How to improve your e-mail deliverability

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Do you know what the biggest obstacles to e-mail deliverability are? Most marketers erroneously assume that their undelivered mail can be blamed on the ISPs and the various organizations blocking messages at the server level, said R. David Lewis, CMO of Message Systems. “That’s the perception and, while there’s some truth to that, it’s really more about fundamental direct marketing practices,” Lewis said. “It’s not earth-shattering or new, but those marketers who use best practices will have better deliverability stats.” Lewis and Anne Mitchell, CEO-president of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy and author of “The Email Deliverability Handbook" (ISIPP Press, 2006), explain the top reasons e-mail goes undelivered and what you can do to overcome your own deliverability challenges. • You’re not cleaning your lists daily. Without exception, Mitchell said, marketers could be doing everything right, but if they don’t handle bounces, they’re at a severe disadvantage. “You could be doing triple opt-in with a cherry on top and you’ll still have problems because you’re not paying attention to bounces. You’re going to get spam complaints, which will result in ISPs handling your messages a certain way,” she said. It goes beyond just looking at e-mail logs, she said, or your ESP’s bounce list. You need to have a real e-mail address that can receive bounce-backs. That way, she said, you can take action immediately. • You’re not viewing campaign results in real time. Before you send out any campaign, you should be testing it with the exact list you’re going to be using. If you do that and check the results, Lewis said, you’ll spot and stop problems while they are minor. “Sometimes people send out campaigns to the wrong segment, or they send them to an old list. If results are coming back and you’re getting close to the line with spam complaints, you can take action right away, before you erode your reputation.” • Your content isn’t compelling enough. It’s a little-known fact, according to Mitchell: ISPs monitor your click-throughs and opens just like you do. If both metrics aren’t high enough, she said, the ISPs will assume what you’re sending is spam and put future messages from your IP address directly into the spam folder. • You’re touching your list too often. Although experts (such as David Daniels, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research) have laid out best practices that include centralizing your e-mail management so every e-mail to every customer is logged and tracked, not everyone does it yet, Lewis said. This means different business units within a single company are sending e-mails to customers—sometimes at the same time. “This is going to generate spam complaints because people are going to get tired of hearing from you,” he said. “You also need a way to coordinate actions so, if someone unsubscribes from one list, it happens across all the lists.” • You are sending out messages with fake return addresses. You’ve probably seen it yourself: Messages that say, ‘Do not reply to this message.’ While that won’t necessarily get you into trouble, your deliverability will take a hit if that no-reply e-mail address isn’t a real one. “You will get slapped for that,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes the ISPs test by looking at the ‘from’ e-mail address in a message’s header and trying to open a session with it. When that happens, your server will respond that there is no address and then you’re done.” A better option is to say, ‘Do not reply to this message’ but use a real e-mail address anyway, which you commit to checking once a week or so.
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