How to Maximize Inbox Delivery: Best Practices that You Can Implement Today
The Internet and email have created new opportunities for businesses of all sizes and across all markets. The bad thing is that malicious senders are abusing email too. I bet you are receiving hundreds of ads and promos from people you have not even heard of every day.
Thus, ISPs and all receiving networks are forced to take measures to protect their users against the assault of increasing volumes of spam and malicious email.
On the other hand, the war of Internet service providers (ISPs) against spammers has a negative impact on legitimate email senders. And your marketing results suffer because of this, right?
To help you reach the Inbox consistently, I've created 15 foolproof tips that you can start implementing today. To make it easy, I broke it down into 4 chapters:
1. Maintain a "Healthy" Mailing List
Email marketing starts with an email list. A list is the key factor that determines whether or not your email marketing campaign will succeed is the quality of your mailing list.
In order your marketing efforts do not go in vain, consider the following approaches to list building:
1.1. Never Buy Email Lists.
Purchased lists are a great opportunity to grow your recipient base by a million potential customers in no time. Have you ever been seduced by that? If yes, forget it.
Being filled with invalid email addresses and spam traps, purchased lists are ticking time bombs. They quickly inform ISPs that you are sending unsolicited emails.
At best, your emails end up in Junk folders. At worst, you are considered as a spammer, and your sender reputation is ruined forever.
So, if you think about buying a list, don't do it. Instead, put an opt-in form on your website and collect email subscribers using a confirmed subscription process.
1.2. Use a Confirmed Opt-In.
A single opt-in process when the user agrees to receive emails by simply entering their email address and clicking the button remains in the past. Why? Because it allows malicious subscriptions and spam bots to slip onto your list.
This may then result in high amounts of spam complaints and bounces. Spam complaints are dangerous because some ISPs begin blocking sending servers after as few as 2-3 spam reports per one thousand emails. And a high bounce rate can lead to your account suspension with your email service provider.
The best way to defend against spam complaints and invalid subscriptions is to use a confirmed opt-in process. It requires an extra step when you send a confirmation email to the new subscriber, and they need to validate their email address. (In many countries, a confirmed opt-in is now a mandatory requirement.)
1.3. Clean Your List.
A high hard bounce rate is the fast way to trigger filtering and blocking on your new IP. And if you are using an ESP, a high bounce rate is the fast way to get your account suspended.
If you have not emailed your list for 6 months or more, it makes sense to use a paid service to clean all hard bounces before you launch a fresh email marketing campaign. You can use BriteVerify, FreshAddress or DataValidation services, or desktop software, for example, Advanced Email Verifier.
Then, determine inactive subscribers and try to re-engage them. Measure inactivity based on the volume of emails sent, not on the time frame. Thus, instead of asking “Did they open an email within the last 6 months?” ask “Did they open any of the last 10 emails I sent them?”
Try to wake inactive users with incentivized reactivation emails to determine whether or not they are still interested.
If they do not respond, as part of good email list hygiene stop sending to those people but NEVER DELETE SUBSCRIBERS from your base. You can always use those emails for retargeting people via Facebook or Google Adwords.
1.4. Filter Contest Entry and Giveaway Signups.
You might be wondering:
Why are email lists created from giveaways or contests not good for email marketing?
Because they are not highly responsive. People who enter a contest or giveaway care about a chance to win something, they don't care about getting on your email list and receive your marketing emails.
Thus, many users create a disposable email account just to enter a contest or giveaway and don't use their real email address.
So, if you are thinking about using a contest or giveaway to build a list, it's a bad idea because it could be a source of hard bounces and complaints, which could do harm to your IP reputation.
2. Check Your Sending Infrastructure
The receiving ISP is also watching your sending infrastructure: email software, email service provider, sender IP reputation, and sender authentication. No matter how clean and confirmed your list is, your emails may be filtered as junk mail if your sending infrastructure is not in order.
With that said, keep in mind the things below when deciding on the email provider or setting up your sending server:
2.1. Use a Reliable ESP or Delivery Service.
Here’s the deal:
The reputation of the Email Service Providers (ESP) and delivery services is evaluated based on the reputation of the IP addresses they are sending emails from and domains of their clients.
ESPs with low scores on the IP addresses are doomed for the spam folder delivery. Messages sent through such ESPs are eventually blocked by the providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail.
ESPs and delivery services that allow to send emails to subscribed lists only and ban spammers' accounts on their platforms have greater credibility with mailbox providers. They provide consistent Inbox delivery if their clients follow best email marketing practices outlined in this post.
As an alternative to ESP, you can consider a hybrid email marketing system like G-Lock EasyMail7. A hybrid email system works as a front-end to delivery services and SMTP relays and allows you to create multiple email accounts with different SMTP settings and quickly switch between the accounts.
For example, if your primary delivery service has any temporary delivery issues, you can use a different account in the hybrid software and send emails through your reserve SMTP relay.
Another advantage of a hybrid email system is that it allows to keep all your data (email settings, contact lists, email templates and autoresponders) in-house without the need to upload it to a 3rd party database.
2.2. Implement Authentication.
The job of ISP filters is to protect their users against spam emails. How will ISPs know that your IP is valid and trustworthy? Proper sender authentication does it all.
The receiving server can cross check your sending domain name against the associated IP address to make sure that it is legitimate. If the check fails, your emails may be rejected.
Thus, take the time to set up SPF, DKIM and rDNS records for your sending domain and test your email authentication with an email spam checker tool.
To learn more about email authentication, read this tutorial: Email Authentication: the Ultimate Guide.
