How do inbox providers decide what to trash and what to keep?
This is the question, right?
If you knew how they made that decision, you could make sure your email looks more like “good” mail and less like “bad” mail.
Well, fortunately, we DO know the answer!
There are 5 things that inbox providers use to determine where an email goes. We’ll call this your reputation chain.
- Email Content and Promoted Domains
- Historic Engagement Metrics
- “Send from” Address
- Return Path and Authentication
- IP Address
Together, these are the factors that inbox providers look at to determine whether your email should be inboxed or spamboxed.
At Ontraport we give every user, at every account level, access to professional-level tools to take responsibility for and manage your ENTIRE reputation chain.
What is my email reputation chain?
As noted above, there are 5 factors that make up your personal reputation chain. Here they are described in more detail.
1. Content and Promoted Domains
This includes the words and links you put in the body of your email.
It’s pretty easy for inbox providers to decide that emails talking about losing weight and making money (for example) are likely spam. That makes it hard for legitimate folks in those industries (and others) to get good delivery, but that’s just the reality. Figure out ways to talk about your subject without suspicious language in your emails… and keep that stuff on your website instead.
Notably, the URLs that are promoted (linked to) in your email carry their own reputation. That means that if you send email that includes links which have, in the past, also been found in spammy emails, then the inbox providers will likely consider your email to be spammy also.
That’s why, for example, affiliate marketers can really have challenges because, if someone sends a lot of spam to promote your URL, other senders can also end up in the spam folder for promoting the same URL.
Tips: Here are some thoughts about the content of your emails that are worth looking at.
Also, don’t promote Ontraport domains (members-only.online, etc.) or any other shared domains (bit.ly, etc.) in your emails. Instead, use your own custom domain so all the links in your emails are to URLs that you alone control. This is an important part of owning your own reputation chain.
2. Historic Engagement Metrics
Your recipients’ histories of opening, reading and clicking your emails has a major impact on future delivery. To improve this, only send emails that people want to read to people who want to read it. Stop sending email to people who don’t engage, or at least mail those people much less frequently than the rest.
Tips: Use good list management practices. That means only using permission-based lead generation (never buy, rent or borrow a list!) and only sending high-quality, interesting content to people who actually want to get it. Stop sending emails to people who never engage. There are template campaigns in the Ontraport marketplace that make it easy to stop sending to unengaged contacts automatically.
3. “Send from” Address
Don’t send from a freemail email address (gmail, yahoo, hotmail) or from a shared domain (ontramail). Instead, build your own good reputation by sending from a custom domain.
Tip: Just set it up here.
4. ReturnPath and Authentication
Better yet, set up your own custom Envelope Sending Domain (aka ReturnPath). This requires some more setup (SPF records, DKIM and, ideally, Dmarc) but pays off in the long run by, again, building your own mailing reputation and separating your delivery results from every other business that sends email on Ontraport.
Tip: Set up a custom domain and get at least SPF and DKIM setup. Dmarc is also an increasingly good idea, but you can take care of that later as it’s more technically complex.
Remember to warm your reputation if you send a significant volume of email (tens of thousands per month). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about warming your reputation.
5. IP Address
You can use our shared IP addresses, which we monitor carefully, but getting your own IP address and building your own reputation is a great idea if you send on a regular, consistent basis and send at least 30k emails per month.
Tip: If you qualify, contact support to get the ball rolling on this. There is a one-time $500 setup fee for a private IP. Remember to warm your reputation if you send a significant volume. Note that if you don’t send a significant volume of mail, don’t worry about this. Shared IP addresses are fine for most users and are really one of the less important aspects of your personal reputation chain. Take this on only after you’ve done all the above and haven’t seen results you like. Click here for more details on how this works.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are my emails going to spam?
Often, we have clients worried about their deliverability after they get a complaint from one of their contacts who says they couldn’t find an email or found it in their spam folder.
It’s worth confirming if there is a larger problem because it’s extremely common for your emails to be delivered to the inbox for MOST recipients but spamboxed for a few. This can happen through no fault of your own, including the possibilities that your recipient has unusual spam filters in place, has marked your email as spam in the past, has never read an email from you, has trashed or marked similar emails as spam, and so on.
In order to find out if you have a widespread problem, you need to run what’s called a seed test. This is where we mail one of your emails to hundreds of test addresses at various providers and then automatically check where the email landed in each account. We use a third party service for this, and there’s a small cost associated with running these tests.
You can find out more about how to get this service set up for your account here.
But even my transactional emails are going to spam!
