How to increase email deliverability: 6 best practices for your most important marketing channel

By Chuck Leddy

Before it lands in any recipient’s inbox, marketing email requires effective data management, dedicated time (and resources), as well as continuous testing and monitoring. But how informed are marketers about best practices in email deliverability? Before we answer that question, let’s begin by defining terms. Email deliverability is simply the ability of an email message to arrive in the recipient’s inbox (without getting bounced or ending up in a spam filter). Deliverability is massively important for B2B marketers, since email is a critically important channel. According to research from the UK-based Data and Marketing Association (DMA), the return-on-investment/ROI for email marketing is 35: 1, meaning email generates $35 in revenues for every $1 invested in it. 

According to a DMA survey, 91% of all marketers clearly understand the financial impact of email deliverability: put simply, a failure to reach customer inboxes reduces the performance of a marketing email, which reduces marketing ROI. Email deliverability is impacted by numerous factors, such as spam filters or email blacklists. Consistently low email open rates may also reduce your sender reputation, which may also negatively impact deliverability. 

These and many other challenges related to email deliverability were the subject of a live, June 2 webinar called “Email Deliverability 2020 — A Journey to the Inbox,” sponsored by Validity and offering research-based insights from the Data and Marketing Association/DMA.

Survey results on email deliverability 

The webinar kicked off with the DMA’s Head of Insight, Tim Bond, explaining results from a recent DMA survey on deliverability. Bond emphasized the importance of email to B2B marketing, noting that “mistakes related to deliverability will impact the bottom line” for campaigns. Indeed, the DMA survey showed that 55% of all marketers perceived email deliverability as either “important” or “most important” for what they do. 

Surprisingly, Bond also noted that fewer than half (48%) of surveyed marketers “are completely familiar with email deliverability” as a concept. Moreover, this familiarity is connected to the size of the business. Over 60% of marketers at large companies are “completely familiar” with deliverability, while that number is below 40% for marketers at small businesses.

What factors do marketers cite as impacting the most on email deliverability, according to the DMA survey? The top three factors were: (1) data quality (45% of marketers cited it); (2) content quality (cited by 44%); and (3) the sender’s reputation (cited by 42%). As we’ll see again later in this post, data quality is essential for effective deliverability. In perhaps the most surprising result of the DMA survey, 53% of marketers viewed the impact of GDPR as positive on their email marketing efforts, while only 19% viewed the data privacy regulation as negative. As Bond explained, “GDPR’s demand for clear unsubscription notices has been good for email deliverability,” helping reduce spam notifications and blacklisting (which lead to reduced sender reputations and, yes, decreased deliverability).

6 best practices to increase deliverability

Marketers can reduce email deliverability concerns by following a number of best practices, which include cleaning your email list (i.e., good data hygiene), sending emails with high-quality content (helps your reputation, impacting deliverability), and leveraging a “double opt-in” process that helps you increase subscriber engagement and stay out of spam traps. Bond, and webinar guest speaker Steve Lunniss, Head of CRM Delivery and Development at UK-based online retailer Wowcher & LivingSocial, offered multiple tips on increasing email deliverability:

  1. Respond appropriately to bounced emails. Bond noted that 1 in 5 marketers do nothing about bounced emails, and this cuts across all sizes of company. The best practice is clear, explains Bond: “bounced emails should be suppressed” (taken off your send list). Data hygiene, keeping your list clean, is crucial to maintain your sender reputation.
  2. Email validation. Lunniss strongly recommends that marketers “run data hygiene checks on their subscribers when they sign up, using AI tools” that can flag an email address such as Bill@gmail.com. As Lunniss explains, “it’s very unlikely that a first name only is a valid email address.” 
  3. Sunsetting. This practice, suggested by Lunniss, enables marketers to remove disengaged users from their list over time, and based on a lack of engagement. “When subscribers who aren’t engaging with you are taken off your list, that’s good for everybody involved.” You might trigger sunsetting for a lack of opens over a specified time period, a lack of purchasing, or other engagement factors.
  4. Certification. You can enhance your sender reputation, and thus remain out of trouble (spam folders, etc.), if you get certification by a third party entity and audit your practices/processes to maintain certification. The steps it will take to get certified will actually help you work smarter on deliverability. Obviously, any certifying entity would require you to follow GDPR, provide clear unsub processes, and more, notes Lunniss.
  5. List unsubscribe. When you make it clear that recipients can unsubscribe from your list, that helps all involved. Recipients who don’t want to engage won’t report you as spam and add you to their spam filter, which hurts your reputation (and deliverability). 
  6. Use AI tools to drive recipient engagement. Low open rates will hurt your reputation and thus your deliverability, so Lunniss encourages marketers to use AI tools (such as Phrasee) to write subject lines and content that are optimized for opens and engagement. His own company has used AI tools to increase its open rates, he says.

In conclusion, increasing email deliverability takes a number of best practices working in tandem. Following the half-dozen practices described in this post will help you reduce bounced emails and keep more of your email out of the spam filter, while increasing both deliverability and ROI. Never forget that email remains the most effective marketing tool you have, so ensuring that your messages reach your recipient’s inbox is vitally important for your success.

Are you ready to improve your email deliverability? Boost the ROI of your email marketing? We can help – reach out to us today! On a related note, please check-out one of our latest Customer Success Spotlights…

We recently teamed up with one of our UK Oracle Eloqua customers to help them optimize their email marketing performance, starting with their data. How? By building a new Contact Washing Machine, and an Area of Interest solution. Our customer has seen improved performance across several key email marketing metrics:

  • Click-through rate has increased by 1.15%
  • Unsubscribe rate has reduced from 0.05% to 0.02%
  • Hard bounceback rate has reduced from 2.89% to 1.51%

And it doesn’t stop there! The improved performance of their email marketing has had a positive impact on their pipeline, increasing the quality of leads passed to sales by 9%. Cheers! 

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