On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how would you rank your email deliverability?
Deliverability usually doesn’t get a 10—either in importance or performance—because email marketers often think deliverability ends with hitting the “send” button. Yet there is much more to it than that, and much to be gained by both learning more about deliverability and taking steps to continuously improve it.
An email sent is not an email delivered
Let’s start with a common misconception: the difference between emails sent and emails delivered. An email marketer might send to a list of 50,000 and see in his or her email analytics that 87% of those emails were “delivered” according to the ESP. However, that does not mean 87% reached the subscribers’ inboxes. That number is known as the Inbox Placement Rate (IPR) and it’s a much more accurate measurement.
According to ReturnPath’s 2016 Deliverability Benchmark Report, the IPR is declining in the U.S., and marketers managed to get only 73% of messages delivered to the inbox.
Why email deliverability is so hard
For a better understanding of the discrepancy between the emails you successfully manage to send vs. the emails you successfully manage to deliver, let’s consider all the hoops you have to jump through to get to that inbox:
- First, you have to have a valid email address.
- Second, your email message must get past the gateway that is the ISP or corporate email filter.
- Next, it has to get past the recipient’s spam filter.
- Then that email has to avoid the junk mail folder.
- Finally, it has to actually get into the recipient’s inbox.
But that’s not all! Once there, the recipient needs to actually open the email, but more on that later…
Before you jump through hoops: the two parts of email deliverability
That’s quite the list of hoops you have to jump through. And before that even happens, before you hit send and start “jumping,” there are two aspects of email deliverability that need to be mastered first (and the second one is often ignored).
First, there is the technical part. Some of the technical aspects are handled by your ESP as they strive to keep their own deliverability rate as high as possible, including feedback loops with domains and authentication. For the sender, the technical aspects also include careful ramping up of new IP addresses and clean HTML code. These are kind of like the nuts and bolts of your email deliverability, the machine part, if you will.
The other aspect is a little more squishy, for lack of a better word, and it’s where your role as the sender or publisher comes into play. Although the technical aspects of email deliverability are crucial, they are only part of the process of reaching the inbox. The content you create and send, the frequency and cadence of your sends, the way you either consider or disregard your subscribers, the testing and optimizing you do (or don’t do)…all of these affect your email deliverability as well, because they affect the actual engagement of the people you are emailing, ideally helping to ensure your emails are engaged with.
Too many marketers rely on technology
The challenge is, many email marketers are focused on the technology and think that’s enough to get emails into the inbox. But it’s not. Domains like Gmail are looking for subscriber engagement. It’s hard for a marketer to understand, but you don’t get awarded inbox placement without doing the second part.
That is due in part to lack of knowledge. Email marketing is a strange field. It’s not as if college students are lining up to declare themselves Email Marketing majors. Usually those on the email team come from somewhere else, and get on-the-job training. With all of the intricacies and complexities of successful email marketing, it’s no surprise that there is much email marketers don’t know.
Then there is the lack of time. People are busy, email marketers especially. They are rushing to get campaigns out the door, and think they lack the time to even do an A/B test. But without a focus on content and optimizing that content, email deliverability can’t improve…and might even decline.
Incremental improvements add up
Whether it’s due to lack of knowledge or lack of time, I would estimate up to 80% of email marketers are not optimizing their subject lines, let alone the preheader text or the body text, probably because they think what they have is “good enough.” Good is the enemy of great, remember? Optimizing just one aspect, like the subject line, could make a huge difference.
If there’s an A/B split test and the one subject line performs 3% better than the other subject line, an uneducated email marketer might assume that’s a negligible difference that really doesn’t matter. They’d be wrong. If 3% more recipients open the email with the better subject line, that incremental improvement adds up. For one thing, that means 3% more people actually saw the content and had the option of acting on it. Opening an email shows engagement, and engagement improves your sender reputation and therefore deliverability rate, possibly getting you into even more inboxes. And every email that gets opened gives you that many more chances for a click through and conversion. You won’t have an overnight improvement, but you might have a long-term gradual one.
When it comes to email deliverability, the technical aspect will only take you so far.
Your ESP can make up for a lack of time and expertise
If your email team suffers from a lack of knowledge or a lack of time, or both, choose to work with an ESP that can help you improve your “softer” side of the email deliverability equation. An ESP like iPost, for example, offers automated testing, with the winning email being the one that is sent out on your behalf. An ESP can also educate your team, for a better understanding of how your actions as a sender are working for or against your Inbox Placement Rate.
Your email deliverability should be a 10. Let’s make it so.