If you’ve ever had the experience of your marketing emails landing in customers’ spam (or junk) folders, you know how frustrating it can be. If you haven’t, consider yourself fortunate (and be sure you know the basics to avoid this scenario in future!)
So why might your emails wind up in a subscriber’s junk folder? And how can you best avoid this eventuality?
What is deliverability (also known as inbox placement)?
Put simply, deliverability is the percentage of your emails that land in a subscriber’s inbox as opposed to the junk/ spam folder. This is not to be confused with the “delivered rate” which simply measures the percentage of emails that did not bounce. An email can be ‘received’ and still land in the spam folder – be careful not to confuse the two as the latter can be deceptive.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) hosting the mail servers – those such as Gmail, Yahoo, etc – have the unenviable task of filtering the good from the bad. A staggering 269 billion emails are estimated to be sent every day and ISPs want to protect their customers, so you can understand the monumental task they have when determining how to treat incoming emails.
How do I know if I have an issue?
Often your campaign results won’t immediately tell you if you have a deliverability issue. As mentioned above, you can have a healthy ‘delivered’ rate but still be placing emails into the spam folder.
A common way businesses find out is either one of their staff experiences the email landing in Junk, or a customer mentioning it. If this happens, it’s worth looking into.
Secondly, you might suspect a deliverability issue if campaign results are tracking relatively steadily, and suddenly you see a campaign report showing a dramatic drop in open rates. This can also indicate an issue.
Another, more subtle way to find out is by looking at your individual ISP stats through your email services provider reports. For example, compare open and click rates for individual ISPs such as Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo. They should all be relatively similar (although they may be different). If, however, one of them shows a significant drop – particularly with open rates – this can indicate a deliverability problem at that specific ISP. Although it can be alarming, it’s actually a good place to start – then you can begin troubleshooting with that specific ISP.
What are the major factors?
Ok, so we know what deliverability is and how to know if we have an issue, but what are the main contributors to poor inbox placement? Here are some of the big ones.
As mentioned above, ISPs want to protect their customers (subscribers) from unwanted emails so they pay close attention to how subscribers are interacting with emails from each sender. This particular factor has become more important in recent years and should be top-of-mind for senders.
For example, if a decent percentage of subscribers are clicking ‘Junk’ when they see one an email this indicates to the ISP that it’s an unwanted email and can mean more emails start automatically landing in the junk folder (for all subscribers to that email program).
Similarly, if a large percentage of subscribers aren’t bothering to open or click on the email, this can indicate to the ISP that the email isn’t wanted and affect the entire senders’ program.
Photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash
There are several factors in the sending infrastructure that can impact your deliverability. If you’re using a shared IP range to send emails, for example (as is common for many small senders), you’re sharing sending reputation with other senders on this range. You probably can’t check which senders you’re sharing the IP range with, so the best idea is to check your email service provider’s policies about data. At a minimum, they should require all senders to have explicit permission to email their database.
Email content, volumes and speed
Whether your email has a balance of image and text, doesn’t have spammy words, formatting and HTML and how many and often you’re sending can impact your deliverability. If you haven’t sent for a while, for example, and suddenly send a once-off blast out to a large database ISPs can read this as an attack and begin placing your emails into the spam folder or worse – rejecting them altogether.
What are the basic best practices?
So what are some of the basics we need to follow, to reach as many inboxes as possible?
I almost didn’t mention this one because it should be obvious, but unfortunately it is still something that comes up.
Before sending any emails to your subscribers, ensure you have their permission to do so.
If you fail to secure a subscriber’s consent to send them an email, not only do you risk annoying the subscriber (and hurting your sender reputation through their adverse interaction with your email) but expose yourself to potential fines for spamming customers.
Best practice is to request a double opt-in – after they’ve provided an email address, send a confirmation email asking them to confirm they’d like to opt in. Only after they’ve clicked in this email are they subscribed, ensuring you have the most engaged subscribers on your list.
“Inferred consent” is also one way of assuming a subscriber is interested in your program (eg if an existing relationship and expectation of receiving commercial messages is present) but it’s worth considering carefully.
Content + Frequency
Traditionally, content played a hefty role when it came to inbox placement. These days it is not quite *as* significant but it is still an important factor for deliverability. Here are some basics:
Ensure an easy unsubscribe – although it may feel counterintuitive, ensure subscribers can easily remove themselves from your program. You don’t want them ignoring your emails, or hitting that ‘junk’ button. It’s much healthier to allow uninterested subscribers to remove themselves. Place a prominent Unsubscribe link in your footer and ensure it’s easily clickable on mobile.
Image + live text – it’s important to have a balance of images with actual live text (rather than text as an image). Not only is this good for deliverability, but it makes your email easier to understand if the subscriber happens to have images turned off.
From name – make sure your From name is identifiable with your business, and that your subject line is appropriate and relevant.
Mobile-friendly – ensure emails are easy to read on mobile. We’re seeing an average of 50% + of emails being read on mobile these days, so it’s important that subscribers can interact easily with your email on mobile. Why? Because this contributes to your engagement stats which, in turn, positively impacts your sender reputation.
Consistent sending frequency – be sure to send regularly and on a consistent basis. The alternative is not sending for a long time, then suddenly blasting your list with a large volume of emails. ISPs can view this as aggressive behaviour and it will negatively impact your sending reputation.
Focus on delivering engaging content
As subscriber engagement levels (opens, clicks etc) contribute to sender reputation and therefore inbox placement, it goes without saying that it’s important to deliver content they want and enjoy. Think carefully about the kinds of content your subscriber base will love (is it deals and offers? new product launches? behind the scenes snippets? helpful articles?) and enrich your email program with those types of content.
Again talking about engagement, it’s important to address those records that have lapsed (or become ‘inactive’). It’s important to acknowledge that subscribers become inactive over time – but there are ways to address this and try to ‘reactivate’ them.
Set up a regular reactivation program, and once you’ve exhausted all avenues, carefully consider removing inactive records.
They can, after all, damage your sending reputation and cause deliverability issues. Plus, if they’re not interacting they’re not really adding value to your business, so why run the risk?
Where can I go for more help?
If you’re a CHERRYIELDING client, you can always speak with us about any deliverability concerns you have. We’ll help you analyse your results, pinpoint issues, and devise a plan to address specific challenges.
For specific advice and services around deliverability, Return Path should be your go-to resource. They have specific offerings to help senders ensure their email programs are optimised for deliverability.
We hope this has helped you. Deliverability can be a tricky thing to manage, so if you have any more questions or concerns, Cherryielding is here to assist when you need us.