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How to Improve Email Deliverability

Overview
Transcript

Email can be one of the most effective channels to help you grow your business—but it’s worthless if it doesn’t actually make it to the intended recipients inbox. So how can you make sure your subscribers get your message?

Kate and Allison, deliverability experts at Campaign Monitor, go through their tips to improve email deliverability. They focus on domain authentication and take you on a step-by-step tour of how to easily authenticate your sending domain using Campaign Monitor.

Introductions and background

[Kate]: So, today we’re going to be covering a pretty important topic that I know a lot of people are really interested in, and that is the topic of email deliverability. We’re going to run through what some of the key factors are that influence your email deliverability and some of our top tips for landing in the inbox itself. We’ll also take a look at some of the more technical components of email deliverability, especially around domain authentication, which I know is a pretty frequently asked question around here.

Before we kick off, just a few introductions. My name is Kate Jordan, I am the product-marketing manager here at Campaign Monitor. And I’m joined by my colleague Allison.

[Allison]: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us.

I’m Allison, I am the product manager for deliverability. And some of you might know me from my former role at Campaign Monitor where I was helping a number of customers with their email-marketing strategies. And of course deliverability was a hot topic when learning how to optimize for that inbox.

[Kate]: Awesome. So, just to get started with, when we sent out the invite for this webinar, we actually gave you a chance to ask what you’re hoping to get out of this session and any questions that you had and we got so much feedback. I just wanted to share some of it to sort of frame the discussion that we’re going to have today.

There were tons of common themes here, a lot of them around, you know, firstly, domain authentication, how does it work, how do I set it up, things around list management, and, “how do I,” you know, “keep a really healthy email list and engaged list?”

People were asking a lot about their sender reputation and how they get better results and how do they improve that sender reputation. And there was so much more. People were asking about hard and soft bounces, the primary Gmail tab was a really frequently asked question.

And plenty of people just asked us to tell all things. So we’ll do our best. I quite like this quote though, it sums up what most people were getting at, and that was just to, “How do I stay out of that damn spam filter?” which we’ll try to address.

Webinar agenda

So, looking at the agenda for today, Allison will get kicked off with just a bit of an overview setting the scene around exactly what deliverability is and what are the different influences on your email deliverability, and then, really understanding sender reputation more specifically and what are the different actions that the recipient is going to be doing with your emails that it’s actually going to influence your sender reputation.

We will then also run through our top tips on how to actually improve deliverability and nail inbox placement, and that will include a demo of our new domain authentication process in Campaign Monitor, which we released just a few weeks ago, it was super exciting.

[Allison]: Which is a lot simpler than it sounds. We promise you, it’s only a few-minute demo..

[Kate]: Yeah, stick with it. And we will wrap up at the end, as I said earlier, with some Q&A. So sit tight for that as well.

Demystifying deliverability

[Allison]: Fantastic. Now, in order to really understand the different tips we give you later on today can impact you, it’s important to set a foundation around deliverability. And I think from a lot of the questions that we got in ahead of the webinar, it became very evident that people generally just don’t understand deliverability.

And I can tell you from experience, it takes years to fully grasp, so we’re going to do our best to just level set with everyone on both deliverability and reputation, as Kate said, before we actually get into the meat of what you can do about it.

So, deliverability, it’s a big word. It has an even bigger impact, particularly if email is a primary business driver for you.

So, what does it really mean? A Return Path benchmarking report shows that one in five commercial emails never reaches the inbox. And again, this can have significant impacts to the ROI that you are projecting from your email, so that’s why it’s important to optimize for landing in the inbox.

That being said, because of the way things work, a natural amount of email landing in spam, that’s just the way things are. But there are things you can do about it, which is why we’re here to help you. However, I will clarify by saying just because an email lands in spam does not mean that it was not delivered in the first place.

Email delivery vs. email deliverability

Email delivery is whether or not an email successfully delivers to the receiving server, or the inbox provider, or Gmail, etc. Basically, as long as an email is not bounced, it is delivered.

People were asking a lot about bounces ahead of the webinar, so it’s worth taking a little bit of time to go into that.

Hard bounces are permanent rejections and we automatically suppress these for you so you will never worry about sending to those emails again. And soft bounces are temporary rejections that get retried by the receiving server or the inbox provider.

