Email deliverability refers to the ability of an email message to arrive in a recipient’s inbox. Deliverability also involves inbox placement — whether an email appears in the primary inbox, the promotional tab, another inbox, or the dreaded spam folder.
Deliverability can seem like a confusing topic, but it doesn’t have to be. In this post, we’ll answer 9 FAQs about email deliverability — so you can get your emails in front of more people.
The 9 email deliverability FAQs are:
- What’s the difference between email delivery and email deliverability?
- I switched email service providers (ESPs). Why did my open rate decrease?
- Why did my email go to spam?
- When is the best time to send an email?
- How do I make sure my first email to a new contact gets delivered?
- Should I set up DKIM?
- How often should I clean out my email lists?
- Will changing my IP address fix my deliverability issues?
- Why shouldn’t I email my entire contact list at once?
Let’s dive in!
1. What’s the difference between email delivery and email deliverability?
Email delivery is when an email is delivered to the receiving email server.
Email deliverability is when an email is delivered to the recipient’s inbox.
Delivery is the first part of the journey to the recipient’s inbox. An unsuccessful email delivery is called an email bounce. When an email bounces, it means that the email never made it past the receiving server.
What causes an email to bounce?
- A temporary delivery error (aka soft bounce)
- Server unavailability
- A permanent delivery error (aka a hard bounce)
Deliverability is the path the email takes once it’s accepted by the recipient’s server. An email might go into the:
- Primary inbox
- Spam folder
- Promotions tab
- Social tab
Once it’s past the server and lands in an inbox, the recipient’s engagement with the email helps to determine your future email deliverability. Email engagement is the holy grail of email deliverability because it means that recipients are opening and taking action on the emails you send.
Think of it this way: If you go to a conference, email delivery gets you through the door and into the venue. Email deliverability gets you to your seat.
2. I switched email service providers (ESPs). Why did my open rate decrease?
Every time you switch ESPs, you need to rebuild your sender reputation. A change in engagement is not always a sign that you’re doing something wrong!
Warming up your IP address lets you gradually send more and more emails to establish a good sender reputation. When you gradually increase the number of emails you send with a dedicated IP address, you can establish a reputation with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as a legitimate email sender more quickly.
When you switch ESPs, don’t send to everyone on your list at once. When you message your most active contacts first, you’ll see higher engagement rates. The more contacts who engage with your initial emails, the quicker you’ll build up your sender reputation. Add in your less engaged contacts more gradually.
Learn more about deliverability in your first 30 days on a new ESP here.
3. Why did my email go to spam?
Most times, your email lands in the spam filter based on the recipient’s past behavior. (Inbox providers are getting smarter, so it’s hard to pinpoint a single reason your email goes to spam.)
Your contact’s inbox provider notices when they don’t open a certain type of email or emails from a certain sender. The inbox provider uses that information to figure out whether they should put your email in front of the contact (like in Gmail’s Primary inbox tab) or not (in the spam folder).
Gmail is at the forefront of email engagement filtering. Here’s how Gmail figures out whether your email goes to the spam folder:
- Gmail checks to see if the recipient is engaged with their inbox at all. Do they log in, open email, or send email regularly?
- If the recipient is engaged, do they actively engage with this sender compared to others? If someone engages with emails from Amazon but doesn’t engage with daily horoscope content, Gmail will route the horoscope content to the junk or spam folder.
- If the recipient sees a message in the spam folder and drags it into the primary inbox, that helps retrain the inbox to not mark those emails as spam. Gmail puts more weight on marking an email as “Not spam” in the spam folder than on marking one as spam feature in the inbox.
While past engagement and sender reputation are two big spam filter factors, make sure to also keep these spam words to avoid in mind when crafting your emails.
4. When is the best time to send an email?
The best time to send an email depends on your brand, business, and contacts.
In other words, the best time to send an email is when your contacts want to receive it. Some contacts want a daily, weekly, or monthly email. Other contacts only want to hear from you when you have a discount to offer.
For each email, ask yourself:
- How have contacts engaged with similar emails sent at similar times in the past? Is there room for improvement?
- Where in the customer journey does this email make the most sense?
- When would I want to receive this email?
Put yourself in your contacts’ shoes: if you just bought a car, would you want to receive a bunch of emails related to buying a car right after?
