15 Tips for Getting Your Email Delivered to the Inbox
by Jeanne S. Jennings
Published on 07/20/2007
In email marketing terms, deliverability is the percentage of your messages that make it to your recipients’ inboxes. If the mailbox is full or there’s a problem with the email address, you may get a “bounce” message telling you that your email wasn’t delivered.
If your email is mistakenly filtered as spam, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive a bounce message. The email will be routed to the recipient’s “junk mail” folder or not delivered at all. You’ll have no way to know.
A recent study by Lyris, which provides email marketing software, found inbox deliverability rates for the top Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – organizations like AOL, CompuServe, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! – running between 58% and 88%. This means that 12 to 42% of the legitimate email you send may not reach the inbox. Email that lands in a junk mail folder is far less likely to be opened, read and acted on; email that’s not delivered at all can’t generate business for you.
A sudden decrease in open rates can signal that your email is mistakenly being filtered as spam. Whether or not you think you have a problem, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your deliverability. You can look up your domain and/or the IP address of the server you send your email from at SenderBase
and see if you’re being blacklisted or have other issues which may cause your mail to be filtered.
Even if your record is clean, there are proactive steps to take to keep it that way. Here are 15 things you can do – many of which cost nothing — to optimize your deliverability long-term.
1. Get advanced, opt-in permission (cost: none).
Spam complaints can lead to deliverability issues because they affect your sender reputation. One of the best ways to minimize them is to make sure the people you’re sending to want to receive your email. Advanced permission or “opt-in,” as it’s called in the email world, is a must.
2. Use the same actual “from address” for all your email (cost: none).
Recognition is critical to deliverability. If you’re constantly changing your email “identity,” you make it hard for ISPs to recognize you – and you lose the benefit of any past positive history you have with them. Keep your “from address“ (the one with the “@” sign in it) consistent; you can change the display or “name address” (the one without the “@” sign) if you like.
3. Ask recipients to “white list” you (cost: none).
Many desktop filters use the email address book as a de facto white list. They assume that the recipient will want to receive all email coming from people in their address book, so they deliver it to the inbox. Ask recipients to add your actual “from address” to their address books to help get past spam filters.
4. Make it easy to unsubscribe (cost: none).
Having your email reported as “spam” can damage your deliverability. One reason recipients resort to this is because they’re unable to unsubscribe. Make it easy for people to remove themselves from your list. Offer a one-click remove process; don’t require them to remember a username or password to unsubscribe.
5. Remove bounces in a timely manner (cost: none).
There are two flavors of bounced messages: hard and soft. Hard bounces tell you that an email address is no longer valid. Soft bounces signal a problem delivering to an email address that may (or may not) be valid. Email addresses returning hard bounces should be removed from your list before the next send; those returning soft bounces for three consecutive sends should also be removed. Continuing to send to email addresses that bounce may harm your deliverability.
6. Keep it relevant (cost: none).
The more interested your recipient is in your content, the less likely they are to report your email as spam and damage your deliverability. Keeping your content relevant to readers will not only have a positive impact on your deliverability, it will also help you maintain higher open and click-through rates.
7. Honor the contract (cost: none).
When people provided their email address to you, you should have told them what they would be receiving and how often it would be sent. Be sure you honor this. Changing what you send or sending more frequently can lead to spam complaints, which harm your deliverability. Remember that the recipient has complete control, and keep your email program in line with the expectations you set at the time of opt-in.
More advanced steps
8. Confirm that your DNS entry is complete and correct (cost: none).
DNS standards for Domain Name System; your DNS entry includes contact information as well as technical information about your web presence. It allows organizations receiving email from your domain to verify your identify. Visit DNSreport
to view your DNS entry. If any information is incorrect or missing, update it.
9. Publish an SPF record for your domain (cost: none).
SPF stands for sender policy framework. It’s the part of your DNS entry that allows organizations to go one step beyond just verifying your identify; they’re also able to see which IP addresses you send email from. So if they receive an email from your domain, they can confirm your identify and confirm that it came from a server you use to send email. Publishing your SPF record doesn’t take much time but can help with your deliverability. To learn more, visit Sender Policy Framework
10. Run a content check before every send (cost: none).
Content filters, like Spam Assassin
, look at the information you’re sending and score it on number of attributes. If your score goes too high, the email will be considered spam and filtered. Running your emails through a content filter before each send will alert you to any potential issues; fixing them before the send will boost your deliverability. Many email service providers incorporate a content checker in their products.
11. Check your HTML before every send (cost: none).
Broken HTML can get your email filtered as spam. Before each send do a check to make sure your code is clean and correct. The W3C Markup Validation Service
is an easy way to identify any issues.
12. Monitor your own deliverability (cost: none).
Deliverability is an ongoing issue. In addition to periodically checking SenderBase
to see if your mail is getting through, it’s also smart: to set up and check “seed accounts” with the major ISPs you send to, which is much simpler than it sounds. For example, if you send to a lot of Gmail addresses, get yourself a Gmail email address. Add it to your list and then see whether your mail gets to your Gmail inbox. Do this for other major ISPs – it’s an inexpensive way to mimic a service many deliverability firms charge big bucks for.
Steps to consider if budget allows
13. Obtain a static IP address (cost: low).
If you’re sending email from your own servers, it’s worth asking your ISP for a static, rather than dynamic, IP address. It will cost a little more but it gives you a consistent presence on the internet – akin to having a fixed U.S. Postal Service address. It shows stability and makes it easier for ISPs to verify your identity.
14. Work with an email service provider (cost: low to high).
One of the best ways to assure deliverability is to work with a reputable email service provider (ESP). There are three primary ways they can help:
- They have relationships with ISPs and can vouch for the legitimacy of your email program, which can often help you avoid spam filters
- They will monitor your deliverability so that if there is a problem, they’ll know about it.
- They can provide you, upon request, a dedicated IP address, one that only you use to send email. Many blacklists, which impede deliverability, filter by IP address, so if you’re sharing one with someone who is blacklisted your email will also be blocked. A dedicated IP address assures that you won’t be punished for someone else’s bad behavior.
15. Work with a deliverability/reputation firm (cost: high).
These firms offer a combination of services to help get your email delivered. First, they’ll provide guidance on deliverability best practices and help your organization implement them. Once this is complete, they’ll leverage their relationships with the ISPs to get your mail delivered to the inbox. If you have a serious deliverability problem, contracting with one of these firms is the most effective way to fix it.