These can occur for reasons like the server being busy, or an inbox being full, or someone even being away on vacation and having their out-of-office on to reject email. All of these things are natural occurrences, they happen from time to time, and we retry those emails for you until we’re confident that they can’t be delivered.

However, just because a soft bounce occurs doesn’t mean someone’s getting removed from your list. It’s only when a soft bounce occurs five times in a row that we will move it to a hard bounce and prevent you from sending.

But keeping your lists clean and making sure that you’re not sending to bounces and to people who aren’t going to engage with you, this actually does influence deliverability and can be an indicator of overall list’s health. So, it’s really important to watch out for bounce rates above 3%, this can indicate some list’s health problems or that you may have a spam bot that is attacking your list, which we’ll talk a little bit more about later.

But in summary, if your delivery rate is good, it does not necessarily mean that your deliverability itself is good. Deliverability happens basically after an email’s delivered. So, by nature, the delivery rate is there but the deliverability itself indicates whether or not you are likely to be placed in the inbox, which is where we want to land.

[Kate]: And I think that’s like a really common sort of misconception. Right? Like people think delivery is like that it’s landed in the inbox, but it’s actually, there’s like that one step further.

[Allison]: Exactly, exactly. And you’ll see in Campaign Monitor, we show your delivery rates and insights. And you’ll see upwards of 99% delivery rates. And that’s great—however, it doesn’t necessarily mean that 99%of your emails are landing where you want them to land. So again, deliverability is after the inbox providers accept it. And spam filtering happens even after that.

Eighty percent of deliverability is your reputation as a sender, which is why we’ll focus so much on it today. Twenty percent, which is still a significant portion, is the content of what you send. But what it really boils down to and why reputation is such an important hinge for this is that the reputation is predominantly influenced by behaviors that your subscribers take—and therefore it’s human-based training for the algorithms that inbox providers have.

Whereas the 20% of the content, that’s more machine-driven algorithms for the inbox providers. And inbox providers care more about the humans that they serve than they care about the potential machine-triggered alerts that they may receive. Both are important, and we’ll tell you how to optimize for both, but reputation in and of itself is the most important thing to consider. So, that is why we’ll be spending a bit of time on that.

Understanding reputation

We like to say that reputation is like a credit score. Not only does it govern what you can and cannot do, it takes, you know, years to build up a good reputation and can be destroyed, you know, in just seconds.

And I don’t want to alarm you—I know that sounds pretty scary, but it is important to bear in mind the weight of your subscribers’ actions and the overall picture that governs what your reputation is.

There are four key players in the deliverability game.

So, before we talk a bit more about what influences reputation, you’ll hear me talking a lot about four key things that really paint the picture of what informs, not only sending, but deliverability and, of course, reputation.

So, there’s your email service provider—that’s Campaign Monitor. We’re the system that allows you to send your emails and deliver them to your subscribers. There’s the inbox providers—who you’ve already heard me mention—these are the governing bodies. They are the inboxes like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, AOL, etc., and their primary objective is to protect their customers—your subscribers—from the estimated 70%of spam email that gets sent.

And they also want to reduce their risks that bad emails get through. Not only that but also the hosting costs they have around emails that are getting stored. They want to minimize the chance that their servers will become full. So, it’s really in their best interest to only allow certain things through. This is why they’re so strict.

And then, of course your subscribers, they are the most important people in all of this. It is ultimately how they interact with email, that is the most influential signal back to the inbox provider, what should or should not be allowed through, where it should be placed, what’s actually good. And so, it’s up to you, the sender, to keep them front and center of any strategies that you think of with their engagement in mind.

What happens after you click send?

Your reputation is based on a feedback loop between you, Campaign Monitor, the inbox providers, and then your subscribers. Because your email will go through many inbox providers to reach all of your subscribers, your reputation may actually vary between them.

So it’s actually really important to keep a monitor on how engagement rates differ between different key domains because that’s an indicator of how you’re performing at each Inbox provider. And therefore you can more easily pinpoint any potential issues, or if you’re, you know, succeeding really well in one population or in one other population, best to look into that.

