Question: What is the quickest and easiest way to improve my e-mail deliverability?

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Answer: There’s nothing secret about good e-mail deliverability. It all starts by delivering relevant content to your customers that’s consistent with their needs and preferences. Relevancy is the key driver of customer satisfaction. It’s how you get and retain customer loyalty to your brand, which translates into responsiveness and bottom-line profitability for you.

Relevancy is also what differentiates your messages from the spam that clutters your customers’ inboxes. Irrelevant messages are associated with spam and treated as such. Recipients complain, and their domains block the mail from the offending sender. As we move into an era of e-mail accountability, relevancy will become even more important. The acceptance of e-mail will be based on the reputation of the sender as determined by its level of customer satisfaction (complaint rate).

Some e-mail marketers have assumed that adherence to CAN-SPAM and authentication protocols are their silver bullet. Wrong! CAN-SPAM compliance and authentication are only the baseline tests of legitimacy and offer no guarantee that messages will be delivered. The same is true of spam scoring tools, message throttling, fancy routing techniques and myriad other things often touted as “solutions” to the deliverability crisis. They’re all important, but not core. The only thing that will substantively improve your deliverability odds is that the recipients of your messages actually want to receive them. Everything else follows.

What we’re talking about here are the practices associated with good relationship marketing. Relationship marketing is a belief system grounded in a fundamental respect for the customer and then translated into all aspects of the marketing process—data capture, database management, segmentation, messaging and analysis—so your customer interactions reflect that respect. It requires keen attention to what your customers are saying and an even keener ability to act on what they’ve said. It’s not about blasting out tons of e-mail and just playing the percentage game.

If you’re committed to relationship marketing, I’d start by closely scrutinizing what’s happening to your e-mail today. Look at your bounce rates, not just at the high level—block, hard or soft bounce—but at the level that actually tells you why your e-mail isn’t being delivered. Your bounce data can be an invaluable diagnostic tool in isolating and correcting practice deficiencies. If your current system or provider can’t give you this insight, find one that does. You can’t begin to manage what you can’t measure.

As a second step, I’d examine the underlying infrastructure that supports your e-mail marketing. Ask yourself whether it will support the depth and breadth of relationship marketing practices that the future use of the e-mail medium will demand. What you’ll find is that many practices and processes, such as dynamic content and differentiated sending, are highly dependent on your infrastructure. Again, look for alternatives if you conclude that your current solutions don’t measure up.

Will your commitment to relationship marketing and the attendant changes you make be worth the investment? You bet! E-mail holds tremendous promise, if your messages get delivered. The real question is whether your messages will get through.

Dave Lewis is VP-marketing for StrongMail Systems (, a provider of e-mail infrastructure software.

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