This article covers some common misconceptions that people have about deliverability and explains how to avoid them. We know that protecting and improving your deliverability can feel overwhelming, especially with the constantly evolving technologies that surround email in general. With that said, we’d love to give you some pointers about common deliverability mistakes made and how to avoid them. We’ll break things down chronologically and provide the “Do’s and Don'ts” in the sending cycle. The 9 things that can hurt your email deliverability (and how to avoid them)
1. Improperly gathering subscribers
- Gated content
- Adding them to more subscriptions than what expressly signed up to.
- For example, they signed up for Monthly Newsletters but you add them to your Weekly Coupon Campaigns
When obtaining subscribers for marketing mail, their motivation for signing up should be explicitly in line with your followup behaviors. They should get the mail they expect; no more, no less. Believe it or not, having a subscriber base that not only knows that you are going to send to them but actually looks forward to your emails will really make measurable differences in your deliverability metrics.
2. Sending marketing mail from a free domain
Don’t: Send marketing content with a freemail address (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) Do: Send marketing content with an active address at your organization’s domain In general, using a from address that has a domain other than your own is a big no-no. Similarly, using a free domain email address such as Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail is also a bad idea. This is because Yahoo, Gmail, and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will automatically mark your emails as spam if you send commercial or bulk emails from an email address at their domain. Not only will sending from a private domain help prevent unnecessary problems like spam filtering, but your address will also be instantly recognizable to your recipients, increasing their likelihood of seeing and opening your emails.
3. Sending without custom authentication
Don’t: Send without setting up custom authentication on your domain Do: Set up DKIM authentication on your domain to verify your emails’ authenticity A large part of email deliverability comes down to taking every step possible to show up as a good, respectable sender in the eyes of filters and your recipients. Authentication allows mailbox providers to acknowledge the legitimacy of your email sends. With verified authentication settings in place, receiving mailbox providers have some verifiable information to cross-reference with your email campaigns and can more easily determine if your email is the real deal or fraudulent. Gmail cites authentication as one of their top recommendations for helping get your email delivered to their users’ inboxes.
4. Using link shorteners or third-party links
Don’t: Use link-shorteners or third-party links (when it can be avoided) in your marketing emails Do: Use links hosted on your own site or reference a landing page pointing to third-party links In the old days of deliverability, content elements like spam-words were used to determine an email’s deliverability. While for most mailbox providers this is no longer the case, there is still a level of risk found in content elements that can cause filtering, specifically with links. When considering the impact of links on deliverability, it is important to understand that the impact is different depending on whether you are using self-hosted links, link-shorteners, or third-party links. For instance, the use of link-shorteners (e.g. bit.ly) is a notorious technique used by spammers to hide the true nature of their spam / phishing URLs, which has caused widespread delivery / deliverability problems for anyone that attempts to use link-shorteners in marketing emails now. Furthermore, because of the security threat that links create, security servers tend to be harsher towards suspicious links, especially when attempting delivery to B2B addresses (private, business domains). That is why, when it comes to possibly using third-party links, it is better to use only self-hosted links in marketing mail (hosting the content on your own website if possible). The reason for this is that security servers don’t just check the reputation of the sending domain but also the domains of all the links included in the email. Since you can’t control (or see, in most cases) the reputation for that third-party domain, you can’t control whether it affects your ability to reach the inbox unless you remove its effect from the equation.
How should you safely use links without unwittingly sabotaging your marketing mail?
- Attempt to self-host as many of the links as possible.
- If you have to point to third-party sources, only point to widely-used, reputable websites.
- Try to utilize a Call-To-Action (CTA) button as both a focal point of your content and a great place to embed your link.
5. Sending too small or large emails
Don’t: Send simply an image and link or, conversely, content that feels a mile long Do: Send emails with a good image-to-text ratio and keep it simple — focused towards a single primary CTA The size of your email can affect your delivery / deliverability, though its impact within the process is much lower than items like engagement and list-health practices. With that being said, for some ISPs, having too little information in a marketing email can look suspicious. Emails with very little copy and many images, or those simply composed of one large image and a linked text can be hallmarks of spammers or phishers. By composing such emails, you can run the risk of your email being flagged as spam. To protect from this, it is important to design your emails with a balanced image-to-text ratio so that your email makes sense and is engaging — especially in case the images are not all being displayed, which many companies turn off by default for security reasons. On the other side of this, for some ISPs, having too much information in a marketing email can be problematic. While for the most part, this has less to do with looking like a spammer, it can still cause problems, as mailbox providers have limited storage space and have to put a limit on how much storage is taken up on their servers. Other reasons to not have too much information in your campaigns: Mobile Load Times Mobile viewing of email is only growing and studies have shown that, especially when viewing any information on mobile, the amount of time users will wait patiently is even lower on mobile devices than on desktop. Reader Attention Span We all know that subscribers have other emails to read and other things to do. You’ll want to keep that in mind so that you create engaging content that gets the point across quickly and efficiently. Burying Important Content If the content is a mountain of information to rummage through, most people move on to something easier and more engaging. A general best-practice is to keep the entirety of the file size to less than 2 MBs. This includes both HTML and images together. While the file size of your email should not be a worry on a day-to-day basis, it is something to keep in mind in unique situations where all the major effectors that can cause problems are not relevant.