So, when you send, your email passes through your ESP, Campaign Monitor, which then puts it in the hands of the inbox provider. This inbox provider is equipped with information on your sender reputation, the reputation of Campaign Monitor itself—and of course, you know, we provide you the tools and processes to help optimize for that across the board—and also, more importantly, how your subscribers have engaged with your content before, if at all.

So, this helps the inbox providers build a profile of how good a sender you are or how risky it would be to accept your email. And then they determine where it lands for your subscriber. But it’s important to note that both you and your behaviors are important, even more important though is how subscribers receive and engage with your emails.

Subscribers hold the power.

What your subscribers choose to do with your email forms the primary basis by which inbox providers evaluate reputation and therefore decide inbox placement. Ultimately though you will want to optimize for your subscribers engaging in a positive way, which you can see on the left hand of the screen. These include replying to your email, adding you to their address book, even opening and clicking your emails, marking you as important, moving you to the inbox.

All of these actions tell the inbox providers, “These are messages I want to receive, these are actually important to me. Even if I’m not opening them every time, this is something I want to continue to see on a regular basis.” Opens are increasingly important to note as well, as inbox providers actually negatively mark your reputation if emails are left unopened. You might think, you know, unsubscribes and deletes are worse than unopens, but it’s actually the other way around.

So, in order to keep an eye on this, it’s recommended to strive for 17% to 22% open rates so that you’re not, you know, leaving a disproportionate amount lingering unread. And of course we caution this: every industry is different. Time of year even impacts open rates. So keep a monitor on that. But as long as your open rates are staying consistent and they’re consistently in that 17% to 22% range or above, then you’re doing pretty well.

And again, deleting and unsubscribing, not negative actions necessarily. Of course in mass, you know, too much of anything is not good—except opens maybe—but you want to make sure that your subscribers are given the option to take power.

You want to give them the control and you want to make sure that you’re giving them the options to engage with your content as they see fit. Unsubscribing of course is better than marking as spam and even better than leaving you unread.

And it can just be an indicator that the needs of your subscribers are changing. Maybe you need to rethink your content or frequency strategies. But ultimately, as long as your unsubscribes are under 2%, then that’s a pretty healthy rate of churn.

Marked as spam or moving to spam folder, though—these are the warning signs, these are the ones to watch out for. This is telling inbox providers that your subscribers actually perceive you to be spam, and either they think that you’re sending to them in error, or that they didn’t want to receive your emails in the first place, or you’re sending content that they really just do not wish to receive, so much that they want to tell the inbox providers that you’re someone to watch out for.

People will do this particularly if you’re not giving them clear options to unsubscribe, but so long as you’re keeping your marked as spam rates, or complaint rates as we call them, under .02%, that’s not going to be causing any alarm. If you go above that threshold though, this is something that you’ll want to look into to understand why that’s happening and figure out how you can adjust your strategies to compensate for that.

So, with that, here are some strategies to really make sure that you’re staying in those good benchmarks, and that you’re optimizing your email for full deliverability and inbox placement, and, more importantly, subscriber engagement.

Tip 1: Set up domain authentication.

First and foremost, the reason we’re all here today, I know, is setting up domain authentication.

A lot of reputation is also informed by inbox providers trusting you and seeing that you are who you say you are. Domain authentication is the process of verifying that you are who you say you are, and this ties back to the domain that you’re sending from—so anything that comes after the @ in your from name.

If you’re properly authenticated, then the domain and the from name will match. That is seen by: when you open the details of the email message that you’ve sent, you’ll see a number of different domains signing it, mailed by, etc., and these all relate back to how inbox providers perceive the sender of the email. So, if the signed by and the from domain match, as you can see in the top example on the screen, then you’re good to go.

However, if you see that your email is from for example, ritualhotyoga.com via another domain, or if you notice it’s coming from your domain via cmail domains, this means that it’s not authenticated. So when your signed by domain does not match your from domain, that’s when inbox providers begin to take notice and they can negatively mark you.

Why?

This is important because it establishes trust with those inbox providers. It shows that you’re responsible for your reputation and that you can be trusted to be who you say you are, which, in turn, means that your subscribers are more likely to trust you.

This is a major influence on boosting that reputation.