Authentication test from GlockApps
2.3. Sign up for Feedback Loops.
Most major ISPs provide the feedback loop service, in which the email sender can know the recipients who have complained about that sender's email.
If you are managing your own SMTP server, you should definitely sign up for feedback loops with major ISPs. Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft make it easy to enter. But only ESPs are allowed to enter into Gmail's FBL program.
2.4. Build Trust into Your Sender IP.
If you've got a new IP from which you are going to send emails, start by warming your IP up.
Start sending emails in small volumes to the recipients who you know are engaged. As these users receive and open your messages, the ISPs will start feeling confidence in your IP.
Then you can slowly increase the number of emails in one sending until you scale to your desired volume.
2.5. Check Your IP against Blacklists.
If you're experiencing delivery problems, and even if you'are not, it's always a good idea to check whether or not your IP is blacklisted. DNS-based blacklists are created to protect people from receiving emails from IPs that have received a high volume of spam reports.
Sign up for an IP monitoring service GlockApps to check your IP reputation at a regular basis. GlockApps can send you an email notification about your IP status after each check.
IP reputation monitoring from GlockApps
If the test shows that your IP is blacklisted, try to go through the removal process. The removal instructions are usually stated on the blacklist's website.
Below are good guides you’ll want to check to learn how to find out if your sending IP is blacklisted by an ISP and how to request the removal:
Try to contact trouble ISPs directly if nothing else works. This ISP information page has a directory of the major ISPs’ postmaster pages, FBL service signup pages, and whitelist pages.
2.6. Get Whitelisted.
Don't hesitate to ask your new subscribers to whitelist you or add your sender email address to their address book or safe sender list. You can send the whitelisting instructions right in the welcome email and duplicate them on the confirmation page.
It is a foolproof way to deliver all future emails bypassing the spam filters. This is so easy, yet practiced so rarely.
3. Watch What You Send
You may not suspect it, but your email campaigns may contain risky content detrimental to the deliverability of your messages.
Though there are no magic keywords to improve deliverability, but by limiting the use of risky elements you can reduce the likelihood of your emails landing in the Spam folder.
3.1. Send from Your Real Email Address.
Internet service providers look at more things than just the sender authentication, domain, and content. Some of the ISPs pay attention to your "From" field. Thus, your deliverability results can vary if you are using the firstname.lastname@example.org versus email@example.com address.
To bypass spam filtering problems connected with your "From" address, consider these tips:
- avoid From addresses rotation (this is a pure spammer tactic);
- stick to a limited number of From addresses and build a good reputation for them by sending only solicited and engaging emails;
- avoid obscure From addresses such as "firstname.lastname@example.org" or "email@example.com";
- use a trustworthy From address reflecting your brand in the domain.
3.2. Use a Recognizable "From" Name.
If you want your "From" line to show the name instead of the email address, make it branded to reduce spam complaints. It's also been proven to improve open rates.
To make the email more personal, some companies use a front person to head up their email marketing. You can use this approach too. Just write the individual's name followed by your company name as the "From" name.
3.3. Avoid Dirty Tricks.
There are straightforward signs that trigger spam filters and that you should be aware of. Try to avoid them when you create your email template.
Here's a quick checklist to go through before you hit the "Send" button:
- distorted words in an attempt to fool spam filters, e.g. "F.ree. p.r!z.e";
- deceptive and misleading Subject lines, create the Subject that reflects what's inside the email;
- Subject lines starting with "Re:" or "Fwd:" attempting to suggest an ongoing communication with the sender;
- excessive exclamation marks, especially in the Subject line, e.g. "Buy my e-book now!!!";
- excessive use of color; when an emphasis is needed, highlight a few words or only a single sentence, not the entire paragraph;
- excessive use of ALL CAPS; do not shout at your subscribers, use a maximum of one word per sentence in all capitals, never a whole sentence;
- image-to-text ratio; do not send a single image with a text on it, use a good balance of images and text in the message;
- URLs of the images, host your images at credible services only;
- domains you link to from the email, link only to legitimate sites with reputable domains;
- email size, don't go crazy – 50 kb is just fine;
- HTML code, broken HTML can lead to spam folder placements at certain ISPs.
To ensure that everything is ok with your email content, test it against spam filters, for example, SpamAssassin. You can quickly do it with GlockApps. You'll see your email spam score and detailed report about what elements in your email add spam points.
If the score is more than 5, consider re-writing the message to make it less "spammy."
SpamAssassin test report from GlockApps
3.4. Don't Let Your List Go Cold.
Ideally, you should stick to the mailing frequency that you promised during the subscription process. If you do not tell your subscribers how frequently you will contact them, don't wait for too long. They might forget about you, right?
If they fail to recognize the From field, at best, they may delete your message, spoiling your "open" rate. At worse, they may send complaints by marking your messages as spam.
So, there is a good reason for maintaining a steady flow of communication with your list, rather than relying on occasional, massive "blasts."
4. Test Your Deliverability and Spam Score
Want to know the best part?
You can quickly test your deliverability with GlockApps.
Within minutes, GlockApps will show you where your email is placed at different ISPs.
To generate the report, we’ll re-send your email through our personal accounts with Amazon SES, SendGrid, and Mailgun to the control list of email addresses (seed list).
But you should be aware that the deliverability may be different when you send emails through your SMTP server, delivery service or email service provider.
To test deliverability through YOUR sending infrastructure, you’ll need to create an account on GlockApps.
In your personal account, you’ll be able to create new tests and we’ll show you in real-time if there are any problems with YOUR sending system and message.
So, quick-test your email using the live test below and you’ll find the “Create My Account” button in your quick report.
We’ll show you where your email appears: Inbox or Spam
Send a copy of your email to: