Emails 101: The Deliverability of Email Marketing

Melanie Balke
February 20, 2024

Email marketing is packed with buzzwords and peculiar vocabulary. You’ll hear chatter about “KPIs” and “spam traps.” Marketers discuss things like “inbox placement” and “email spoofing.” It’s a jumble of incomprehensible chatter!

Well, fear not! I’m here to decode some of those pesky phrases. Think of me as your handy marketer-to-English translator. I’m all about helping everyone understand the complex world of email marketing, and today’s blog post is dedicated to one of the most mystifying elements of the puzzle: email deliverability.

So, what is email deliverability? How does it impact your email campaigns? What determines your deliverability rate?

I’ll answer these questions — and more! — so keep scrolling to learn more.

What Is Email Deliverability?

A 1938 drawing of a toy bank by James McKenzie. “The Basics: What Is Email Deliverability?”

I’ll start at the top.

Your email deliverability is a measurement of your ability to land in a subscriber’s inbox. You want a high deliverability rate and plenty of complementary KPIs. Together, these numbers show that you’re consistently landing in subscribers’ inboxes.

In many cases, low numbers are caused by frequent spam folder placement. However, that’s not always the case! Like most things in digital marketing, email deliverability is a complex web of interacting factors. Even the most legitimate emails can be flagged as spam, while plenty of scams are erroneously deposited in primary inboxes.

Which is all to say…

Your deliverability rate is important, but it’s merely a small slice of your marketing vision!

3 Reasons Why You Should Care About Deliverability Rate

A postcard displaying a Colonial-style house in Virginia, circa 1908. Overlaid text reads, “Deliverability: Why Deliverability Matters.”

Why, then, should you care about that number?

Well, for starters, low email deliverability is often the first symptom of a larger problem. Again, it’s all about the interplay of the many factors that determine this figure. Moreover, beyond chipping away at your bottom line, a poor deliverability rate can harm your overall email marketing plan.

1. It Influences Your Sender Reputation

Your deliverability rate is one of the big players in determining your sender score (also known as your “sender reputation”). This hidden number helps email service providers determine the value of your content. It also forms the backbone of most modern email infrastructure, serving as the first line of defense between consumers and scam artists.

Not surprisingly, you want a positive sender reputation. This increases the likelihood of avoiding the spam folder and gets more eyes on your carefully composed email marketing campaign.

Conversely, a low sender score leads to fewer views and more spam reports. A poor sender reputation places you in the same category as scammers and spammers. Consistently low sender reputation can lead to blacklisting by prominent mail servers. At that point, you’ll be unable to reach subscribers until you rectify your deliverability problems. Forget the dreaded spam folder; you’ll have bigger issues if you land on the wrong side of a recipient’s server!

2. It Shows Your Relevance

Of course, even the most legitimate content can become problematic.

A manual spam complaint is no less impactful than automated email filtering. It’s still one of the first things internet service providers (ISPS) look at when determining your content’s worth. You can do everything right and have unsatisfactory email deliverability.

Failure to offer valuable, relevant content is a surefire way to land yourself in this unfortunate position. Thus, by extension, your email deliverability reflects your relevance and value.

3. It’s a Reliable Litmus Test

Finally, I want to re-emphasize the importance of email deliverability as a diagnostic tool.

It’s a complex figure with countless influences. In many ways, it’s more than a measurement of reliability. It’s an at-a-glance breakdown of the efficacy of your email message. Your deliverability rate tells you how your email campaigns are received. It helps you determine how to store email addresses and handle your email database.

What Factors Affect Email Deliverability?

A blurred scan of an old document. “Know the Facts: What Influences Email Deliverability?”

And that brings me to the most complex problem.

Your email deliverability is a culmination of multiple factors. Unlike other KPIs, diagnosing the problem requires more than a few clicks. You’ll need to dig deep because your deliverability rate is a mix of everything that supports our modern email infrastructure!

I’ve already mentioned the importance of your sender’s reputation. So, I’ll skip repeating it. Instead, I want to focus on six major factors that influence your overall email deliverability.

1. The Accuracy of Your Database

Are you struggling with a consistently low deliverability rate? One of your problems may be your sign-up page and database maintenance procedures.

List hygiene is not optional!

It’s your job to nurture and maintain your email list. Failing to do so will impact your standing with your email service provider. Mistyped email addresses may seem like little more than a nuisance, but that “dud” address could be a purpose-built spam-catcher. These invalid email addresses — known as spam traps — are maintained and operated by email service providers. They’re meant to catch unscrupulous marketers, although inattentive businesses are often caught in the crossfire.

Pro Email Marketing Tips: Avoiding Database Problems

And let me fill you in on a little secret…

The best way to avoid spam traps is to never purchase a list! Yes, they’re filled with glorious promises. They entice you with the possibility of an on-demand subscriber list. However, they’re often filled with spam traps and inactive subscribers. At best, they’re a waste of money; more often than not, they tank your email sender reputation and permanently damage your email deliverability.

A pair of mailboxes. Overlaid text describes how list hygiene affects email deliverability and improves the reputation of the sender domain and IP reputation..

Some businesses go a step further, using double opt-in to confirm new subscribers’ addresses. Under this configuration, new subscribers are sent a confirmation link that must be clicked to receive further email campaigns. It’s not a complex system, and most email service providers offer basic tools to craft fully automated opt-in flows.