Our recommendations

Domain authentication actually requires a number of things before you go in and set it up. It’s important that you’re using a business domain and not a free email domain, like gmail.com or aol.com. Even if you don’t have a business domain, using free email domains can cause you to see a large number of bounces. So that’s something that can then turn around and impact your reputation.

Once you have a business domain, you want to make sure to register it. This is how you’ll actually be able to go through and authenticate your domain. There are plenty of services out there like GoDaddy—we’ll be showing you using GoDaddy today, although feel free to use whatever service it makes sense for your business to register your domain.

And this will give you more options in terms of managing how you’re sending and the details of your sending. Finally, once you have a business domain that you’ve registered, it’s very easy to go in and authenticate it in Campaign Monitor. We’ll just do a quick three-minute demo today, and then talk about more strategic initiatives that you can run.

Domain authentication demo

Background and context

So, before we actually get into the demo, just a few things to note.

First, we’re showing you the new and improved experience with domain authentication in single-team accounts. We’ve always had the ability for you to authenticate your sending domains, knowing that it’s very important. We recently gave it a bit of a facelift and made it easier to use for single-team accounts.

If the experience you have differs from what you see on the screen, we’re looking to improve this and release this experience across the board. So, please do send us your feedback, let us know what you think, if you think it’s helpful, and we can work to make those further improvements on it.

Before we actually get into the demo though, you’ll see some jargon, and it’s kind of unavoidable when it comes to domain authentication or anything pertaining to domain management.

Vocabulary for the demo

So, just to get them out of the way and make sure we’re all on the same level, there’s the DNS, which is the domain manager, domain host. This is the GoDaddy world, this is where you’re registering and managing the details of your domain.

The name or host is basically who’s requesting to validate. That’s us—we give you that information. TXT is just the kind of record you’re going to create, it’s called that because it’s a string of arbitrary text.

And time to live, this is probably the most important one and difficult to grasp at times. It basically governs how long it’ll take for the changes that you’re making in your DNS to fully sync back to Campaign Monitor—in other words, for you to actually be able to send an authenticated email.

So, I want to make sure that everyone is aware that simply by updating the records in Campaign Monitor and your DNS and having your domain authenticated in Campaign Monitor, it’ll still take a little bit of waiting before you can actually go through and send that authenticated email because the validation requires some time.

Walking through a domain authentication demo

I will say I had never set up a domain or authenticated a domain before working on this process, and if I can do it, I have full faith that anyone else can. It sounds a lot scarier than it is. So, when you’re logged in to your account, go into Account Settings. And from here, you’ll access Sending Domains where you can go ahead and add your domain.

In this case, we’re using our own test domain, myorgdomain.com. You can put your business domain in there and continue. So, here you’ll see a set of instructions where you’ll see all of the different elements that I just mentioned. If you don’t have access to your DNS and don’t intend to ever have access to your DNS or won’t be the one registering the domain, you can always share instructions, copy, and paste all the information to send to whoever is in charge.

Generally, a good rule of thumb: If they have IT in their title, they should at least know who to go to. But this has all the information they’ll need, so just message them, however makes sense for you. If you have questions though, go to our support team, we’re always here to help.

If you’ll be managing your domain records and you have access to your DNS, or you’ll be setting up and registering your own domain, here are the different things that you’ll need to copy and paste in.

It’s good practice to just have the domain manager (like GoDaddy) open in a tab next to Campaign Monitor. It just makes the transfer of information a bit easier. But basically you’ll just go through and copy and paste all the different values that you have on the screen and bring them into GoDaddy or whichever host that you’re using. So, go in, go into the domain, then manage DNS.

And from here, you can just add the new TXT record—again, make sure it’s TXT. Copy in that host, or name as it’s sometimes called. Copy and paste in the TXT value.

And then, you’ll set the time to live (TTL). GoDaddy gives you some options, but in this case, you can customize it down to even less than half an hour—GoDaddy goes down to 600 seconds. Some DNSs allow you to go as low as 300 seconds (five minutes).

And then, you’ll go ahead and save those changes. But again, this governs the time for the full feedback loop to complete. And though, again, you may see that your domain is authenticated in Campaign Monitor, it’ll be, in this case, about 10 minutes before you can actually send that authenticated email.

So, we’ll go ahead, authenticate now. Campaign Monitor checks for the records to be in place on the DNS, and our domain is authenticated and in Campaign Monitor for use in about 10 minutes.

