Quick: what's the most important part of a marketing email?

Your first impulse might be to talk about visual design, headlines, promotions and other incentives, or CTAs, but all of those answers are wrong.

Just 83% of emails made it to the recipient’s inbox in 2019, and an email that never makes it to a subscriber’s inbox will never be seen in the first place.

For this reason, email deliverability (or the percentage of emails that make it to your recipients' inboxes) should be every marketer’s number-one concern.

How Email Deliverability Works

So why do the emails you send out sometimes get lost along the way?

To answer this question, we need to look at the two types of email deliverability failures (called 'bounces') and what causes each of them.

Hard bounces happen when it’s impossible to complete the delivery: maybe the recipient’s email address has a typo in it, or the person who submitted it gave you a false address on purpose. Either way, there’s nothing to do about these bounces but remove the problematic addresses from your list immediately.

Soft bounces, on the other hand, happen when delivery is possible but gets interrupted. This sometimes happens due to a server outage or an overfilled inbox. These issues might resolve themselves over time, so it’s worth trying to send a message to those addresses one or two more times to see what happens. After multiple unsuccessful attempts, though, you can safely guess that this might be a blacklist problem.

Your total bounce rate should never be higher than 3%, which equates to an email deliverability rate of 97%; if yours gets any higher than that, your email deliverability is too low.

The Dreaded Blacklist

As we mentioned above, many soft bounces and ensuing email deliverability problems are the results of ISP blacklisting or the practice of automatically blocking all messages from a given sender.

The trouble is that it's easier to get blacklisted than many marketers realize.

ISPs keep track of every IP that sends out emails and how often recipients mark those messages as spam. If too many recipients complain, an ISP might blacklist that IP. This means that each spam complaint could have multiple negative effects on your email deliverability - avoid them at all costs!

ISPs will also often repurpose old email addresses that no one is using anymore as spam traps, marking senders who still send out messages to these dead mailboxes as likely spammers. Those senders’ IPs will also be blacklisted.

If your IP gets blacklisted, your email deliverability rates will immediately fall, leading more ISPs to start blocking your messages as well. Managing your email deliverability properly means paying special attention to this one critical factor.

5 Tips for Improving Email Deliverability

Now that you understand what causes an email to be blocked or re-routed, you can take steps to boost your email deliverability and make sure that your marketing messages get where they need to go.

1. Consider starting fresh

A hidden metric called sender reputation is the main thing that most ISPs' base blacklist decisions off of, and that metric takes your existing spam history into account. This means that even if you change your email practices for the better right now, you can't completely undo the impact of your old mistakes.

You can check your sender reputation using free tools like Sender Score. Marketers who know they are using an IP with a bad reputation should think about setting up a brand-new dedicated IP to send emails from.

If you do have to start over, be sure to start slow and build your email volume over time; ISPs tend to be harsher on new senders who immediately begin to send out thousands of messages.

2. Make it easy to opt-out

If someone who isn’t interested in your emails keeps receiving them, sooner or later they will mark your messages as spam.

Give them a convenient and easy-to-find unsubscribe button in the footer of each message, however, and they will probably use that instead, saving you from taking a hit to your email deliverability.

3. Use a double opt-in process 

To make sure that your messages are going to interested people to begin with, send each person who signs up a welcome email asking them to confirm that they would like to be added to your list.

This extra step should weed out anyone who signed up by accident or without fully understanding what they were doing, leaving you with an eager audience primed for your marketing.

4. Follow a consistent schedule 

Subscribers who know when they will hear from you often start to anticipate your next email, which helps build engagement and makes it less likely that they will make a spam complaint.

Keep your messages relatively frequent, but don't send so many that they will start to get on people’s nerves; statistics indicate that marketers who send out one or two emails a week achieve the best open rates and click-through rates. That high level of engagement should also help lower your spam complaint numbers and boost your email deliverability as a result.

5. Use email quality verification

Fake or misspelled email addresses, spam traps, and subscribers that have you blacklisted all drag down your email deliverability numbers if they make it onto your email list, but what if you could make sure that they never made it that far?

Using an email quality verification service alongside the other tactics we've listed ensures that your list contains nothing but real, active email addresses owned by people who are interested in your brand.

You may still get the occasional spam complaint, but for the most part, these services should keep your bounce rates extremely low - and best of all, you won't have to lift a finger to make it happen.

Better Email Deliverability is Within Your Reach

Improving your email deliverability might just be the most effective thing you can do to improve your email marketing ROI.

It doesn't make sense to keep ignoring this critical metric, so get out there and start putting our advice into action; only when you know your audience is actually receiving your messages will you see how impactful your email marketing really is.

Do you want to know how many of your email bounces you can restore?