July 23, 2019
Email Deliverability Causes and Solutions
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We work hard to protect, nurture and grow our email DBs. For many, its our most effective marketing channel. Yet, according to Return Path, 20% of our emails never make it to the Inbox. Why? Only a small percentage of email deliverability issues are the result of bounces. The rest are being driven by 2 significant factors:
Below is a comprehensive summary on the subject, both from my own learnings and from other experts.
ISPs (such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo) decide which emails land in the inbox and which are blocked or bulked, all based on your overall email sender reputation.
Each ISP measures your IP/domain reputation separately based on several different metrics. Repeated issues with one or more of the red flags below will increase the chances that an ISP will block or bulk your messages.
There are two main types of bounces: soft bounces (temporary failures) and hard bounces (permanent failures).
According to Oracle deliverability expert Pradeep Mangalapalli, bounce rates up to 3% for hard bounces and up to 5% for soft bounces are considered acceptable thresholds.
ISPs track every time a subscriber flags an email as spam. In some cases, ISPs share this information with email senders through feedback loops (a process by which certain email senders may be able to receive notification when recipients report emails as spam).
There’s a lot more to sender reputation than a spam complaint; however, a recipient marking an email as spam is the strongest negative signal to ISPs about an email. Spam complaint rates above 0.2% are considered high, and may result in poor deliverability. At ISPs, like Gmail, a spam rate as low as .08% can “start to affect” your deliverability.
ISPs track how subscribers engage with your emails through: opens, clicks, scrolling through a full email, deleting without opening and marking as read without opening.
Spammers will spoof legitimate domains to send their emails, so it's important to adhere to all the latest security standards to protect your subscribers and your brand. ISPs will block messages that don't pass these authentication protocols:
When spammers spoof a domain, they take the opportunity to send extremely high volumes of email all at once. ISPs look at the history of your email volume and frequency. If there's a spike, this can affect your reputation. Sending higher volumes of emails is okay as long as you are consistent. ISPs are more concerned with past trends and spikes rather than overall volume.
Spam traps are email addresses that either belong to an ISP or belong to an inactive user. Often ISPs will monitor email addresses that have been inactive for a long period of time, and convert these dormant email addresses to spam traps.
There are two main types of spam traps:
The net impact of a spam trap is that you get blacklisted. Landing on a blacklist can have various effects on your deliverability. In some cases its not a big deal, however getting on some blacklists, like SpamCop, can be severe and can take significant time to correct.
Emails that have HTML errors, such as image references or links that are dead can cause deliverability issues.
A Word About 'Sender Scores'
As you can see, deliverability issues are caused by many factors and can be difficult to accurately analyze. In the past, as spam decisions shifted towards sender reputation, the concept of an overall Sender Score emerged as a simple benchmark to help us quickly spot trouble. Because of increased complexity however, this simple sender score is no longer accurate or valid and should not be used as a KPI. As Kevin Senne, Sr. Director of Deliverability for Oracle states: “Senders were desperate for some kind of measure to explain email deliverability, and this number was something that they could look to as a guide”. Again, according to Mr. Senne, the problem is:
The best method of measuring deliverability currently is by monitoring the percentage of inbox placement across each ISP/domain separately, as well as monitoring open rates. For those that don't have access to Deliverability Tools, Oracle deliverability expert Pradeep Mangalapalli recommends using a unique open rate of around 10% as a general indicator of deliverability health. The best way to prevent deliverability issues is to follow the best practices below:
Best Practices to help mitigate deliverability issues:
Addresses that don’t open or click on your messages are much more likely to mark messages as spam. Unengaged addresses may have been repurposed into spam traps. Unengaged recipients can make your traffic look unwanted by lowering your open rate percentages.
Manage Your Inactives. Suppressing all email records with no activity in the last 12 months is a scary thought for most of us, as it could greatly reduce our list size. There are email scrubbing services that will try and determine which specific email addresses have been converted to spam traps, honeypots, etc. so you don't have to suppress all inactives, just those that have been identified as harmful. Vendors include FreshAddress, Informatica and BriteVerify, among others.
Make it easy to unsubscribe. This sounds counter intuitive, but making the unsubscribe process as easy as possible is a really good idea. The truth is, if someone doesn’t want to receive your messages and they don’t see an easy way to unsubscribe, they always know where the “report spam” button is. Remember, someone who opts out can always opt back in, but even a small number of spam complaints can really hurt your reputation, not to mention your ongoing ability to deliver messages to those who want to receive them.
Be conscious of your sending frequency. If you feel like you’re doing all the right things with your email program, but you’re still landing in the spam folder, it may be a good idea to examine your sending frequency. Between your regular newsletter, special offers, and other announcements, you could be sending your recipients more email than you think. Exactly how much email is “too much” differs for every sender, but if your reputation is suffering, even moderately reducing the amount of email your recipients receive from you is a good idea and a great place to start.
Summary. Imagine if you were to gain access to 20% more of your DB! Those in charge of marketing automation platforms are making this possible by learning the causes, solutions and tools, as we become email deliverability experts.
Yet managing inbox placement is only half the battle. You still have to focus on level of engagement in order to keep your overall sender reputation in good health. A solid mix of good email data management, relevant content and continuous real-time deliverability monitoring is what currently works in keeping the inbox door wide open.
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