[Kate]: Easy as pie, easy as pie.

[Allison]: And that is all you need to know. Yeah, and that’s the most technical we’re getting today. So don’t worry, let’s jump to some more strategies that you can easily incorporate without having to go into your DNS.

Tip 2: Only send to subscribers that have opted in.

[Kate]: Excellent. So, some of these are a little bit more obvious, but, just wanting to sort of reiterate, going back to some of those factors that influence your sender reputation that Allison mentioned earlier.

The second tip that we recommend is to make sure that you’re only sending to subscribers that have opted in. Again, it’s a pretty obvious one, but making sure you get that clear permission is going to be key to getting really good engagement. It’ll lead to fewer bounces and complaints and, therefore, successful inbox placement.

Why?

Well, we sort of said earlier that engagement is going to be the primary influence on your reputation. So, sending to an email list that is not prepped for engagement from you is going to set you up for failure.

Even more importantly, if you’re sending to people who have not opted in, that’s going to set you up for regulatory consequences. So, there’s a lot of issues there. It’s also a surefire way to amass spam complaints, which is going to be a massive hit to your sender reputation. So, to put it simply, if someone doesn’t remember subscribing to you in the first place, best not to send to them.

Our recommendations

So, what are some things you should keep in mind about how you can action this and make sure that you’ve got all of the right systems set up to achieve this?

Firstly, never purchase an email list. A big no-no, we wouldn’t allow it in Campaign Monitor, and even if we did, your reputation is going to suffer. Secondly, we recommend using an opt-in signup form to grow your subscriber base.

Make sure, in this form, to include a permission to checkbox to clearly explain what your subscriber is opting in to. Campaign Monitor makes this super easy. We just released a brand-new signup form builder, so you can choose from an embedded signup form, a pop-up form, or a sign-up page, which is super simple.

Only a few weeks ago, we released some new features from a customization perspective. So definitely go check that out if you haven’t already.

And one important thing to note is that our signup forms have reCAPTCHA embedded, but if you’re using a different type of signup tool, make sure that it has reCAPTCHA embedded because that’s going to help you avoid spam bots, which is a malicious sort of software that is going to compromise your email list.

[Allison]: If they attack your signups, they can send unwanted email on your behalf, and of course that’s not good for anyone.

[Kate]: Totally. So, reCAPTCHA: You’ve probably seen it before. It’s just this I am not a robot check that you see all over the internet these days.

[Allison]: Yeah, it’s not ideal, and we only display it when we detect that there’s suspicious activity, so don’t worry: Not all of your subscribers will see it. But it’s in place to protect you and keep your lists as healthy and clean as they should be.

Tip 3: Have a clear unsubscribe option.

[Kate]: Tip three, another really obvious one, but it’s just to make sure that you have a super clear unsubscribe option in every single email that you send. And that’s going to give the recipient or the subscriber control and make it really easy for them to unsubscribe.

Why?

As Allison mentioned earlier, unsubscribing to your emails is actually a much better thing for your reputation than if they mark it as spam. And if you’re not making it easy and simple for them to unsubscribe, they’re likely going to mark it as spam.

So, you want to make that option really clear, really easy, and super transparent. Keep in mind that it’s always worth aiming for a slightly smaller but much more engaged list, so you shouldn’t be worried about a small rate of natural unsubscribes to your list over the long term.

Secondly, spam filters in the inbox provider can actually detect in your emails if you don’t have an unsubscribe link and they will mark that as spam. So that’s a really important one and it’s also a must for compliance.

[Allison]: And again, as long as your unsubscribes are under 2%, you’re in a good place. And don’t fear that, if you make the unsubscribe button really big, people are going to press it. That’s not necessarily recommended (it depends on the design and what you’re sending). But overall, having this option is so much better than customers taking the path of least resistance, which is to mark you as spam in the inbox itself.

Our recommendations

[Kate]: So, how do you go about doing this? Well, the good news is, if you’re using Campaign Monitor, our email templates and our email builder have inbuilt unsubscribe options already done, so you don’t even need to worry about it.

But I’d also ask you to consider using a preference center. That’s going to give your subscribers the option to tell you what kind of content they want to receive from you and how frequently.

