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The 15 Biggest Email Deliverability Myths: Debunked

Michael Becker
Michael Becker

There’s a lot that goes into sending a successfully-delivered email beyond just pushing the “send” button within your ESP or marketing platform.

How can you keep your IP from being blacklisted? How can you be sure your emails are being opened and read rather than unsubscribed from or deleted outright? What kind of content affects the chances of inbox placement versus your message being marked as spam?

Separating fact from fiction isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. We’ve created the ultimate list of 15 email deliverability myths to help ensure you’re on the right track.

General Email Marketing Myths

1. Email marketing is dead and emails won’t be read.

Let’s get this one out of the way first. Email offers the best ROI of any digital channel with a median ROI of 122%Email is not dead — it’s STILL the hottest commodity out there.

2. More emails = more revenue. 

Quantity sometimes — but not always — has something to do with revenue. A better way to think about amount is that more valuable emails will lead to more revenue. Sending to frequently leads to irritated customers who don’t want repetitive, annoying emails… those will result in lower deliverability and less business.

3. Mass sends to broadly segmented lists are good enough.

Just because something’s the status quo doesn’t mean it’s the best you can do. Brands using personalized emails are seeing these more relevant messages outperform standard mass sends. Are you sending relevant content that’s personalized for each subscriber? Have you asked each subscriber how often they want to receive mail from you? Do you include compelling calls-to-action in each email you send? Are you delivering emails at the best time for each individual?

4. High Return Path sender score automatically indicates great deliverability rates.

A high sender score — say, in the upper 90s — is great. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have an equally high inbox placement rate. We love our partner, Return Path, and their Sender Score is one great indicator of sender reputation, but even if your Sender Score is high, if subscribers don’t engage with your emails, you still risk mail getting placed in the spam folder.

5. Unsubscribes will kill my reputation and/or deliverability.

On the contrary, unsubscribes won’t drastically affect deliverability. Consider an unsubscribe as a favor — recipients are self-selecting whether they want to remain on your list, and engage with you. Why continue sending to people who don’t care what you have to say? Unsubscribes are a blessing in disguise — they remove disengaged contacts, reduce complaints, and make for a healthier list.

A high unsubscribe rate, usually above 0.2 to 0.5% can be an indicator that you’re sending a relatively high amount of either unwanted or unexpected mail.

Email Creation, Content, & Campaign Execution Myths

6. Once I have a subscriber’s email address, I can send anything I want.

Just the opposite — new regulations (like the GDPR) either require you to or present an opportunity to be more diligent, strategic, and truthful about what you send to whom. Regardless, ensure that you’re only sending to addresses you’ve acquired by direct opt-in. Second, at the point of opt-in, set expectations with the subscriber about what you’ll be sending and how often you’ll be sending it.

  • If the subscriber opted-in to receive a monthly newsletter, then sending a weekly marketing email would violate the expectation set with the subscriber.
  • If a subscriber opts-in to hear from brand X and you send emails from brands X, Y, and Z, that subscriber is going to complain about the mail from brands Y and Z. Subscribers complain and unsubscribe when they get emails they’re not expecting.

7. Content has no effect on deliverability.

Content doesn’t factor into spam filtering decisions as heavily as it once did, but it’s still important to develop content that doesn’t resemble spam. Best practices to avoid when thinking about content includes using too many images or too many links (spammers sometimes try to masquerade their messages in images, and use an over proportion of images to text).

Still, significant deliverability issues are rarely caused by content. Deliverability is much more impacted by sender reputation which includes abuse complaints, opens, CTRs, messages “passed by,” email design, engagement, and permission-based collection tactics. Don’t worry too much about making content mistakes.

Top reasons recipients decide to open an email include “sender name” and “subject line.” Source

List Cleansing, Authentication, & List Buying Myths

8. Data hygiene and cleansing is the silver bullet to good deliverability.

Data hygiene is not the silver bullet to good deliverability — data hygiene will get rid of misspelled addresses and inactive addresses, but it won’t completely reduce the risk of blacklisting by 100%. But, removing subscribers who have not engaged in more than 12 months instantly increases deliverability rate by 3 to 5%.

Similarly, using a list cleaning service won’t cleanse a database of all invalid addresses and spam traps. Why not? There is no service out there that has a complete and definitive list of all invalid and spamtrap addresses. The best way to keep a clean and valid list? Remove addresses that are hard bouncing and those that aren’t opening, clicking, or otherwise engaging after several campaigns or sends.

9. Feedback loops provide an email address for every subscriber who complains about the email being sent.

Feedback loops are offered by some ISPs and mail receivers to let senders know which of their users is complaining about the emails being sent to them. That’s valuable information, but not every ISP and domain you send to offers a feedback loop, so there’s no way to know about every single subscriber who is complaining about email by marking it as spam.

Of those that do offer feedback loops, many send back a “representative sample” of complaints that can be anywhere from 10-60% of the actual amount of complaints.

Gmail offers a feedback loop — but because of privacy concerns, it’s anonymized data that states how many complaints were lodged on a particular day rather than which specific subscribers complained. There is some value in knowing how many Gmail subscribers are complaining, but that number doesn’t allow senders to remove individual subscribers from their list.

10. Sending authenticated mail is a pass to the inbox.

Authentication may help receivers differentiate authentic from inauthentic mail, but it doesn’t indicate whether the mail is legitimate or wanted.