6. Sending inconsistently
Don’t: Send sporadically, inconsistently, and unexpectedly Do: Send in a consistent manner that creates expectation within your subscribers As is true for any marketing field, visibility is key, but what is often overlooked by email marketers is the role of expectation. Creating expectation within your subscriber-base creates healthier engagement, which strengthens deliverability. Sending only once a month or even less causes forgetfulness in your subscribers, especially when so many other marketers are delivering content to their inboxes on a daily basis. Creating a consistent sending pattern (whether daily, weekly, or monthly, whatever suits your content / audience) will help build subscriber expectations and strengthen your overall visibility. Humans are creatures of habit and what you want to do is become one of your subscribers healthy habits.
7. Burning out subscribers
Don’t: Oversend promotional content to your subscribers Do: Provide subscription preferences to subscribers that allow them to choose the frequency and type of content As previously mentioned, it is important to send consistently and regularly, but it is also important to make sure that you are not doing it too often for your subscriber base. This can vary wildly depending on your industry and brand, but with some testing, you should be able to find a sending frequency that works for you and your subscribers. A way you can help discover this is by providing a Subscription Center for your subscribers that allows them to choose the frequency of hearing from you, as well as choose which types of content they will receive. Giving subscribers greater control over their subscription relationship with you creates a friendly experience and helps protect them from receiving too much, which can cause them to completely jump ship. However, you can also accidentally burn out subscribers by sending only promotional content. The constant strain of buy-from-me requests is exhausting, especially since they are getting it from so many other marketers as well. By sprinkling in fresh value content (like campaigns simply highlighting the current tips and tricks in your industry) within your marketing strategy, your subscribers will be more inclined to organically support your company.
8. Not maintaining your audience
Don’t: Build and build your audience without cleaning out unengaged subscribers Do: Initiate re-engagement campaigns and opt out any subscribers who remain unengaged In email deliverability terms, low open rates are a clear signal to ISPs that your recipients are not engaged with you, your brand, or your content. That lack of engagement becomes a major factor in the delivery of future emails and can even lead to your campaigns being blocked. Think of it as a snowball threatening to become an avalanche — your low open rates mean that mailbox providers will aggressively filter your future emails, which leads to even lower open rates, and in turn, leads to a further lack of engagement. No matter the size of your audience, it's important to consider the health and effectiveness of your contact list, especially if it's a list that you’ve nurtured and grown over a long period of time. By continuing to send campaigns to contacts that consistently don't open your emails, you could be damaging your sending reputation — which is a problem that you are paying to keep around. To avoid this, we recommend sending a re-engagement campaign to your contacts who haven’t opened your mailings in 3-11 months (depending on your send frequency) and then be sure to do this list maintenance consistently every six months. Re-engagement campaigns are a great way to reach out to your inactive recipients and get them regularly reading your emails. After you’ve sent a re-engagement campaign, any subscribers who have not engaged with your mailings in the last 12 months should be removed from your mailing lists completely. Removing old, inactive addresses helps protect your reputation with ISPs so that they know that you are a sender whose subscribers are interested in your content.
9. Not monitoring response data
Don’t: Blindly send your campaigns without regard for Response data Do: Integrate the checking of Response data into your (daily, weekly, monthly) mailing strategies The Response data provided by ESPs is the greatest tool for protecting your deliverability. That is why it is important to observe a habitual routine in your marketing work to check and act upon what you see there. Here are some recommendations on healthy habits you can develop based on your Response data:
- Check-in on your Response data at least on a weekly basis
- Utilize the split-test campaign features (Subject Line, Content A/B Test)
- Observe what your audience engages with better and then keep working to improve it
- Learn your audience’s un-engagement patterns by creating engagement segments
- Segments for 1 month openers, 3 month non-openers, 6 month non-openers, etc.
- This will help you see when people routinely get fatigued and allow you to create strategies to prevent this
- Send re-engagement campaigns to recipients who haven’t opened your mailings in 3-11 months
- Depending on your send frequency (e.g. 3 for daily senders and 11 for monthly or less)
- Do this consistently every 3 to 6 months
- NOTE: After you’ve done a re-engagement campaign, any subscribers who have not engaged with your mailings in the last 12 months should be removed from your mailing lists completely
It is important to remember that removing old, inactive addresses helps protect your reputation with ISPs so that they know that you are a sender whose subscribers are interested in your content and, therefore, should not be filtered.
As you can see, there are many contributing factors from technical setups to human experiences that affect an organization’s deliverability. A marketing team that seeks to better control their email's deliverability will need to take actions that touch on every one of the topics outlined above on a consistent basis.