Believe it or not, email deliverability is more complicated than having Newman as your postman.

In our recent conversations on marketing automation, we’ve discussed the science behind marketing automation planning, using creative tension to spur organization-wide change, and the predictable (and preventable) stress points of a platform implementation.

Just as a marketing automation platform isn’t “set it and forget it”, neither is email deliverability. Ask any experienced email marketer what is the most challenging aspect of their job, and they will tell you: maintaining ongoing deliverability and inbox placement.

If the email doesn’t reach the recipient, a perfect subject line with spectacular content is worthless. Digital marketers expect that when they hit the send button each email will arrive in every recipient’s inbox, every time. Sometimes there will be a few bounced emails and a few unsubscribes, but generally speaking, emails get delivered.

However, it’s not as simple as it appears. It’s critical to follow the best practices and stay up-to-date to assure good results. By taking a few additional steps, marketers can build better email deliverability and improve marketing efficiency and dollars spent.


1. Choose a Marketing Automation Vendor with good email deliverability

Remember, how much you pay for a platform has nothing to do with the likelihood of your emails reaching the inbox.

While researching platforms, ask vendors for their email deliverability rate and inbox statistics. One of the most overlooked considerations for a MAP Vendor is historical deliverability data and email list policies. Talk to your vendor about this up-front to avoid serious deliverability issues that can wreak havoc on your lead generation program. Pro-tip: most marketing automation vendors and email service providers with an excellent email deliverability rate will not allow purchased lists.

2. Clean your email list prior to uploading to your new vendor

Did you know that 25 percent of consumers change email addresses every six months? It means that it’s possible that 25 percent of the emails you upload to your database and send will bounce — and if you’re paying by number of emails sent that’s essentially tossing marketing dollars out the window. Or even worse, a 25 percent bounce rate could get you blacklisted — meaning that no inbox provider will accept your email. No one wants that to happen, especially when launching a new platform! Email list cleaning is a relatively inexpensive service that can remove the emails address that will likely bounce, protecting your reputation as an email sender and ensuring your emails are going to real addresses.

Many vendors require a list cleaning prior to uploading your entire database. Even if your vendor doesn’t require this, it’s a best practice I highly recommend following.

3. Segment your email list by valid contacts and recently engaged contacts

Your first send from a new marketing automation platform is the most important — make sure you’re sending to engaged contacts.

You’ll see vendors use terminology like ‘warming up your IPs’. What this means is that when you first send email, the inbox providers (Gmail, Comcast, Yahoo) don’t know who you are and whether they should trust your messages in the future. Let’s say you send your first email deployment to the 200 most-engaged contacts. There’s a good chance this segment will open and click and, in turn, show the inbox providers that people want to receive your messages. You can then proceed with emailing smaller groupings of your larger database for the first send. By sending in smaller batches and focusing on the most engaged contacts first, you can prevent deliverability issues from occurring while you’re getting started.

4. Ensure contacts that bounce or report as spam are removed from future mailings

Repeated mailings to an email address that bounces will lead to deliverability problems. It’s important to remove all email addresses that hard bounce and any address that marks your messages as SPAM.

Not all marketing automation platforms suppress email addresses that bounce or report as spam. Find out if your marketing automation vendor automatically removes emails that bounce or report as spam. If not, you need to create a list of these contacts and manually remove them prior to email deployments.

5. Frequently re-engage or remove contacts that do not engage

Contacts that don’t engage can cause deliverability problems due to bounces.

If a contact has not opened a single email in 6 months, consider removing them entirely from your mailing list. You may also consider sending them a reengagement email. There are a variety of approaches to this email — coupons, special offers, or a simple text email stating the contact will be unsubscribed in 30 days with a ‘don’t unsubscribe’ link.

6. Optimize the unsubscribe page with options

It’s important to take a few minutes to optimize the unsubscribe options. People unsubscribe for various reasons, and sometimes they don’t want to be completely removed from your mailing list. Perhaps they want to receive more relevant content or less frequent email messages. Optimize your unsubscribe landing page with email frequency or content check boxes. Make sure your labels are clear and it is an easy process. I’ve seen unsubscribe requests that involve a phone call!

And remember, if an unsubscribe prevents a SPAM complaint, it is a win for your sender reputation. Unless you are seeing a large number of unsubscribes, they aren’t necessarily a bad thing. If you are seeing a spike in unsubscribes this may be hinting at a greater problem and you should review content relevancy, mailing frequency, and age of your email list.

SECRET: Understanding how your sender reputation is evaluated leads to better deliverability

Knowledge is power and the best action you can take to ensure good deliverability over the long-term is to develop an understanding of how your sender reputation is evaluated. There are many factors that inbox providers use to determine whether your messages reach the inbox. The number one positive factor is a subscriber clicking through links (because it shows engagement), and the number one negative factor is a subscriber marking your message as SPAM. (It only takes a few complaints to do permanent damage, like being blacklisted.) To help you along your Marketing Automation Journey, here are some lesser-known ways that subscriber actions affect your email deliverability and sender reputation.

Here are a few positive subscriber actions that lead to better deliverability:

            • Clicking in the email (top factor)
            • Opening the email
            • Adding your address to their contacts or address book
            • Enabling images
            • Scrolling through the message
            • Starring the message
            • Moving the message over from the junk folder to the inbox
            • Moving a message from the promotions tab into the primary tab in Gmail

And a few negative subscriber actions that negatively impact deliverability:

            • Reporting the message as SPAM
            • Deleting the message
            • Moving the message to trash
            • Marking messages as read
            • Ignoring messages
            • Not engaging with multiple messages over long periods of time

Marketing Automation is complex enough, and the nitty gritty details of email deliverability are rarely covered in the sales process. While we expect emails to be delivered, it’s the marketer’s job to follow email best practices, only send emails to opted-in contacts, and remove invalid email addresses proactively.

By following our basic tips and focusing on subscriber engagement, you’re on your way to marketing automation success. Be sure to download our Marketing Automation Conditions for Success Diagnostic to help you facilitate the transformational changes you need for a successful Marketing Automation journey.