That sort of just goes back to the idea of giving the subscriber control and letting them tell you what they want to hear from you, which is sort of going to be the key influence to really good sender reputation.

[Allison]: And it will have so much positive impact on your overall strategy. There’s something that we’ve talked about in deliverability and in email marketing strategy—conversations that I’ve had—it’s better to enable your customers or your subscribers to opt down, as opposed to opt out, and preference centers really help with that.

And there’s something else worth calling out, too. We recently released the functionality for a double double opt out. I know bot clicks and bot unsubscribes are increasingly prevalent. We now have given you options to enable a confirmed opt-out, confirmed unsubscribe, at a global-account level. So, if that’s something that you’re worried about, go ahead and check that out, it’s now in your list page.

Tip 4: Maintain a healthy subscriber list.

[Kate]: Speaking of lists, our tip four is all around making sure that you maintain a healthy subscriber list. And the best way to do that is to segment your list, and then remove unengaged subscribers on a really regular basis.

Why?

Unengaged subscribers: If you have a big chunk of unengaged subscribers in your email list, that, over time, is going to lead to low open rates, high unsubscribe rates, and, as we said earlier, that’s going to negatively affect your sender reputation.

Interesting to note that inbox providers, particularly Gmail, are going to be judging your inbox placement based on how engaged your list is. So, as I said, if it’s high unengaged subscribers, that will almost certainly cause emails to eventually go to spam.

Our recommendations

Firstly, if you’re not already, consider using a single or a master email list. That will allow you to start to actually monitor engagement results for that same list over time. Secondly, and something you might not think about in relation to this tip, think about creating a welcome email automation. That’s going to help sort of create immediate engagement the minute that your subscriber hears from you.

It also helps you set expectations with your subscribers about what to expect from you and how frequently they should expect to hear from you. And this will ensure that you have the right sort of subscribers from the get-go and that they’re engaged from the beginning.

[Allison]: And this can also be a great opportunity for you to encourage your subscribers to add you to the address book, or flag you as important, or even link to that preference center from the start just to give your subscribers more control over and expectation around how they’re going to hear from you.

I saw a question come through around the preference center. Campaign Monitor does give you tools to create a preference center and there are links and help topics around this on our help site, so feel free to check those out.

[Kate]: So once you’ve created the welcome email, we then recommend segmenting your subscribers based on engagement, and we do have a number of different tools, in Campaign Monitor, to help you do this.

And then, on a regular basis, look to remove these unengaged subscribers completely from your list. So, you know, as a guide, Gmail has algorithms that are going to penalize you if you’re sending to people that haven’t engaged with your emails for more than six months or so.

So, that’s just a good guide to keep in mind.

[Allison]: And Gmail, for reference, is roughly 50% of Campaign Monitor sends. So, if Gmail is acting on that, it’s something to definitely note. They’re calling the shots.

Tip 5: Design and test for engagement.

[Kate]: Our last tip is sort of a pretty broad one, but again, an important one. This relates to that 20% of content that we said in the pie chart earlier in the presentation. And that is making sure that you’re designing and testing your content for engagement.

Making sure that you’re creating, testing, and sending actually valuable content that your subscribers really want to see and hear from you. It also means steering clear of any type of really super hard selling messages or spammy-type email design and content.

I’m sure you’ve seen them in your inbox in the past, the kind of design and content that you want to avoid.

Why?

As we said earlier, email content is a key influence on a decision for an inbox provider to actually accept your email into the inbox. Inbox providers have spam filters that can detect whether your email is spammy in its content and design.

And the good news is that content is actually one of the easiest things that you have control over and you can test over time.

Our recommendations

There are tons of things you can do.

First and foremost, make sure you’re designing high-quality emails and continue to test and monitor engagement. So, you know, test different content, send different types of emails to different groups, different segments in your list, and see what they’re responding to.

We also recommend using our tool in Campaign Monitor to A/B test subject lines, it’s a really easy way to just see which things are getting opened and which things customers or subscribers are engaging with.

Another thing to flag is to make sure that you avoid using shortened URL links and PDF attachments because they can flag spam filters to negatively affect your inbox placement for that particular email.

