Unfortunately, in today’s email delivery landscape, even when you’re emailing contacts who’ve opted in to receive emails from you, it’s likely that your emails still aren’t getting through to everyone. In fact, according to a 2016 study by Return Path, only 79% of permission-based emails actually reached the inbox, while 5% were sent straight to the spam folder and 16% were outright blocked.
Why is it so difficult to get your email delivered? There are a lot of spammers out there who want you to wire cash to a “Nigerian prince” in need, waste your money on phony male enhancement supplements, or participate in shady investment schemes. These spammers make it more difficult for non-spammers because email service providers have set stringent parameters to flag emails that look like they could be spam.
Additionally, your email recipients may mark you as spam if they don’t recognize the email or if it uses spammy subject lines. The frequency of email recipients marking your emails as spam has a significant impact on your sender reputation, which is what internet service providers (ISPs) use to decide if the mail you send should go to the inbox or be relegated to the spam or promotions folders.
ISP vs. ESP
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are companies, such as Verizon or Comcast, that provide access to the internet along with an inbox. ISPs also include inbox providers such as Gmail, Yahoo! and Outlook.
Email Service Providers (ESPs), such as ONTRAPORT, Mailchimp or Constant Contact, provide platforms to send commercial or transactional email on behalf of a company.
How exactly does sender reputation affect deliverability?
According to research by Return Path, the top email senders (those who have a Sender Score of 99 or 100) are able to achieve a 98% delivery rate. These email senders all had one thing in common: an extremely low complaint rate, around 0.03%. Those with a sender score of 90 only got 20% of their messages successfully delivered. Those with a score of 71 or less did far worse – nearly all of their mail was blocked by mailbox providers.
To avoid having your emails marked as spam or flagged, follow these proven email deliverability guidelines:
“From” Name and Address
How often do you read emails from people or businesses you don’t immediately recognize? You probably delete them or mark them as spam.
The names and email addresses you choose to send messages from play a big part in getting your email delivered successfully.
Your name and email address should do two things:
- Make your identity clear by stating either the name of the person or company/brand. Avoid addresses like email@example.com.
- Be consistent across all communications
According to ONTRAPORT’s email deliverability expert Brendan Dubbels, “Your ‘from’ address is key because it quickly provides your identity to both the email service providers and your readers. It’s important that your address is consistent and immediately recognizable so your message doesn’t get trashed when your readers sift through their emails.”
If your contacts don’t know who they’re getting email from, they’re more likely to delete your message. It can be helpful to include the name of your company or organization and your name in your “from” address to make it clear who you are. For example:
- Joe at ONTRAPORT
- Jenny @ ONTRAPORT
- Jack from ONTRAPORT
If possible, send emails from an address that’s actually on your own domain (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). Many lower-end email service providers can make it look like email is coming from your own URL, while they actually send it from a domain of their own.
“Reply To” Address
Your “reply to” email address may be different from your “from” address. It’s important to make sure the reply address is an active mailbox where you actually see message replies.
Make sure you answer replies and send them to your sales or customer support teams. Treat each reply you receive as an opportunity to build connections with your list.
Public Vs. Private IPs
Your personal computer has its own IP address, but when you send email it comes from the IP address your ESP uses to send messages from you. ESPs may have hundreds of clients, and they typically use one or a few IPs to send mail for all of them. Whenever a client sends mail that gets marked as spam, every one of that ESP’s clients suffers.
“It doesn’t matter what your ESP’s marketing and sales pitch says: If you’re sending from a shared IP address, you’re placing yourself at a disadvantage,” Dubbels said.
To avoid this problem, you can get a private IP address. If you send more than 300,000 emails a month, it’s time to start thinking about getting your own IP. Contact your ESP to help you set this up.
When sending emails, make sure to never send out a raw URL or public URL shorteners like bit.ly in your email messages, especially if your ESP tracks link clicks.
The way your ESP actually tracks link clicks is by first redirecting your contacts to another URL so they can be counted before sending them to your intended link. That means that your email sending reputation gets lumped in along with every other sender who sends links to these domains, spammers included. They see that your link URL is actually different from what you’re showing the contact in the message body, which is a technique that usually indicates spam. In order to protect consumers from being misled, they associate these misleading raw URLS with phishing attacks and block these messages.