2. Email Bounces and Deliverability Status

Beyond its ability to affect email deliverability, poor database management is one of the leading causes of email bounces. These occur when emails are sent to invalid addresses, including:

  • Non-existent email addresses
  • Offline mail servers
  • Subscribers with automated filtering
  • Users with full inboxes

There are two forms of email bounces. Both are undesirable, although soft bounces are less impactful than hard bounces.

A soft bounce is fixable. These are often caused by temporary outages or full inboxes.

Some users, particularly those within the B2B sphere, may also have built-in spam filters. These commercial filters generally block anything that seems “promotional” or otherwise unprofessional. You can avoid this variety of soft bounces by encouraging subscribers to use personal email addresses or reminding users to add your address to their contacts in your email validation campaigns.

Conversely, a hard bounce is a non-fixable problem. You can improve your email deliverability by spotting and removing sources of frequent hard bounces.

3. Email Authentication Status

Assorted stamps. “Authentication: These systems verify that content comes from the right mail server.”

Beyond avoiding spam traps and maintaining an updated email list, brands must ensure that their email marketing is configured correctly.

Yes, it may come as a shock to some readers, but you need a special email setup to send marketing emails. You can’t just blast out drip campaigns from your personal email address. You must ensure you’re enrolled in and up-to-date on your email authentication.

There are two standards for commercial email authentication:

  1. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is built-in domain-based message authentication. Any bulk email sent with a DomainKeys Identified Email key comes with an innate domain reputation and trust. Internet service providers (ISPs) are more likely to approve these marketing emails and send them along, to the appropriate inbox.
  2. Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an older standard, conceived in the early 2000s, that relies on a pre-populated list of authoritative domains. It remains a valid way to combat email spoofing.

Regardless of which system you choose, you must still maintain a positive sender’s reputation. Businesses must also regularly check their email validation status. It’s possible for your email authentication certificate to expire, and your domain reputation will immediately tank! Fortunately, you can restore much of your prior standing and email deliverability by re-enrolling in your email authentication program of choice.

4. Check Your Content

Another way to damage your deliverability rate is by sending bad content.

No, I don’t mean anything illegal or morally objectionable! Even something honest and straightforward can land in a spam folder with the right combination of factors. Aside from poor grammar and spelling, some of the most egregious content-related errors that reduce your visibility in a recipient’s inbox include:

  • Certain phrases (known as “spam triggers” or “spam words”)
  • “Clickbait” content
  • Excessive punctuation and emoji usage
  • Improper characters in the subject line or body text (e.g., 𝔱𝔶𝔭𝔦𝔫𝔤 𝔩𝔦𝔨𝔢 𝔱𝔥𝔦𝔰)

In most cases, you can finesse your way out of using tricky words. Moreover, marketers with a high sender reputation have more space to bend the rules. Spam phrases are incredibly flexible, and inbox providers are more likely to allow otherwise innocuous “spammy” phrases through the filters if you’re an upstanding digital citizen.

However, non-standard “fonts” (again, 𝓼𝓾𝓬𝓱 𝓪𝓼 𝔀𝓱𝓪𝓽𝓮𝓿𝓮𝓻 𝓽𝓱𝓲𝓼 𝓲𝓼) are a surefire way to land in the junk folder. Aside from nuking your accessibility, these fonts are often used by scammers. They may be trendy on social media, but they’re synonymous with spam emails in inboxes. Using them will eliminate your inbox placement worries; you’ll always go to the spam folder instead!

5. Volume and Email Frequency

It may be surprising, but a consistent schedule positively affects email deliverability. Aside from giving subscribers something to look forward to, a regular schedule increases your IP reputation. It demonstrates your dedication to your craft by ensuring regular email delivery.

Pre-planning each email marketing campaign also reduces your team’s workload. Everyone knows what to expect and how to enter those email campaigns into the mail server. It’s a simple tactic, but a content calendar is one of the most reliable email deliverability tools at your disposal!

6. Legal Guidelines

Finally, you’ll want to adhere to all relevant email marketing laws.

It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but no internet service provider wants to host law-breakers! Always ensure your email marketing campaigns include a clear unsubscribe link and valid contact information. This is the bare minimum for legal adherence.

Ultimately, you’ll need to do some research to understand the full extent of any applicable email marketing laws. Applying these measures to your content pleases email clients and prevents costly fines.

A Hands-Off Approach to Email Deliverability

It’s a lot of information. I know.

Email deliverability is an ever-changing facet of modern email marketing. It’s the bane of many marketers’ days, yet it’s no less important than your click-through rates!

Fortunately, there’s an easier way to boost your email delivery rates.

I founded The Email Marketers as a one-stop-shop for all things email. My hand-picked team of marketing pros is always ready to craft email campaigns that meet your deliverability rate needs. We go above and beyond to keep your content in front of curious eyes and away from dusty spam folders.

We’ll even handle the pesky behind-the-scenes technicalities of modern email marketing. We’ll set up those dedicated IP addresses and maintain a positive sender’s reputation. We’ll write an accessible plain-text version for each email campaign and ensure your email clients meet and exceed expectations. You can forget about email deliverability tests and focus on the nitty-gritty details that keep your company afloat.

Schedule a free strategy session to learn more! And don’t forget to browse the rest of my blog to see how The Email Marketers have delivered amazing results to countless businesses.