David Kirkpatrick

Email Marketing: What are some of the biggest deliverability challenges?

June 19th, 2015

Deliverability should be a concern for any email marketer. If you can’t get into the inbox, your email send might as well not have even happened.

Deliverability can be a challenge. A bad reputation score can significantly impact your ability to reach the inbox. An ESP (email service provider) with other clients behaving poorly on a shared IP also hurts you. Getting off of a spam or junk mail blacklist can be a Kafka-esque experience of not really being sure who or what will get you off that list.

To help you with deliverability issues, I reached out to three industry experts to find out what they considered to be the biggest deliverability challenges facing marketers today.


Understand why you have a deliverability problem

Tom Sather, Senior Director of Research, Return Path, said, “The biggest challenge that marketers have today is gaining awareness and understanding why they’re having a problem. Email providers like Gmail and Yahoo!, as well as spam filters, make real-time, data-driven decisions based on their users’ behaviors and actions.”

He said understanding the data behind your email program is going to do more towards solving a deliverability issue than following any list of tips or best practices.

Tom explained, “Most email marketers lack this fundamental data that the email providers have access to and are essentially in the dark ages when it comes to finding a solution. As a result, we hear experts touting general best practices — which is more like alchemy and doesn’t provide the desired results or can make the situation worse. Marketers who have access[to]  and analyze the data will see the highest inbox placement rates and happier and more engaged subscribers as a result.”




List quality and relevant content matters

Dennis Dayman, Chief Privacy and Security Officer, Return Path, said, “The biggest challenge still today for me is list quality and content relevance. Companies must look at their prospect lists on a regular basis to ensure email addresses are current and relevant, and should segment their lists so targets receive only the type and frequency of emails they specified.”

He added that it’s a good idea to add a track to your email program that checks in on your recipients’ needs to ensure that they are getting the type of email they want at the frequency they want to receive that email.

Dennis said, “A simple quarterly reminder of what they requested with offers for additional types of emails is fine. Marketers should pay close attention to prospects’ ‘digital body language,’ or the way they interact with the company.”

He continued,  “By looking at signals such as whether a person has visited the website, requested a phone call or information, downloaded materials or attended a webinar, marketers can make better decisions about how to best market to these individuals and what email offers to make. By not adhering to prospects’ requests or positive actions, companies jeopardize their reputation and may end up in the junk mail folder because of complaints or, worse, in a privacy dispute with the ever growing number of privacy cases we are seeing with the data protection authorities.”


Deliverability issues can go beyond technical problems or email content

John A. Caldwell, Founder, Red Pill Email, said the key deliverability challenge doesn’t come from a bad reputation score; it’s from a more fundamental issue around how some businesses approach email marketing as a channel.

He explained:

Here’s the thing — most reasons for email not to make it to the inbox today have to do with political rather than technical or tactical reasons. Technical things — like reverse DNS — and tactical things — like supporting multiple authentication protocols — are all checkbox items, but those things alone won’t get you (or keep you) in the inbox, although a lack of them will very often keep you out.

So where does “political” come in?

When someone, or a group, looks at email marketing as an ATM, they usually aren’t thinking in the long-term best interest of the company. You can hammer your list until they buy or die. But when the list is gone by complaint or opt-out, it’s going to cost a lot more money to start over than it would have done to take a more measured approach. But hey, bonuses are right around the corner, so let’s just triple up on emailing our subscribers until we hit our numbers …

The other side of the matter is in mailing every now and then with little consistency of message or timing. You’ve got a marketer for whom email marketing makes up 20% of their job — that’s eight hours, or one day per week (or four days per month) allocated to email marketing. Could it be any wonder that there could be weeks or months in between random messages that are little more than checking a box to say that you sent an email? Something, or someone, somewhere isn’t taking as serious an approach to the email channel as they should, or has maybe gotten lazy with their set-it-and-forget-it campaigns that they inherited with the job.

John described a scenario where an email marketer goes months between email sends, and then blasts a few hundred thousand promotional messages out of the blue on a Tuesday morning — an email send that might not reach as many inboxes as that marketer hoped.

He said, “People haven’t heard from you in a long time and, out of nowhere, there you are trying to sell them something because that’s all you ever do. So there’s no reason to go to the extra effort of opening your message to opt-out when I can just report you as spam and have the same result in my inbox.”


ESP and email vendor policies aren’t the complete solution

John also mentioned that email marketers are somewhat protected by policies put into place by email service providers (and even some email and marketing automation vendors) such as requiring clean subscriber lists.

“We see people doing all of the right tactical and technical things — most modern ESPs these days insist on it and have done most of the work for you — and expecting that they are a pass into the inbox,” he said. “Those things aren’t a pass but a first step in building a good sender reputation, and that good reputation is what gets your email messages delivered to the inbox.”

John added some final thoughts on the challenge of email deliverability, saying, “Very few email marketers live an autonomous work life so, without permission [or] buy-in from someone above, there is little expectation of change. The email marketer usually has to justify proposed action to get the support needed to make changes to the status quo. That’s the hard part — not the checkbox items.”


You might also like

Email Deliverability: 8 tactics to help you overcome rising B2B challenges [MarketingSherpa how-to]

Email Deliverability: Getting into Gmail’s ‘Priority Inbox‘ [More from the blogs]

Email Marketing Chart: How to improve deliverability [MarketingSherpa chart]

B2B Email Deliverability: 11% of B2B email is classified as spam, these 6 tactics will help [MarketingSherpa how-to]

David Kirkpatrick

About David Kirkpatrick

David is a reporter for MarketingSherpa and has over twenty years of experience in business journalism, marketing and corporate communications. His published work includes newspaper, magazine and online journalism; website content; full-length ghosted nonfiction; marketing content; and short fiction. He served as producer for the business research horizontal at the original Office.com, regularly reporting on the world of marketing; covered a beat for D/FW TechBiz, a member of the American City Business Journals family; and he provided daily reporting for multiple LocalBusiness.com cities. David’s other media and corporate clients include: USA Today, Oxford Intelligence, GMAC, AOL, Business Development Outlook and C-Level Media, among many others.

Categories: Consumer Marketing, Marketing Tags: , , , ,

  1. July 1st, 2015 at 10:00 | #1

    So much useful information in one blog post! It’s also important to remember that certain phrases or terms will automatically get your e-mail sent to the spam folder, so it’s important to review/test your e-mails when possible. Thank you, David!

  2. July 1st, 2015 at 14:07 | #2

    Hey Melissa, the ‘certain words and phrases’ or, ‘keywords’ canard is the most refuted of all email marketing myths. Most people that promote that myth – other than those just repeating what someone else has said – are coming from an academic perspective rather than one of hands-on experience.

    The academic looks at the default configuration of SpamAssassin, sees a weighting of keywords and concludes that those words and phrases make a difference in Inbox placement. They also assume that a significant number of recipients will filter those keywords at the user level – evidently because consumers don’t like the word, “free”; as in “Free Shipping”.

    The experienced email marketer looks at their deliverability reports from real emails chock full of words and phrases that the academic says will get them blocked and when they see that those words and phrases had absolutely no negative impact on their ability to reach the Inbox and thinks that the academic could benefit from a little experience; or maybe benefit from asking someone with experience before repeating misleading information or something that they found written in 1998….

  3. July 2nd, 2015 at 15:59 | #3

    To second what John is saying, here are the results of a recent test we ran to see whether the word “spam” affected email performance: Email Marketing and Copywriting: Why you should send “spam” We wanted to show an example to marketers, and encourage them not to be afraid of what I like to call “magic spam words.”

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