In this post, I’m going to share some of the ways you can improve the deliverability of your marketing emails, considering five areas:
- Email Service Provider
- List Quality
Let’s take a closer look at each one:
1. Email Service Provider
A good Email Service Provider (ESP) helps you maintain your sender reputation. According to a Return Path study, 83% of the time, sender reputation, not content, is the major factor that caused emails to get filtered.
Your ESP helps enhance your sender reputation by doing things like authenticating the IP address your emails are sent from, setting up a feedback loop, and automatically unsubscribing anyone who marks your emails as spam. Through spam scoring, your ESP will also help you create emails that are less likely to raise red flags with spam blockers.
Be sure to choose a reputable ESP and keep in mind that if you send your emails from your own server, then you will have to do all this yourself.
2. List Quality
The quality of your list also affects your email deliverability. Only send emails to people who have given you permission to do so. Don’t buy email lists! Grow your lists organically by offering value in your content and asking for permission to communicate via email.
Inactive subscribers are also a concern. Even if they opted into your list and gave you permission to email them, “emotionally unsubscribed” recipients can cause problems. They lower your open and click rates, for one thing. They may even forget they signed up for your mailing list and tag your email as spam.
One way to handle inactive subscribers is to send an email to those who haven’t opened or clicked on your emails for the last 12 months. Ask them to confirm if they’re still interested in receiving your emails. If not, then unsubscribe them (see growth hack #10) or give them the option to receive emails less frequently.
If they do unsubscribe, remind them they could interact with you on social media instead. Keeping your list healthy by maintaining only subscribers who are truly interested in your messages is a good way to protect your email deliverability.
Earlier, I mentioned that sender reputation is more significant than the actual content of an email. Yet email content continues to be important. It’s easy for you to control the content of your marketing emails, so why not do what you can to minimize getting filtered out by spam blockers?
Here are some things to watch out for:
“From” Field Name and Address
Avoid sending your emails from generic email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. A specific person’s email address is best.
Don’t make your subject line look spammy. Avoid using ALL CAPS and exclamation points!!! Don’t use weird punctuation marks like this: @#$%*!.
For both the email body and subject line, watch out for words and phrases spam filters like to block out. Some of these are obvious but others aren’t:
- For free
- No cost
- Accept credit cards
- Cancel at any time
- Consolidate debt and credit
- Act now! Don’t hesitate!
- Get it now
- Call free
- Call now
- Lowest price
- Free access
- Order status
- Money making
- Pennies a day
- Please read
- Free quote
- Free sample
- Free trial
- No cost
You can find a research-based list of spam words here.
Before sending an email, use your ESP’s spam score checker to identify elements that could set off spam alerts in your recipients’ ISPs.
Did you know images could get your email blocked? Using too many images in your email, without balancing them with text, or emails that are purely made up of a single image, could get your email to be flagged as spam.
Even where you host your image could be an issue. You should only use reputable image hosting services, your own server (assuming your domain name isn’t blacklisted), or your ESP’s image hosting.
Keep a close eye on links within your email. Include too many links and your email could land in the spam folder. Also, make sure you’re not linking to blacklisted websites. To find out if a particular domain you’re linking to is blacklisted, use one of the free blacklist checkers online.
Comply with anti-spam law requirements in your country. For example, I live in Canada, and the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation says each commercial email must have a clearly identified sender and include the sender’s mailing address, phone number, and email or web address. Find out what requirements apply to you and make sure each and every email you send adheres to them.
Another factor that affects your email deliverability is your subscribers’ level of engagement. The more subscribers open your emails, click on your links, and reply to your messages, the less likely your future emails are going to be flagged as spam.
You can try a few simple tips to increase engagement with your emails, and get them whitelisted by your subscribers’ email platforms:
- Use a double opt-in process to ensure that subscribers are really interested in receiving your emails.
- Ask subscribers to add your sender email address to their email address book. Do this as soon as they opt into your list.
- Get subscribers to reply to your very first email. A good way is to ask them a question in the first email you send them. Make the question relevant and easy to answer. For example, if they just signed up for a list for a digital marketing newsletter, your question could be, “What’s your biggest challenge in digital marketing?”
- Segment your lists so you always send them extremely targeted, relevant emails. Having a message-to-audience match is a foolproof way of getting your emails opened, read, and acted upon. Vero helps you segment your lists based on how they’ve been responding to your previous emails and web content, which lets you send them highly relevant emails.
- Send emails regularly. Be consistent when it comes to the frequency of your marketing emails. This is good for engaging your subscribers, because they’re more likely to read and respond when they know when to expect your emails. In other words, consuming your emails becomes a habit. Consistency is also less likely to alert ISPs than infrequent massive blasts of email.
5. Email Maintenance
Several maintenance tasks help keep your list health in tip-top shape.
One of these tasks is to monitor your bounce rates, complaints, and unsubscribes. According to Eloqua, these are the thresholds to aim for:
- Bounce rates should be under 3%. Immediately remove email addresses that bounce as undeliverable.
- Complaints (subscribers who flag your email as spam) should be kept below 0.01%.
- Unsubscribe rates should be below 1%.
Every time an email exceeds these thresholds for complaints and unsubscribes, step back and analyze what could have caused the negative response. Was your email too pushy? Have you been sending one promotional email after another? Or has it been too long since your last email? Was the message targeted or potentially irrelevant?
Again, your EPS’s spam scoring tool will alert you on other possible red flags.
Email deliverability monitoring
You should also be monitoring your email deliverability, even though your ESP may already be doing so. A simple way is by creating seed addresses. These are mailboxes in email providers your subscribers use often, such as Gmail, Hotmail, etc. Create five email addresses for each provider and add these addresses to your mailing lists. Every time you send a marketing email, check these email accounts to see which ones got through and which ones ended up in the spam folder.
Here’s a diagram showing the perilous path of a marketing email from you to your recipient’s inbox (or not). It shows how many possible stumbling blocks could keep your emails from reaching their intended destination:
Source: eConsultancy blog
Your marketing emails face many obstacles. Follow the tips here to overcome them and use email to grow your business.
Have questions? Let us know in the comments.
What have you been doing to improve your email deliverability? Is there anything I missed? Do share!