Email Engagement

What You Need to Know about ‘Deliverability’

Minute read
What You Need to Know about ‘Deliverability’

Not every email you send will find its way into an inbox. Optimal deliverability is needed to give your emails a fighting chance of being opened. Poor deliverability will send many of your messages into spam folders. Or worse—your mailserver could be blocked.

Don’t let this scare you—there’s a lot you can do (and should be doing) to protect deliverability. Everything from email content to server setup will be influencing your rating. Your email broadcast system should report your deliverability rate in addition to all your other email analytics. You want that rate to be as close to 100% as possible. Let’s look at how to get it there.

Ensure your opt-in process is up to snuff

First things first—did you gain permission to send that email? Don’t assume that if someone sends you an email enquiry that they will automatically be happy to hear from you on an ongoing basis. Adding ‘contacts’ to your subscription list is shady. Make sure you’re using a legitimate single opt-in or double opt-in process. Only ever add someone to your list when they explicitly give you their permission.

Avoid spammy email content

Just because you did the right thing and gained permission to send emails to your supporter doesn’t guarantee that your messages won’t be considered ‘spam’. Unfortunately for you, spam is in the eye of the reader. The best way to avoid being flagged is to use segmentation and always send relevant, personalized messages. Here are some other big things to watch out for:

  • Misleading subject lines. Sneaky subjects might get you a spike in opens, but this attention will backfire in the form of spam reports. A spike in spam reports won’t just impact a single message—it can harm your long-term deliverability. Avoid clickbait. Respect your subscribers with quality subject lines.
  • Spammy language. It starts with a salutation. Lines like “Dear friend/reader/[email]” won’t help you convince spam filters that you know the person you’re writing to. This is why it’s important to always capture (and use) your reader’s first name. Certain ‘spam words’ associated with hard sells can also exacerbate a deliverability problem. Avoiding these phrases isn’t hard for cause-oriented non-profits. In any case, aim for an authentic, conversational tone. Not only is this less likely to trigger spam filters, it will engage your readers more effectively, too.
  • Image-heavy messages. It’s fine to send images in your emails, but avoid rendering text as images and never send an image-only message with no text. Image-only emails may be inaccessible to sight-impaired subscribers. They’ll also fail on anyone with images turned off and they’re unlikely to ‘forward’ well.
  • No ‘unsubscribe’ link. Forgetting to include a (legally required) unsubscribe link can get you into trouble. The big mailservers know when you’re sending a broadcast email to their domain, so don’t risk it. Always offer a clear unsubscribe link. And consider reminding people how they got onto your list. This can help reduce spam reports. For example: “You received this because [your email] is subscribed to the [your organization] email list.”
  • A bad sender. A bad sender address is one that’s unrecognized, unserviced (I’m looking at you, noreply@), or pretending to be something it’s not. This is easy to get right—so there’s no excuse for getting it wrong. Use a serviced sender address; identify your organization in the ‘ from name’; and don’t impersonate anyone!

Stop sending to inactive email addresses

If a receiving server detects that you keep sending messages to non-existent email addresses (or addresses that haven’t been used in a long while) your deliverability rating may suffer. That’s right—the more ‘dead’ inboxes you try to hit, the harder it is to get your messages delivered to live ones.

Fix this by ‘cleaning’ your email list once a year if not more frequently. Not only should you be automatically removing any ‘hard bounces’ from your list, it’s also necessary to identify addresses that aren’t opening or clicking on your messages so that you can remove them, too.

If you’re attached to your list size, this is going to be tough. But remember—size doesn’t measure the worth of your email list. Engagement does. Cleaning your email list will improve deliverability which will improve engagement and also give you higher and more accurate open, click, and unsubscribe metrics. That’s what you want, right? Of course it is! So, do the hard thing. Identify subscribers who slept through your broadcasts for the last 6 months and let them go.

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Authenticate your sender domain

I know, I know—stuff’s getting technical. Stay with me.

In an effort to stop spammers from ‘spoofing’ their sender address, mailservers have developed clever ways to distinguish legitimate senders from illegitimate ones. There are some very important steps that your server administrator needs to take in order to verify the legitimacy of your sender domain. Your email broadcast system provider should walk you through the steps necessary to complete the ‘SPF’ and ‘DKIM’ authentication processes. Without these measures, many receiving mailservers will refuse to deliver your broadcast emails—regardless of the quality of their content.

Sometimes you can be doing everything right and still run into trouble. If you are using a shared mailserver, for example, your deliverability could be impacted by the bad behavior of other domains sharing your server’s IP address. The more you value deliverability, the more it pays to have dedicated IPs, or a highly reputable email broadcast provider.

It’s all connected

Here’s the thing: every email you send impacts the next. Getting flagged as spam too many times can degrade your sender reputation and hurt your long-term deliverability. That means emails sent by the fundraising team can impact the performance of emails sent by the campaign team. And vice versa. This makes deliverability a whole-of-organization responsibility.

Deliverability is not an exact science. We are all at the mercy of changing algorithms. Solving a deliverability issue can be infuriating, but it helps to know that deliverability algorithms aren’t your enemy. They exist to protect the integrity of the emails that your subscribers are receiving. Consider what would happen if these algorithms didn’t exist: most of the messages we receive would be spam ... which means legitimate emails would get lost in the noise ... which means people would give up on checking their email ... which means your email broadcasts would be completely ineffective. Deliverability algorithms are your friend.

Deliverability algorithms are your friend. Learn to work with them.

Deliverability is a big deal. Some companies dedicate entire positions or departments to optimizing deliverability. Most of us aren’t this lucky. If you use a third-party broadcast system, your provider should be doing much of the technical work to optimize deliverability on your behalf. They may even help you solve a deliverability issue if you get stuck. However, a great deal of the responsibility rests with your list and your content.

Understand the biggest pitfalls and know how to avoid them. Monitor your deliverability along with other email metrics so you can immediately detect and fix any big issues such as blocklisting.

From: 6 things that stop people opening emails

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Karen Nilsen

Hi there! I’m Karen. I’m on a mission to reach my former self. Had I known 10 years ago what I know today, I could have achieved more good, made fewer mistakes, and had more weekends. Every time we share what works, we win faster. Let’s create digital experiences that move people — that grow our base and fuel our movements. Are you with me? Please share this with someone you know who wants to up their digital game!

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