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Email Campaigns: How to Test and Boost Deliverability

Editor’s note: this is a guest post from Téa Liarokapi, Senior Content Writer at MoosendDo you have digital marketing or software expertise? Pitch your blog idea using our contact page.

Email marketing has been shunned by many, even more so when it’s considered to be “dead” every once in a while. This is what makes it so important.

So, how many emails are being sent a day?

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As you can see, those are a lot. But how many of those get delivered?

In the wake of COVID-19, spam filters suddenly caught on fire. Spam accounts for 85% of all emails sent, and 85% of all organizations were targeted by phishing scams in 2020, according to DataProt.

However, does that mean that all spam emails are scam emails? No, not really. But it also means that an email delivered in the spam/junk folder is as good as non-existent.

This is where the difference between delivery and deliverability lies.

An email that gets delivered is counted in your delivery rate, whether it’s ended up in the recipient’s junk/spam folder or their inbox folder. A delivery rate can tell you nothing about whether or not your emails were delivered to the recipient’s inbox folder.

On the contrary, according to Moosend’s platform:

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Getting a campaign into a prospect’s inbox is all that matters when talking about deliverability, meaning that delivery and deliverability are two peas in a pot, but they’re still two different things.

So, since deliverability is way more important than delivery – because there’s no point in sending emails that will end up in a spam/junk folder – how can you test and boost it?

Let’s go ahead and see all the issues that may arise and how you can solve them by implementing some tweaks and picking out the right ESP for your company.

How Does the Flow of an Email Affect Deliverability?

The first thing you need to take into account should be your email list.

When building your email list, you need to implement techniques that will score you interested leads. This minimizes the possibility of people marking your emails as spam.

  • Use lead generation tools, like subscription forms or landing pages. These features are amongst the most popular when picking out email marketing platforms, especially nowadays. So, make sure to pick an email marketing platform that can boost your lead generation efforts.
  • Make sure to create content that will let your prospects know what they’re signing up for.
  • Try double opt-in. Those who are genuinely interested in your content will see past that.
  • Never forget to use list pruning techniques and check your overall list health frequently. Segment your audience and find the inactive accounts, the accounts that haven’t interacted with your content in a long time, or those that interact often.
  • Find and delete all fake email addresses from your email list. These could be spam traps, i.e., fake email addresses that ISPs set to distinguish between spammers and marketers or brands that have acquired their email addresses using legitimate list-building techniques.
  • Optimize for all devices. An email that appears broken could raise spam concerns.

Hint: A spammer is not just an organization that sends spam emails. Sending unsolicited emails with genuinely great email content is still sending spam, according to ISPs. If your company has bought an email list that has been harvested using nefarious methods on the web, it won’t look good down the line, no matter how valuable your content is.

Now, let’s talk about what could happen before they get delivered. There’s the chance of a hard bounce and that of a soft bounce.

  • A hard bounce will occur when sending an email to an invalid email address. Hard bounces let ISPs know that you haven’t pruned your email list.
  • A soft bounce happens when a prospect has a full inbox or when your sending volume increases suddenly.

Since most email services provide ample space and even go so far as to sort emails into categories automatically, the possibility of a soft bounce due to a full inbox is not that likely anymore.

Now, let’s assume that your email gets delivered in your prospects’ inbox, be it your inbox or your Promotions and Social tabs.

As a matter of fact, according to Gmail statistics, “emails tagged as “Promotions” usually have a high placement rate in the inbox of around 84.5%.”, which means that promotional content differs a lot from spammy content. But let’s see what happens there.

  • ISPs can see the “marked as read” and “delete without opening” actions, which makes you suspicious in their eyes and could harm your sender reputation.
  • Non-relevant content can be marked as spam by your users. Make sure to segment your list and personalize your content according to their wishes.
  • Create content that their peers will find valuable. Email forwards can work wonders when it comes to your reputation, and they’ll show ISPs that your content is not repetitive and establish you as an authority in your niche.

But let’s assume that you’ve got all the issues above under control. Good deliverability rates are not great deliverability rates. Let’s see how you can remedy that.

How Can You Boost Email Deliverability?

Email deliverability is largely – if not solely – dependent on the tools you’ll be using. This makes it a pretty complex issue, and not everyone can create a tool that will allow them to send the right email at the right time. This is why picking out email marketing software that can give you essential tools like segmentation, personalization, and list-building features while being intuitive and easy to use is critical.

After all, building your own tools is not something everyone can do – hence the need for an ESP that can help out with your email marketing endeavors.

But what affects your deliverability rates, apart from the quality of your email list and the spam complaints that we discussed previously? Let’s look at the main reasons behind poor deliverability rates.