The inbox providers can’t tell the difference between a transactional email and all the rest, so they look at your entire reputation chain, which includes ALL the email you send as a company, to determine what to do with each email.
This means that if you send a lot of email to folks who don’t want it, don’t read it, and don’t click it, you’re building a poor email reputation for your company, and that will impact your transactional email too.
What if none of this works?
It will! It’s that simple!
If you’re still getting poor delivery results after taking care of all the above, you probably haven’t quite nailed down the above recommendations.
How do we know this? We know because there is NOTHING ELSE that an inbox provider can look at when deciding what to do with an email except the items above. If you have taken responsibility for each of those items, by owning and managing your own reputation chain, there is only one possibility: One of those items is not being well managed.
Most commonly, it’s the “Historic Engagement Metrics” piece.
Too many business owners continue to believe that they can just fire off a ton of emails to whomever they want and that the more they mail, the better… because some percentage of recipients have got to respond!
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works any more. The inbox providers have figured out that strategy and have put in safeguards to ensure that most or all of the email sent by companies deploying that strategy will end up in the spam folder.
In 2020 and beyond, the strategy is to only send high-quality emails to people who actually want to receive them.
Really, it’s Hotmail/MSN/live.com addresses that are the problem.
We hear that.
Microsoft, and a few other providers like Cox, Comcast, etc., are way behind in email delivery technology, and they throw a LOT of good email into the bad pile.
This is an industry-wide problem that can be really hard to deal with.
Here are a few tips:
- Use a conditional landing page redirect or conditional blocks on your landing page to warn recipients with Microsoft email addresses about the problem and how to look in their spam folders. (They probably already know, since this happens all the time to them, but still worth doing.)
- Consider running a re-engagement campaign ONLY to Microsoft addresses, and strictly limit the engagement window to 90 days, never emailing someone with no activity for longer than that. This will ensure you never hit a spam trap, which is a classic (and dumb) Microsoft technique for labeling spam.
- Once you’ve got your own reputation chain set up, sign up for SNDS and monitor your results there. This will only work if you get your own IP address, but we monitor this for you if you’re using our shared IP address pool.
Additional email delivery services and strategy
Ontraport also offers the following additional services and strategies to further improve your delivery.
Strategy for managing low open rates
ISPs are constantly trying to keep spam out of inboxes and, when they see messages that rarely get opened, it tells them that the message is unwanted. If you send your email to people you know will click on it before sending it to anyone else, it shows ISPs that the message isn’t spam and that it’s safe to deliver that message into other inboxes.
This strategy splits your contacts into groups based on their last activity so you can send your email to your most engaged contacts first, boosting the credibility of the email before sending it to your less engaged groups.
Here’s how to utilize that strategy in your account:
- Create three groups in your account based on your contacts’ engagement with your content. Use the following conditions to create your groups:
- “Last Activity is on or after 30 days ago” — Contacts who were active in the last 30 days
- “Last Activity is before 30 days ago AND Last Activity is on or after 90 days ago” — Contacts who were active 31-90 days ago
- “Last Activity is before 90 days ago” — Contacts who have not been active for over 90 days
- After these contacts run through your re-engagement campaign, remove all uninterested contacts from your mailing lists.
- On days that you are sending messages to your 31-90 day actives, we recommend that you:
- Email your engaged contacts first (active in the last 30 days)
- Email your 31-90 day actives two hours after emailing your engaged contacts. ISPs are more willing to treat your second send better when they see that your active group engaged with your first email.
You can install the prebuilt “List Cleaning and Re-Engagement Campaign” to create your own automation.
- Click here to download your campaign.
- Follow the instructions on your campaign checklist to complete it.
It is important to note that ISPs will not change how they handle your mail overnight. This process can show some pretty noticeable results in as little as two weeks, but if your engagement issue has gone unaddressed for years it could take over a month to see noticeable changes.
A seed test is an email sent to a list of tracked email addresses to test delivery. Ontraport integrates with 250ok, a service you can use to run a seed test and interpret the results. Information you can get from seed tests can include:
- Which specific internet service providers are delivering your email to the inbox
- How your list quality affects the delivery of your email
- Whether the content of your email affects the delivery of your email
- How fast your email is being delivered
Email Delivery Handbook
Ontraport provides a free Email Delivery PDF download wherein you’ll learn ethical tactics for getting your emails into your subscribers’ inboxes, tips for complying with the latest spam laws, tools for monitoring and optimizing deliverability rates, and more.
I have another question that wasn’t answered here
No problem. We have an experienced team of Postmasters standing by to help. Email them at email@example.com.