Every contact is different, so pinpointing the best time to send an email is never an exact science. Predictive Sending uses machine learning to analyze each contact’s opens, clicks, and conversions to figure out the best send time for that person. Learn more about Predictive Sending here.
5. How do I make sure my first email to a new contact gets delivered?
Your first email to a contact is like a bouncer in a club. Your ESP wants to make sure that you’re only sending to valid contacts, so you might see a higher invalid user bounce rate on these first messages.
To reduce your email bounce rates, make sure you use organic acquisition methods, like collecting leads from your website rather than buying an email list. You should also check to make sure that your lead capture forms haven’t been attacked by a spambot.
First emails to new contacts can have higher-than-average spam complaint rates because your contact isn’t always expecting your email. When a contact opts-in to your list through a pre-checked box on a checkout page, they may not want your email content — they just wanted their purchase.
If you have deliverability issues with your confirmation emails, look at your bounces and unsubscribe requests to see if you can identify a trend and the possible cause.
6. Should I set up DKIM?
You should set up DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) if:
- You have a DMARC policy in place that requires DKIM
- You frequently send internal messages to your domain
- You have an excellent domain reputation
What is DKIM?
DKIM is an email authentication method used to detect forged sender email addresses (email spoofing) to prevent phishing and spam.
DMARC policies (aka Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance policies) are special web records that help control the use of your website domain in the sender field of a message. Depending on your DMARC policy, your emails will go to the spam folder (or even fail to deliver) if the message is not signed with a DKIM signature. To learn more about using DKIM and DMARC with ActiveCampaign, click here.
If you use your ESP to send a lot of emails to other contacts at your company, DKIM helps your internal mail system recognize these messages as legitimate — even though they come from an outside source (your ESP, like ActiveCampaign) as opposed to an internal source (your company’s email system, like Gmail or Outlook).
Finally, if you have a good domain reputation, setting up DKIM helps you make the most of that positive reputation. All website domains have domain reputations that measure how “good” or “bad” of a sender you are. Your domain reputation is based on your email-sending history with your domain in the sender field.
You should not set up DKIM if:
- You have a neutral or bad domain reputation
If you have a bad domain reputation because of poor sending practices in the past, or if you just started out and haven’t established any reputation yet, you should use ActiveCampaign’s established reputation for sending messages instead of setting up DKIM.
Your individual domain reputation still affects how inbox providers perceive your message, but keeping positive sending practices and using ActiveCampaign for authentication can help you establish a positive reputation (or rehabilitate a poor one). For more info on how to review your domain reputation, click here.
7. How often should I clean out my email lists?
You should review and clean out your email lists often. One of the main causes of deliverability issues is poor list hygiene. When you don’t review your email lists often enough, your lists might have email addresses that are:
- Closed or inactive
Sending to these email addresses is a surefire way to hurt your sending reputation. Unopened emails drive down your engagement — and you risk recipients marking your messages as spam.
List turnover is a natural and healthy part of email marketing. Removing old, unengaged, and inactive email addresses is like clearing dead brush to allow healthy plants to grow.
We recommend doing a full review of your entire contact list at least once a year.
8. Will changing my IP address fix my deliverability issues?
Changing your IP address will not fix all of your deliverability issues. As the email marketing landscape continues to evolve, inboxes look at much more than just IP addresses when routing your message to the primary inbox or spam.
A change of IP address can help increase your domain reputation a little bit, but not enough to overcome other negative sending habits, like:
- Bad content
- Low engagement rates
- Poor list hygiene
- Negative domain reputation
9. Why shouldn’t I email my entire contact list at once?
When you send to your entire contact list at once, you miss out on one of email marketing’s most effective strategies: segmentation!
Segmentation means sending specific content to specific contacts. There’s nothing inherently wrong with sending to all of your contacts at once, but segmentation helps you get the most relevant messaging in front of the right people.
Sometimes it makes sense to send an email blast to your entire list, but broadcasting irrelevant content to your contacts increases your sending numbers and drives down your open rates, which hurts your email engagement.
Sending every email to your entire list also makes your messages seem less important, so contacts become less likely to open or interact with your emails.
Instead, design each message with a target audience in mind, and send it just to that audience.
As with many deliverability practices, quality over quantity! Sending fewer emails to more targeted groups of contacts helps increase engagement and create a better experience for your contacts.