Volume 6

How to Improve your Email Deliverability

With reports showing that 20-30% of legitimate email is being blocked as “spam”, it is more important than ever for email marketers to ensure that their emails get delivered. This month we’d like to share some tips for increasing your email deliverability.

Don’t confuse Deliverability with Open Rates

Firstly we should point out that official “Open Rates” are on the decline. This is not because less people are opening your email. It is because more people are using email programs that deliberately turn off any built in tracking measures in incoming emails. Just because you can’t tell whether they opened it doesn’t mean it wasn’t delivered.

Cover all your bases

When you send a physical letter, it changes hands a number of times before it reaches its final destination. There is a chance that the letter could be lost or accidentally destroyed by any one of the parties that are helping it to be delivered.

It is the same with emails. After you hit the “send” button, the email passes through a number of servers before reaching its final destination. First it goes to your own ISP, then through any number of intermediate servers on the internet, and then finally arrives at the recipients ISP, which delivers the message to the recipient.

Your message may have to pass through filtering and security measures at every stop along the way. Some of these measures are described below, with actions you can take to help your message arrive intact.

The first hurdle: Frustrated and trigger happy Customers

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. They receive vast amounts of unwanted email every day and are resorting to various tactics to make it stop. You need to do everything in your power to ensure that your customer doesn’t accidentally (or deliberately) block you from their mailbox:

  • Ask permission. Make sure that each and every recipient wants to be on your list and has explicitly agreed to receive email from you.
  • Be proactive and ask the recipient to add you to their “white list”. This is a list of email addresses managed in their email program of senders that they trust.
  • Use a consistent “from” address so that the customer’s white list can find you.
  • Monitor the frequency of your emails. Be honest about how often you will email customers when they sign up.
  • Educate customers on how they can be removed from your list. Many people think that hitting the “This is spam” button in their Webmail program will stop the junk email. This is not necessarily true.
  • Remove those that unsubscribe immediately and respond to all complaints.

ISPs (Internet Service Providers)

As well as getting your customers to trust you, it is vital to retain the trust of the ISPs who deliver your email. Like your customers, ISPs are frustrated by the strain that vast amounts of junk email impose on their networks, and they too want it to stop. Some of the measures that ISPs and large corporations use include:


Most ISPs now use one or more third party blacklists to determine which email should be delivered. A blacklist is a list of servers that have supposedly been witnessed sending “spam”. Some of the more common ones include:

It is not the end of the world to spend a short amount of time on one of these lists, and the aforementioned trigger happy customers can make it a foregone conclusion if you have a sizeable database. However, to be on one or more of these databases long term or permanently can severely affect your ability to get email delivered.

Individual companies can also maintain their own blacklists. These are often less reliable and much more difficult to be removed from.

Content Filters

While blacklists seek to completely block servers that apparently send “spam”, content filters use sophisticated programs to scan the content of email messages and block those that seem “spammy”. Take a look at some of the spam you receive to learn what phrases NOT to use in your own emails. You can also try to avoid multiple exclamation points or dollar signs, and large blocks of text in capital letters.

List “Cleanliness”

If an ISP sees you sending 100 emails, and 50 of those emails are to addresses that no longer exist, chances are they will think you are a spammer and start to block you. This is why it is vital to keep your list clean and free of incorrect addresses.

Be proactive, and remind your customers to keep their details up to date with you. You could even include a link in each email to “update your email address” to make it really easy for them.

The Future of Email Deliverability

There has been much discussion and little resolution on this topic. Bill Gates has even proposed that we start paying postage to send emails..

One option is Bonded Sender programs such as Ironport. These programs require the sender to pay a “bond”, and if any complaints are received, part of that bond is forfeited. The amount of the bond and any fines are dependent on the volume of emails sent and the number of complaints received. The success of these programs depend entirely on whether large numbers of ISPs start using them to validate email.

The Bottom Line

With consumers and ISPs using an ever growing number of software programs to deal with spam, it is unlikely that you will achieve 100% deliverability. However, by following the suggestions above, you will be able to stay off blacklists, keep your own lists clean, and perhaps even have your customers trust you enough to add you to their white lists.