Email Deliverability Essentials: 6 Must-Know Tips

Elements to get your message to the Inbox

Nobody can guarantee perfect Inbox delivery. Even the best campaigns can run into occasional glitches that cause your mail to be filtered and have you seeking the guidance of an email deliverability expert. Here, in plain language, are the key elements of an email marketing campaign for getting your message to the Inbox.

But what can be guaranteed is that high engagement and low complaints will enhance or restore your sender reputation with the ISPs, and give you the best shot at reaching your goal: your subscribers’ Inbox.

The hope is that this simple list of deliverability best practices will help you avoid making the mistakes that other mailers make and put you on the right path to achieving high deliverability.

1) It all starts with your subscriber list

Get explicit and high-quality permission

  • Permission – Make sure you get explicit permission to send email to an address. While you may assume permission is given because someone gives you their email address in a web form, the recipient may not have understood they were giving that permission unless you are clear with what that email address will be used for. The same is true if those permissions are buried in your Privacy policy. Permission that is assumed just because their email address was given often results in high complaint rates and low engagement levels. Also, when a subscriber gives you permission to send them emails about a specific product or service, they are only agreeing to receive information about that product or service specifically. In other words, if they agreed to receive information about baby clothes, it doesn’t give you permission to send information about power tools or dog food or anything else.
  • Set Expectations – In addition to receiving explicit permission, it is always a good idea to properly set the expectations as to what your subscriber will receive. Let them know what they will receive and how often they will receive it. Provide an example on your website of the emails that they will receive from you. This lets the subscriber know what they can expect and the value they will receive.
  • Build Your Own Lists – DO NOT buy or rent third-party lists, or use a list that was derived from some other site with permission specific only to that site. Just because it’s “opt-in” doesn’t mean it’s your opt-in.
  • DON’T pre-check the opt-in box to add subscribers to your list – Instead, let the user check the box indicating that they want your emails.
  • Confirmed Opt-In – Consider a confirm/double opt-in signup process. A confirmation email message requires the subscriber to click on a link to confirm they want to receive your emails. This verifies the subscriber’s email address and their interest in your emails. This helps ensure lower complaints – and the ISPs love to hear that you’re doing this when it comes time for a consultant to go to bat on your behalf.
  • DON’T incentivize email sign-ups – You’ll get bad data. While this seems like a good idea to get more opt-in addresses, the quality of these addresses will suffer since a good percentage of people will use a fake address to sign-up just to get your incentive. This increases invalid rates and complaint rates and could cause serious damage to your sending reputation. However, if you do decide to use an incentive, use it only in combination with a confirmed opt-in process (see above).
  • DON’T bury permission where people won’t see it – “Permission” that is not seen is no permission at all! This includes small fonts, faded text, or permission buried in your Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy pages. Be as obvious and straightforward as possible when obtaining permission and setting the expectations for the subscriber.
  • Remove duplicate addresses from your lists – so that subscribers don’t get more than one copy of any email.
  • Do not reactivate old subscribers – Many of these old subscribers have probably turned into spam traps. Remove addresses that have not opened a message in the last 9 months or longer or that have not been mailed to in the last 3 months. Put in place a policy to re-engage subscribers that have not opened an email in 3-6 months, so they won’t fall off your list after 9 months of inactivity.

2) Create a relationship with your subscriber

Let them know what they’ll receive from you and when they’ll receive it – and then deliver!

  • Provide an example – on your website of the emails that they will receive from you. This lets the subscriber know what they can expect and the value they will receive.
  • Send a Welcome Letter – to your new subscriber no later than 3 days after they’ve signed up. This is a special message that thanks the subscriber for trusting you with their contact information and begins the personal relationship with your company. For more information, see our blog post on The Welcome Letter.
  • Create a good impression by engaging right away – Send the first regular email within 10 days of subscribing. If too much time passes between signup and that first regular delivery, the subscriber might forget that they subscribed and will flag the email as spam. (If complaints are an issue, check out another post:  9 Reasons You’re Getting Spam Complaints, (& How to Fix Them!) Plus, those customers who actively sought out your newsletter and subscribed may become annoyed if they don’t receive an email within a week or two, or they may feel like they have to take the time to re-subscribe. The delayed or failed delivery hurts the customer’s impression of your brand and casts doubt on the reliability of your website and IT systems. And – perhaps most importantly – you’re missing out on possible opens, clicks, and sales! Subscribers who start receiving emails earlier are more likely to engage your emails and make a purchase earlier because they were already in the mode of shopping or interacting with your brand. This interaction also aids in establishing a good email reputation with the ISPs.
  • Maintain a consistent “FROM” name and email address – preferably your recognizable company name. Brand name recognition is key to reducing complaints. And be sure that name always matches the brand they signed up for. You don’t want to sign up at “” and then get an email from “Proctor and Gamble.”
  • Match the look and field of the branding and style of the website where they signed up – This provides a comfort level with your mailing that is familiar to your subscribers and serves to create an association with future email and solidifies the relationship.
  • Form a relationship that goes both ways – ask them to add your name to their address book. Include a prominent line in your email asking subscribers to add you to their mailbox or safe senders list. This makes you basically “whitelisted” for that subscriber. A free tool is available here to automatically provide instructions to several major ISPs and email platforms, branded with your brand that you can add to your website.