A simple solution is to use a hyperlink with anchor text that clearly describes the destination of the link. This is also a much more attractive option than raw URLs.
To protect consumers from spam, both Canada and the U.S. have passed legislation for email senders to follow. If you’re following these laws already, your emails will be much less likely to be flagged as spam. Here’s what you need to know about both.
CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003)
The U.S. government passed this law to make sending unsolicited email illegal, but it still allows for unsolicited mail to be sent under these conditions:
- The sender’s physical address is listed in the footer of the message.
- There are no confusing or misleading subject lines.
- There is a clear and accurate “from” name.
CASL (Canadian Anti-Spam Law)
Canada’s anti-spam is significantly more restrictive than CAN-SPAM – it actually requires email senders to obtain explicit affirmative consent to send mail to their recipients. This rules out pre-checked opt-in boxes on forms with an email field.
CASL only applies to senders who have a reasonable assumption that there are no Canadian residents on their email list (e.g., if they market only within the U.S).
Believe it or not, the unsubscribe button is an email marketer’s best friend.
When contacts click the unsubscribe button, they’re telling you that they are not interested in what you’re sending. With them off your list, your average email engagement rate will improve, which in turn will improve your placement in the inbox by showing the ISPs that people like your content.
On top of that, you can be grateful that they’ve decided to unsubscribe from your list rather than clicking the “this is spam” button, which is a far more damaging action. ISPs don’t penalize you when a contact unsubscribes like they do if your contact marks your message as spam.
Depending on how your ESP handles unsubscribes, you can also make it possible for email recipients to unsubscribe only from certain funnels while remaining subscribed to others.
Allowing recipients to control their email preferences is a great way to avoid losing people from your list. Some contacts might be interested in your weekly roundup of news and deals, while others might only want to hear from you occasionally. Let them tell you what they want, and you’ll build a relationship based on trust with each of your contacts.
Active Re-Engagement Campaigns
After you’ve built a long list of email contacts over time, some contacts will stop engaging with your messages. Maybe they’ve lost interest, feel overwhelmed/annoyed by the amount of emails you’re sending, or they’re not receiving your emails.
In any case, it’s a smart strategy to give them a few more chances to respond and engage with the emails you send, and then remove them from list if they don’t respond to these messages.
There are two reasons it’s a good idea to remove these people:
- If you pay per contact or per email sent, you’ll save money by removing disengaged contacts who don’t offer real value to your business.
- It protects your sender reputation by reducing the chances you’re marked as spam by contacts who aren’t interested in your emails.
If you’re using an email automation platform, you can incorporate an active re-engagement campaign that’s always running and scanning for disengaged contacts. If there are no signs of life from a contact for a specific duration of time, the funnel will trigger a series of messages aimed to gauge and recapture that contact’s interest with new content or a special offer. After giving them a few chances to re-engage, if there is still no response, it will automatically unsubscribe them (without necessarily deleting them from your database).
Here’s a sample re-engagement campaign map:
Copy, Design, Formatting
The way you format the emails you are sending can greatly affect the likelihood of those messages being received in the inbox of the recipient. Here are some things to consider when it comes to your copy, design and formatting:
Character count: A good rule of thumb is to include, at the very least, 500 characters of text. A spam email often consists of one to three sentences with a single link within it.
Ensure your plain text matches the HTML version: ISPs scan the plain text version of emails for signs of spam. If your email does not include a plain text version or if the plain text version does not match the HTML body of your message, most ISPs will assume that you are trying to slip something past their filters.
Avoid text formatting: Spam filters do not like a lot of formatting such as bolding, italics, highlighting or changes in font (color, size, etc.). To get the best delivery possible, keep your use of formatting (especially on hyperlinks) to a minimum.
Include whitelisting instructions: Encouraging subscribers to whitelist your address is one of the best things you can do to boost engagement. The best time to do this is in your welcome email after they subscribe to your list.