Don’t Believe These Five Deliverability Myths
MYTH #1: My “Delivered” Rate shows how many emails were delivered into the inbox
WHY THIS IS FANTASY: The delivered rate is one of the most widely used measurements in email marketing, but this metric is highly deceptive, and completely misunderstood. The delivered rate is deceptive is because it doesn’t take into account how many of the emails landed in the inbox versus the junk box, or went missing after your campaign was delivered. The delivered rate simply tells you how much of your mail bounced.
THE PLAIN TRUTH: Rather than aiming for a 99% delivered rate, aim for a higher inbox placement rate, and get as much mail delivered and seen to as many subscribers as possible. Don’t remove subscribers from your list just because their mailboxes are full, because they’re on vacation, or because you’re having a hard time getting your mail delivered to email provider. Remove subscribers that don’t exist, and focus on getting your mail into the only place your subscribers will ever read it: the inbox.
MYTH #2: It’s my email service provider’s job to fix my deliverability.
WHY THIS IS FANTASY: Mostly not true. Sure, your email service provider (ESP) might be responsible for fixing some delivery issues because their infrastructure isn’t set up properly, or maybe they assigned you a shared IP address that has poor delivery. These scenarios are usually the exception, and not the rule. You, the sender, are positively, absolutely in charge of your own email deliverability and reputation. Your reputation is determined by the quality of your lists (meaning low unknown users and no spam traps), complaints, message quality, and subscriber engagement, all which the sender controls and not your ESP. When ESPs are concerned about your deliverability, they want to protect their network, business and customers by only allowing senders with a good reputation to send from their systems, not fix your deliverability issues.
THE PLAIN TRUTH: Unless you address the root cause of your poor reputation, no ESP can get you delivered to the inbox.
MYTH #3: I don’t need to worry about inbox placement if I have a high Sender Score.
WHY THIS IS FANTASY: Sender Score indicates how trustworthy an email sender’s IP address to an email provider, ISP or filtering company. It tells ISPs and email providers the probability that their email users will think your email is spam. Your Sender Score is more of an indication of your inbox potential. At the end of the day, it’s still only one of many data points you need to determine how email providers may be junking, filtering, blocking, or bulking, your emails instead of delivering your email to inboxes.
THE PLAIN TRUTH: Your Sender Score isn’t the same as your inbox placement rate. Instead, think of a low Sender Score as a higher likelihood that most, or all, email being sent from your IP address will be delivered to spam. A high Sender Score is a lot like the TSA priority screening lines at the airport. You may be able to keep your shoes and belt on, but you still have to have to go through the metal detectors, and your luggage still needs to get scanned. For senders, a high Sender Score means that email providers will give your emails less scrutiny, but your emails will still run through some filters regardless.
MYTH #4: I have a low complaint rate! My mail should be delivered to the inbox!
WHY THIS IS FANTASY: Complaint rates are calculated based on total number of complaints and total messages delivered to the inbox. So if your mail is getting delivered to the spam folder, you’ll have a low complaint rate, because it’s not possible to mark a message as spam in the spam folder. If you’re getting sent to junk, it’s the “this is not spam” rate you need to be concerned with. Some filters and mailbox providers even go a step further and only count complaints from active, trusted subscribers, meaning that all those inactive email addresses on your file who never complain won’t be counted in the denominator. That means your complaint rate is probably much higher at the mailbox providers and filters than you think it is.
THE PLAIN TRUTH: Complaints are a key factor, but not the only factor when determining inbox deliverability. As the email deliverability landscape becomes more complex, you’ll need to get a better handle on the metrics that can also positively affect your inbox placement rates, like the “this is not spam” rate.
MYTH #5: Words like “free” or symbols like the exclamation point (!) should be avoided because they trigger spam filters.
WHY THIS IS FANTASY: As I mentioned in the first myth, spam filtering systems rely more on your sending reputation when it comes to making inbox and spam folder placement decisions. Content plays a very small role in that filtering decision for senders today, because content spam filters experience too many false negatives, aren’t reliable, and are easy for spammers to work around. If you’re unsure if your content is triggering spam filters, use a tool like Inbox Preview to test against the major spam filters that will flag certain keywords, URLs, or HTML issues in your content. After you’ve fixed the issues that have been flagged, send a pre-deployment test to our deliverability monitoring product, Inbox Monitor, to see if there are any filtering problems you need to be worried about.
THE PLAIN TRUTH: If you have a good reputation, more often than not your reputation will override any content filter, but that doesn’t mean it’s never a factor. If you’re sending third party content or templates used by others, your content might have a bad reputation by association. So yes, your content can have a bad reputation, but the fact is it isn’t necessarily due to the content itself.
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About Tom Sather
Email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.