3) Be polite when asked to leave

You’ll improve your overall delivery rates!

  • Include a prominent unsubscribe link – Case studies have shown that when there is an unsubscribe link near the top of the page, there are fewer complaints. The unsubscribe process should be simple, using only one or two clicks.
  • Honor all unsubscribe requests immediately – Good email software programs do this automatically for subscribers that click on the provided unsubscribe link.
  • Remove invalid emails and spam complaints from your list immediately – Resending to addresses that have complained or were bounced back as an invalid address sends up a big red flag at ISPs! Good email software programs automatically remove names when complaints are received via feedback loops, as well as invalid or bounced email addresses.

4) Beware of inactive subscribers on your mailing list

They may not report you as spam, but they hurt your engagement rates and your delivery

  • Try to re-engage inactive subscribers with special offers or incentives – Do this regularly when an email address becomes inactive for 60 to 90 days.
  • Try re-permission campaigns – Ask them to reconfirm their subscription before it expires.
  • Be aware that addresses that have been inactive for a very long time may have become invalid or converted to a spam trap.
  • Remove inactive subscribers from your list. Remember, when it comes to mailing lists, it’s a matter of Quality vs. Quantity – see article Email Deliverability – Quality vs. Quantity. The importance of removing inactive subscribers from your list can’t be overstated. These subscribers don’t open or click, so they drag down your engagement rates, your reputation with ISPs, and your delivery – even to those subscribers who do want your mail. We’ve seen senders who, by halving the size of their mailing list by removing non-engagers, actually increased deliverability and their revenue. At a minimum, remove subscribers that have not engaged with your email in at least 9 months.

5) Don’t ignore the nuts and bolts

Testing your list, monitoring engagement and creating a readable message are essentials for a successful campaign

  • Use an Inbox monitoring tool – or send emails to your own seeds at the major ISPs before the main campaign is sent. Discover any potential problems before you send the real mailing. Then also test the actual campaign, so you can see if any delivery problems occurred in live sending. Address those problems before your next campaign.
  • Test rendering – Know what your message really looks like on the various platforms. If your email looks broken, you’ll disappoint your subscribers and erode your brand. An unprofessional-looking message will also prompt more complaints.
  • Run messages through a Spam Assassin tool – to check the content and other factors in your email that may suggest spam to ISPs.
  • Test all links in messages before sending – A link that is not working leaves a bad impression and could prompt your subscriber to unsubscribe or mark your message as spam.
  • Use engagement statistics: high opens, high clicks, and low complaints, to see how “wanted” you message is – Regularly A/B test to try to determine what engages your subscribers. Look at campaigns that performed well (high opens/clicks, low complaints) or campaigns that performed poorly (low opens/clicks, high complaints) to determine what works for your subscribers. Taking this one step further and breaking this down by address source can pinpoint specific areas causing deliverability issues.  You can learn more about the True Measure of Deliverability here.
  • Include a text-only version of the email – If a subscriber can’t receive HTML or is reading your email on a cell phone without HTML capability, your message will not be seen. Also, include non- image text within your HTML messages so that a subscriber can read at least the pertinent parts of your email even if images are not enabled.

6) Comply with the CAN-SPAM law

If you are in the U.S., you are legally required to comply with the CAN-SPAM law. For all other senders, complying is a good idea. However, compliance with CAN-SPAM does not mean that your email is guaranteed to be delivered to the Inbox – the law still allows ISPs to filter CAN-SPAM compliant email, and they do.

  • Include a prominently displayed unsubscribe link in each email that provides a simple method for unsubscribing – preferably a one or two click method. No login or password should be required.
  • Honor all unsubscribe requests within 10 business days, including those received via US Postal mail or email.
  • Include a valid postal address and return email address on all messages. P.O. Box addresses are allowed.
  • Provide a valid header (routing) information
  • Do not use a deceptive subject line
  • Don’t use false or misleading transmission information
  • Clearly identify the sole sender of the message
  • Clearly identify the message as an advertisement or solicitation

By taking to heart these battle-tested principles for creating a successful campaign – even those that are difficult (like testing) or painful (like reducing the size of your mailing list) you will increase your chances of reaching your subscribers’ Inbox. Utilizing these keys and employing a trusted email deliverability company will undoubtedly help to improve your email deliverability rates.

DRH Internet, experts of Email Deliverability and Email Sending Software, provide the GreenArrow product suite, which includes GreenArrow Monitor, an Email Deliverability Monitoring product that helps maximize the insight into transactional and marketing emails reaching the Inbox. Call GreenArrow by DRH Internet today toll-free at 1-866-374-4678.


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