Also, look to avoid using spam-type trigger words, so words such as, you know, “Buy now,” “100% free,” “Make money fast,” those sorts of words. What’s worth noting is that that is less of an impact these days. I know it was a really big factor maybe 10 years ago, but that’s less of an impact now for the inbox providers.

At the end of the day, what they’re really looking at is how your subscribers are engaging with that email. So, if they’re opening, clicking, replying to your emails, that is going to be the number one influence on whether you make the Inbox in the future.

[Allison]: I mean the thing with spam trigger words, yes, there are some spam filters that still do look at this. Most of the major ones don’t, but it’s more about how your subscribers perceive you.

And if you’re giving off this notion that you may be a spammer, even if they’re expecting to hear from you, then that can be problematic. And that’s really what you want to look out for. But again, by thinking about how your subscribers are wanting to engage with you, maybe they do really want that free offer or something like that. That’s fine—this is where testing is really important.

Wrap up

[Kate]: So, that is the bulk of our content. I’m just going to recap on sort of the key things that we’d love you to take away from this session.

Firstly, making sure that you understand the difference between delivery and deliverability. Deliverability being the likelihood that an email actually lands in the inbox of the subscriber.

And that inbox placement is going to be influenced by your reputation as the sender, so things like your domain authentication, your list health, and your content quality, and the behavior of the recipient or the subscriber, so whether they’re opening, deleting, or marking your emails as spam.

And again, our top five tips to help you achieve this:

  • Number one, look to set up domain authentication, if you haven’t already.
  • Number two, use a signup form with reCAPTCHA to grow your email lists and make sure that you have really clear permissions there.
  • Number three, have a really clear unsubscribe option in every email you send.
  • Number four, segment your list and remove unengaged subscribers on a regular basis.
  • And number five, make sure to design high-quality emails and test continually for engagement.

Q&A

Q1: How do I know my deliverability score?

[Allison]: So, to kick it off, here’s a good one, “How do I know my deliverability score? Can I see my deliverability rates in Campaign Monitor? What is my inbox placement?”

[Kate]: The magic question.

[Allison]: This is the magic question. So, you can see your delivery rates in Campaign Monitor. Again, this is what we talked about, how your messages are being accepted by inbox providers to begin with.

That being said, there is actually no way across any service or software that you can really understand your deliverability rates or inbox placement scores.

There are a lot of providers out there that claim to provide this for you, and they, at best, can give you an approximation. But it is just that. Because every day, every engagement can be such a fluctuation. Every subscriber’s inbox is different, every inbox provider filters and assesses differently. There’s no one magic way to tell this.

And would that we could, but no one has really cracked that code yet—not Campaign Monitor, no other ESPs out there that we’re aware of.

That being said, the best way to monitor it is to look at your open, click, unsubscribe, spam, bounce rates, all of the metrics that we’ve talked about so far. Look at them at a campaign level, which we give you the option to do. Also, look at your insights, which we didn’t talk as much about, but these are your global metrics where you can identify overall how you’re doing, and then, more easily pinpoint any anomalies.

Beyond that—and this is another reason that it’s important to keep a master list—if you have a master list, it’ll be much easier to segment based on the key inbox providers like Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, etc., to see how your open rates fluctuate and how your engagement is within those key inboxes.

And then you can identify, “Okay, am I doing well? How’s my deliverability probably looking within Gmail versus Yahoo versus AOL?” And you can use that to distill where you’re succeeding or where some problem areas might be.

Q2: How do I know if I have a spam bot problem?

Yeah, this one’s really important. Everyone I know is concerned about spam, especially in the days of GDPR and CCPA and being spoofed, that’s another concern. So, this is a two-part question. “What is a spam bot? How do I know if I have a spam-bot problem? If spammers send thousands of fake emails using your company’s email, does that negatively impact your reputation?”

So, covering spam is a large topic. Spam bots, as we said: they’re malicious programs designed to send unwanted email.

They can harm your reputation, as good senders, by causing you to send to people that you never intended to and people who never intended to receive your emails, or by adding tons of fake emails to your list. And they do this by attacking your forms—which is why it’s important to add reCAPTCHA, to make sure all your signup forms are protected.

And this can impact your reputation of course because you’ll see people bouncing, you’ll see people marking us spam, because they’re receiving things that they never intended to. Not any fault of yours, just this is the nature of malicious software these days.

