Become a “permission purist” for maximum deliverability

The delivery rate you see in your email service provider’s UI only tells half the story. You may be sending with a 99% delivered rate but what that means is that your email messages were handed off to a receiver without a bounce response – what that receiver, usually an Internet service provider (ISP) actually does with the email when they receive it is perhaps the most important aspect which most marketers tend to take for granted.

When I talk about the topic of deliverability, I am always keen to stress that true deliverability is about making sure you as a marketer follow best practices as a sender in order to maximise the chance of your email marketing campaign reaching a subscriber’s inbox. If you’re not doing this, you are very unlikely to be achieving the end goals of whatever you set out to do – be it boosting your click rate, conversion rate or even just a simple brand awareness campaign whIch doesn’t even have a call to action. Bottom line is, if you aren’t getting to the inbox, your results are not going to be optimal – your beautifully crafted email creative could be languishing in the junk folder or, worse still, could have been deleted silently by the ISP.

Personally I am a purist for permission, in the Seth Godin sense of the word. If you want to send truly effective email marketing campaigns (not just deliverability, but overall ROI), and maximise your chances of reaching the inbox, then make sure you have permission to do so from the person you are sending to. Not only is this sensible commercially, but also legally – by ensuring your recipients have actually consented, or opted-in to receive communications from your company or brand, you are highly likely to be in compliance with most Anti-SPAM legislation that exists around the globe.

The consideration from a deliverability perspective is that permission best practices usually go hand in hand with data management best practice- making sure your list is clean of bad data which may hard bounce, making sure the data you have has an associated date stamp (be it acquisition source date, or last click/open), and making sure all those people who have unsubscribed, or opted out, of receiving your communications have been removed before send.

This in turn means that the metrics which receivers will judge you on should be relatively good, or at the very least, better than the worst offenders (spammers) – I.e. they won’t see you having loads of bounces, generating lots of complaints or unsubscribes and people will actually open and click within your emails.

If you are not sure what happens to the email once it has reached an ISP, then there are some key things to look at which may give you some insight. They will also help better protect yourself as a sender:

  • Monitor key metrics such as open & click rates – particularly by domain. If you are seeing noticeably lower rates at a particular domain that can be a good indicator that you are having some issues reaching inboxes at that ISP.
  • Also look at complaint rates and unsubscribe rates – make sure you are signed up to feedback loops and are able to process those complaints (your ESP should be able to handle this for you). If complaints are high this is potentially because subscribers are seeing your message as junk, or perhaps not expecting to receive it. If unsubscribe rates are particularly high then something is potentially very wrong as your subscribers have asked to receive these emails.
  • Track and Monitor your Sender Score – this will give you good insight into how receivers (ISPs) are viewing you as a sender. They will look at similar metrics – this can be done for free at
  • Regularly check your Inbox Placement – this will give you an indication of how ISPs are classifying the messages you are sending, either sending them direct to Inbox, placing them into the JUNK folder, or perhaps deleting them without a second look – this can be done by seeding your list with your own accounts at key ISPs, or by using a third-party such as Return Path’s Mailbox Monitor or IBM Unica’s Email Optimization tool
  • Sign up for SNDS – this is operated by Hotmail, but if you have a good proportion of Hotmail addresses on your list then this will provide useful insight into whether you are hitting any spam traps

Note that many of these depend on you being able to send from your own dedicated IP address – by doing this you typically need to maintain a good level of volume in order for receivers to have a consistent view of you as a sender, but even if you don’t have masses of volume at least you are in complete control of what is sent from your IP address. This way you are not held accountable to senders who may be using the same shared IP range as you, but who may have completely different business models or data management practices, which may not be as good as yours…

By constantly monitoring these aspects of your campaigns, you can tweak and adapt your email marketing programmes when issues arise, and are much better placed to maximise your chances of those emails reaching the inbox, in turn helping you to achieve your marketing goals.

This entry was posted in Best Practice, Deliverability, Permission, Strategy on by .
Jolyon Hunter

About Jolyon Hunter

As a marketing consultant at ExactTarget, Joe works with clients to optimise their deliverability, creatve and marketing programmes, deliver best practive advice and provide training on how to manage their social media presence using ExactTarget tools, Since 2003, Joe has worked in a number of different roles in the industry. Past employers include Acxiom, OgilvyOne London, before joining ExactTarget in 2010.

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