However, “Domain Keys Identified Mail” or DKIM (essentially a standard online signature of sorts allowing email clients to confirm that you’re a legitimate sender) and “Sender Policy Framework” or SPF (basically enables email clients to confirm you’re sending from an authorized server) are good methods to authenticate your emails — and increase credibility, trust, and reputation — to boost deliverability. They indicate that you are who you say you are.

But if you’re sending mail to subscribers who aren’t expecting or no longer want the mail, authentication isn’t going to keep that message in the inbox.

11. Purchasing or renting a list can help to quickly build a quality audience.

Purchasing or renting lists are one way of building an audience quickly, but they’re not a good way to build a quality list of engaged subscribers. Subscribers complain about mail they aren’t expecting, so if somebody didn’t opt-in to hear from you, they’re highly likely to unsubscribe or complain that the mail you’re sending is spam.  Depending on where in the world you are and who you’re sending to, purchasing or renting data might be in contravention of prevailing anti-spam law.

Email Marketing Platform and ESP Myths

12. My email marketing platform provider is responsible for monitoring my deliverability.

Maybe, if you’re paying for that service. However, if you’re not, it’s unlikely that there is somebody monitoring each campaign or email if there is an issue. Senders need to be responsible for, and aware of, any issues that are caused by campaigns. An ESP doesn’t typically decide which list to send to, how often,  or what is considered an “engaged” subscriber.


“It’s a rumor that having a suite of deliverability tools at hand will make your deliverability good. These tools will help you identify whether you have a problem and often (but not always) will point you in the direction of resolution.

Most deliverability problems are caused by a lack of a clear strategy. Without a strategy at hand, designating objectives, and tactics to be used to achieve these objectives, brands can (inadvertently) abuse/misuse their list, their permissions, and their consumers.

After 18 years of dealing with deliverability issues, the most common causes I’ve seen include:

  • Not setting a reasonable frequency suited to your buying cycle — either over-mailing, under-mailing, sending adhoc emails or having spikes in send frequency)
  • Not delivering the value promised when the subscriber first signed up
  • Not gaining permission and/or emailing to bought/rented third party lists
  • Not having basic list hygiene processes in place
  • Not warming up a dedicated IP addresses

Most of these issues can be prevented by having a comprehensive strategy in place. While deliverability is often thought of and treated as a technical issue, it’s more often a lack of strategic input, which needs to be addressed by the marketer with the aid of the tool.”

Kath Pay • Head Consultant, Holistic Email Marketing@kathpay LinkedIn


13. An email marketing platform’s overall rate of deliverability matters.

Any platform that is bragging about inbox placement or deliverability is going to tout a number in the high 90s.

First, how do you really know that Platform X has a 98% inbox placement rate? There is no way for anyone to corroborate the deliverability or inbox placement rate a platform is claiming. We simply take that platform’s word for it.

Second, we know that inbox placement rests almost entirely with the sender and their sending practices, so isn’t that 98% inbox placement rate due more to that platform’s users and less because of some magic possessed by the platform?

Every legitimate sending platform has really good senders with really high inbox placement and they also have poor senders with poor inbox placement.  What matters is where you want your inbox placement to be and what you’re willing and able to do to make that happen.

14. My email marketing platform provider has special relationships with ISPs and blacklists that prevent blocking and blacklisting.

ISPs and blacklists don’t offer “relationships” as a service where you can get emails unblocked or your domain or IP delisted. Somebody with your email marketing platform provider might know somebody who works in anti-abuse at AOL, Gmail, or at a blacklist, but they’re not going to leverage that to get unwanted mail delivered to the inbox.

Our ESP has a secret sauce.


“There is no secret handshake or deliverability trick that is only known to the ‘secret sauce society.’ This myth originated sadly by the email Service Providers (ESP) themselves as it was seen as a way to stand out in a very crowded marketplace. I once talked with a sales representative of a then big ESP that ensured me they have a separate pipeline into Gmail that goes directly into the inbox. I looked at him like, ‘really? What do you think, people are stupid?’ This is simply untrue.

There are ESPs that don’t have the basics of deliverability, like email authentication or their configuration right. The best thing you can do is to talk with your new ESP about deliverability.”

 Jordie van Rijn Email Marketing Automation Consultant @jvanrijn


 

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of rumors — and accepted fallacies shaping how you’re executing your email marketing strategy — out there about what works and what doesn’t work for deliverability.

Email works, and it works well if you get it right.  Leveraging a marketing automation platform to augment and enhance the mail being sent is great, but good deliverability is the result of good practices and not necessarily because of something a platform provides.

The most important measures to take to optimize email deliverability include:

  • Only emailing subscribers who’ve directly opted in, and sending subscribers relevant, personalized content
  • Authenticating email with DKIM and SPF to help receivers verify that mail is really coming from who it says it’s coming from
  • Keeping data clean by regularly re-engaging or removing subscribers who aren’t opening, clicking, or otherwise engaging with your brand.

Your best chance of getting emails to recipients’ inboxes is to send quality, valuable messages to people who actually want to hear from you when, where, and how they indicate.

Special thanks to Phil Schott and Ashlyn East on the Emarsys Deliverability team for their assistance with this piece; to Jordie van Rijn, independent email marketing consultant; and to Kath Pay, Head Consultant at Holistic Email Marketing!

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