Monday, July 27, 2009

Email Deliverability

I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the state of email deliverability. It seems that many companies - including well known companies - have deliverability rates under 90%. In fact, many hover somewhere in the mid 80s. As anyone who was awake in the mid 80s knows, this can't be a good thing. Having your deliverability in the mid 80s is a bit like having Mister Mister as your favorite band. You can do it...just don't talk about it in public.

It seems confusing that any respectable email marketer can't regularly achieve email deliverability rates in excess of 95%. With inbox rates of about the same percentage. It's not that hard. People have been doing the deliverability for quite some would think that people get it a little better.

In the interest of the common good, here's a few hints/tips to raise your deliverability. For those of you whose performance is tied to increasing deliverability, this may mean cash. Don't worry, this advice is all commission-free.

There's a ton of stuff we can cover, but I'm going to need some material for future blogs. So we'll stick to a few quickies ...

(1) Regularly mail your file - Constant communication with your file is the key to building your reputation at ISPs. Whether your cadence is daily, weekly or monthly, you should always mail your entire file on a periodic basis. If your file is "dirty" coming in, you may need to slow down your send speed to handle the bumps...but constant mailing will raise the overall deliverability of your file.

(2) Aggressively handle opt-outs & bounces - This is probably the single most important thing you can do to improve deliverability. For those of you who use internal systems, the accurate and timely processing of your bounces and opt-outs is where you are most likely to fail. In the past I've used a very simple formula:

  • Hard Bounce = Immediate removal from file
  • Soft Bounce - try up to 5 times. If unsuccessful, consider it a hard bounce.
  • Unsub - Immediate removal from file (more on that in a bit)
(3) Use an ESP - I've done both internal and external email sends. Deliverability via ESP beat the pants off of internal deliverability. Why? Because you can't fire your internal IT... more often than not, email deliverability is about 27th on IT's "Things to Do". Plus, ESPs tend to have better relationships with ISPs that internal IT groups can. We all have a limit to the number of people we want to talk to...

(4) Clean up your code - It's amazing how many companies still sent crappily-coded HTML to recipients. Stop with the Front Page templates and have a professional review performed (insert blatant plug for Smith-Harmon here...). The purpose of cleaning your code is twofold. The first is to get the email through the ISPs filters. The second is to keep the recipients from clicking on "This Is Spam" because your code renders badly in gmail (yes, I'm talking to you, BSP productions).

(5) Use dedicated IPs. A lot of them - Every time you use a shared IP, you run the risk of jacking up your own deliverability due to some knuckhead also using the same IP. Do yourself a favor and get your own. They're cheap! The key is to have a range of IPs that you use - if one gets "blacklisted", then you swap in new and cleaner IPs to get your mail through. By constantly rotating your IPs (and doing all this other stuff) you'll build the reputation of those IPs, helping to ensure deliverability. If you're bringing back some old data - or sending to people you haven't sent to in awhile - use some of your "spare" IPs.

(6) When in doubt, slow down - Throttling your email sends can help prevent some basic ISP blocks - especially if you're sending to a list that might be a little bumpier than your normal list. While speed can be exciting, it can also cause nasty crashes.

(7) Send a confirmation email - Double-opt in is (usually) overkill, especially for sites where you're not doing much except signing up to get email. That said, it's still a great idea to send a confirmation email to the listed address. Keep those on a real-time stream (so throttling won't be an issue) and don't let the bounces make it into your mail email file. Garbage in = you have more garbage.

OK...anything more than this and we're getting into consulting territory...which of course is always an excellent Plan B...

I was tempted to make a bad Mister Mister reference here goes...Kyrie, take these steps to fix the broken wing of your email program...I told you that being in the mid80s was bad.


  1. Great suggestions from someone who knows email deliverability issues well. One further recommendation that I'm sure Bob would have added had he not run out of space. :) Vet your email address sources as carefully as possible. 95% of deliverability issues stem from problems with the underlying list. If you spend the time and money on the front end to ensure only high quality email addresses ever get into your database, you won't need to worry about solving deliverability problems after the fact.

  2. Actually, that was number 9 on the list!