So, that can negatively impact your reputation. But it’s possible to stay ahead of that, monitoring for abnormally high bounces, abnormally high complaint rates. Or even seeing if your list is inflating without any concerted marketing efforts to cause it to grow exponentially more than you would expect. These are all warning signs.

Now, it doesn’t mean that you have a spambot problem but it just means that you might want to look into what’s happening. And maybe, if you can, pause sending until you’re absolutely certain what’s going on.

If you suspect any spam-bot activity, we have support teams here to help you identify what’s going on so that you can get up and sending to the right people as soon as possible.

That said, if a spammer is spoofing your domain or sending emails on your behalf that you weren’t intending, this is why domain authentication is so important. Because spammers can’t actually access your domain records to be able to fully send from your domain, spammer emails will always come via something else.

So again, this is another reason that inbox providers place a really high priority on domain-authenticated emails, because they, by nature, cannot be spoofed. So by having domain authentication in place, you are much likelier to protect yourselves from the effects of spammers and it’ll be harder for them to really impact the reputation of your domain.

Now, that being said, inbox providers do look at that from domain, but if you’re authenticated, you should be fine.

Q3: How do I hit the “Primary” inbox tab in Gmail?

[Kate]: And we had a lot of people asking about, “How do I hit the Primary inbox tab and not the Promotions tab in Gmail?” So I think they’re referring to those three tabs set at the top of your Gmail inbox and how do you get into the Primary one, not the Promotion’s one. This is an interesting one.

[Allison]: Yes. And this is kind of like measuring your deliverability score, where it’s impossible to know what percentage gets filtered even to promotions or any of the other inboxes. But I would say that what Gmail does there is actually a really good thing. And a lot of people think that just because your email goes to Promotions means that it’s also going to spam.

But Promotions is not spam at all and it actually can help. It actually can be a really good thing for you if what you’re sending is promotional in nature.

When your subscribers are going to the promotions tab, they want to consume that promotion, they’re more likely to engage and follow through and convert on whatever you’re promoting. Whereas, if you’re sending a promotion and it lands in their Primary inbox amidst their workflows, they might get annoyed and they might be more likely to mark you as spam.

So, Promotions, because of the frame of mind, even if it causes your subscribers to miss out on one or two emails, by nature of them going to the promotions tab in the first place, they’re more likely to follow it through.

That being said, if your subscribers are getting annoyed that you’re going to Promotions for them or your message really does belong in that Primary inbox, the welcome email is a great opportunity to do this. Or, mixed in with your core messaging and every email you send, encourage your subscribers to mark you as important, move you to the inbox, add you to their address book, or even reply to your emails if they’re noticing you’re in Promotions.

These are the most positive signals that your subscribers can send that show to the inbox providers that you are someone that your subscribers really care about, and you should be prioritized in that inbox.

Q4: Are there any other domain authentication tips to improve my sender reputation?

So I know that there are tons, tons more questions going on. A few relating to authentication and a bit more advanced-level authentication. I saw a few coming in about subdomains authentication and, you know, “What else can I do if I’m already authenticating? Is there anything more that I can do to prove that I’m a good sender?” Or that, “how to up-level my authentication game with inbox providers?”

And the good answer is yes, Campaign Monitor does give you some advanced deliverability options, perhaps fodder for our future advanced-deliverability webinar.

But over the past year, we have released SPF-domain alignment. It’s a free service that we offer to our more advanced, larger senders. And basically what it allows you to do is take control of all of the other domains, aside from the sending domain, that governs the email sent.

So that cmail domains or Campaign Monitor domains are not tied to any of it, you and your domains are fully owning the entire thing.

It’s just one extra step that allows you to take full ownership of that send. It’s a bit more technical, it requires some additional resources on your behalf to set up, but it can also allow you to do things like manage the authentication and alignment of subdomains for example.

So, if you’re at all in the market for something a bit more advanced, domain alignment is an option. Contact our support team for more information.

[Kate]: Awesome. I think that’s probably it for today. Thank you so much.

[Allison]: Awesome. Thank you everyone for sticking with us and listening to how you can improve your deliverability, your reputation, and we’ll see you again very soon.

[Kate]: Thanks guys. See you.

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