  • Your send frequency. ISPs, as well as recipients, are creatures of habit. It’s understandable that you’ll have a higher send volume at specific points in time and a lower at others, but being inconsistent with the volume of emails sent will trigger spam filters. Not to mention that a higher send volume could very well get you marked as spam by the users.
  • Poor email design and content, and poor branding in general, can and will affect your deliverability rates down the line. The reason for this is quite simple. According to Forbes, “When it comes to your brand’s presence, voice and tone can shape the end user’s experience and how the company is remembered“. This is why your email campaigns need to have a consistent look and feel. Content that doesn’t engage or inconsistent or poor brand image can flag you as a spammer.
  • Shortened URLs. In theory, they may look more compact and keep the user’s eyes on the content, but in practice, they can raise a number of cybersecurity concerns. Don’t forget that, according to cybersecurity statistics, the pandemic caused a rise in cybercrime and phishing scams. And URL shorteners are a handy tool in the hands of scammers and spammers, as a shortened URL doesn’t show the link’s destination.
  • Using spammy words could result in poor campaign deliverability as a whole, especially when it comes to your subject lines. A subject line with capitals and spammy words like “FREE!!!” or “URGENT!!!”, or a misleading “RE:” or “FW:” will trigger spam filters. Make sure to be honest and transparent when creating your email marketing campaigns.

Of course, tackling the above won’t magically save your deliverability rates if you’re not careful enough. Usually, the problem starts when marketers use lead generation strategies that won’t exactly make the cut.

Apart from purchasing lists, which could be fatal for your deliverability, using single opt-in instead of double opt-in could lead to many misunderstandings regarding your email campaigns and the quality of your leads as a whole. Maybe your subscriber wanted to go forward to get a freebie, or maybe they didn’t really read your terms and conditions.

Using double opt-in can minimize these problems. To some, it creates unnecessary friction. However, it’s true that if a user is truly interested in your content, they won’t mind verifying their email to subscribe to your email list. This friction could save the day by keeping your list clean and tidy. The same goes for an unsubscribe button that’s easy to use and right there where the user can see it. This will lead to fewer “Mark as spam” actions.

Also, never forget about using email testing tools that can show you the issues with your campaigns. Maybe the HTML version of your email won’t work, or maybe your sender score is lacking. Email testing tools can show you what went wrong and help you make data-driven decisions for your next steps.

Perhaps it was the content you used, or maybe your subject line and body copy contained words that were a little too spammy, or your email looked a little too “broken” for the user’s device.

See how some of the words we consider to be “innocent” enough to be in an email’s body copy and subject line can cause email campaigns to trigger spam filters? Make sure to use words like “Offer” or “Reminder” wisely, and make sure to steer clear of symbols like “$$” or too many exclamation marks.

Another issue we could raise in regards to poor deliverability is how GDPR compliant your campaigns are. Buying lists or even sending emails to non-interested people can be considered a GDPR violation. Especially if you’re not careful with the lead generation services you’re using.

Lastly, and perhaps, most importantly, your deliverability rates will suffer if you’re not careful of maintaining a pristine sender reputation.

At this stage, you will need to invest in an IP address that will allow ISPs to track and trace your email campaigns. It can be either a dedicated or a shared IP address. Use the former if you’ve got a large sending volume. The latter is for lower sending volumes that can “absorb” the mistakes of other senders – or your own -, while the shared volume will optimize your sender reputation, provided all companies that share this pool will implement deliverability best practices.

On the other hand, larger send volumes call for a dedicated IP address. The deliverability score will be solely your responsibility in that case, but so will mistakes and penalties that are a lot harder to bounce back from.

Common Email Deliverability Dont’s

It’s time to recap since there are a lot of malpractices to look out for that can harm your deliverability rates without you even realizing it.

  • Buying email lists instead of creating your own raises a GDPR issue and puts you in danger of being marked as a spammer by ISPs and customers alike.
  • Creating non-engaging emails that won’t be shared, forwarded, or even opened won’t signal that you’re a spammer, but it won’t do you any favors either.
  • Having a sign-up process that is either too complex or too indifferent. Neither will help you build your list because the former will cause a lot of unnecessary friction, whereas the latter won’t create a memorable experience for your prospects.
  • Using spammy words and content that can trigger spam filters, creating email content that doesn’t look pristine on all devices, and using link shorteners will land you straight into the spam folder.

There are a couple more don’ts we haven’t discussed yet, though. One is not to use generic email addresses or any email address that doesn’t include a company email.

A generic email address looks impersonal and doesn’t represent a living organism with an innovative content marketing vision – which is what your brand should be presented as – but rather a detached, unapproachable brand that doesn’t value its customers.

On the other hand, email addresses that are not company emails – especially @gmail addresses – won’t represent your brand and don’t even correspond to a brand in the first place. Since you can’t showcase who you are, your email campaign will be considered to be spam.

Finally, non-segmented email campaigns can also harm your deliverability. Just take a look at this statistic:

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Segmented email marketing campaigns that can produce a personalized email design and relevant marketing messages will be shared and have more open and click-through rates. This, to ISPs, is an indication that your content is valuable, hence, not spammy.

The Takeaway

The challenges of email marketing are more than simply deliverability rates. Not creating user personas and not A/B testing your email marketing campaigns, your subject lines, and your content overall could harm your open and click-through rates. This will result in getting a lower ROI than the one you expected and not fully enjoying the benefits of email marketing.

Also, not using double opt-in and not using a clear and transparent sign-up and unsubscribe process could harm your deliverability rates. Creating the image of a brand that either doesn’t care for its prospects or isn’t good enough to remain top-of-mind never did anyone any favors.

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Téa Liarokapi
Téa Liarokapi is a Senior Content Writer for Moosend, an email marketing and marketing automation platform, and an obsessive writer in general. In her free time, she tries to find new ways to stuff more books in her bookcase and content ideas – and cats – to play with.

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