Three Fundamentals of Email Deliverability

Understanding the Who, What, and How of Email Delivery:

Explaining the drivers of email deliverability can be a challenge. There are still a lot of myths about email deliverability floating around.

I recently created a new, simpler, and clearer way to explain deliverability. And this approach seems to crystallize understanding with some people. Let’s give it a try:

There are only three fundamental things that drive your email deliverability:

  • “who” you are sending to,
  • “what” you are sending, and
  • the “how” (your email sending technology)

Any deliverability improvement requires changing one of these factors. Everything else can either be categorized as:

a) the results of one of these three things. (for example, your complaint rate is determined by “who” you send to and “what” you send), or

b) something that changes one or more of these three things (for example, removing subscribers who complain by using a feedback loop improves the “who” you send to

Who You Are Sending To

This is the recipient list of the email. This includes factors like:

  • What level of permission do you have from these recipients? Permission is a spectrum going all the way from the best of “confirmed-opt-in,” to “single-opt-in,” down to things like a “pre-checked checkbox on your order page” or “coregistration” or a “purchased list.”
  • What level of relationship do you have with the recipients? Human relationships are complex, and there are many factors that go into them, but here are a few examples:
    • Are these recipients your best donors or your entire donor list?
    • Are you sending only to people who are engaged with your email, as evidenced by their opening and clicking on your emails, or including those who have tuned you out?
    • Are you sending to a list you haven’t sent to in three years where the recipients may have forgotten who you are?
  • Are you segmenting so that your messages go only to recipients who will find the message relevant? For example, if you have a special offer regarding pool covers, perhaps send it to just the recipients who have bought pool related equipment from you.

What You Are Sending

This is the content that you are sending. (And, for the sake of completeness, when you send it.) This includes factors like:

  • Are you sending content that is valuable to your recipients? For example, does the content look like an advertisement delivered through email, or is it a newsletter with valuable information that will educate your subscribers, help them accomplish a goal, or provide a relevant special offer? This is an entire spectrum, and the closer you can move towards sending content that your recipients look forward to, the better.
  • Does your email look attractive and professional?
  • Does your content have just one large image? (This is a spam signature)
  • Is your HTML correctly formatted? (Having HTML validation errors can cause spam filtering.)

How Your Email Sending Technology Works

This is the system that you are using to send your email. A solid technical foundation is required for good email delivery. But because even senders of unsolicited email can set up a solid technical foundation, this does not guarantee email delivery.

This includes factors like:

  • Is email authentication properly setup?: SPF, DKIM, and reverse DNS.
  • Are you opening too many connections to an ISP and getting blocked because of that?
  • Are you sending too fast on a warm-up and getting blocked?
  • Are you sharing IPs that have earned a bad reputation or got blacklisted from other email sent out on them?
  • Does your software generate reports detailing exactly how each ISP is treating your
    email: complaint rates, bounce rate, ISP error messages, and inbox delivery rates?

What About Reputation?

Everyone asks, doesn’t your “reputation” determine email delivery? Yes, reputation is one of the most significant factors in email delivery, but your reputation is built from these three factors.

For example, a huge portion of your reputation is determined by how people click, open, and click the “Spam” button for your email. How people respond to your email is determined by the “who” (their experiences with you and your email) and the “what” (the email you just sent them).

The role of software and consulting

What’s the role of great software and email deliverability consulting in all of this? Of course, software is intimately a part of the “how.” But the best software, like GreenArrow, gives you tools to measure results and to improve the “who,” “what,” and “how”.

For example, using GreenArrow Studio or Engine to track clicks and opens allows you to segment to just recipients who are engaging with your email — something that tightens up the “who” of your email. The breadth of reporting provided by GreenArrow Engine provides concrete, actionable data to determine effective changes in the “who,” “what,” and “how.”

These areas are interdependent. Without a solid “who” and “what” you will not see good results regardless of how great the “how” is. And, likewise, a bad “how” can sabotage a good “who” and “what.”

A good deliverability consultant will survey the entire landscape of the “who,” “what,” and “how” and provide recommendations. Beware of consultants or solutions that promise a “technical magic bullet,” which only focuses on the “how.”

GreenArrow, with email software, monitoring, and consulting, provides a comprehensive solution.


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