Pulling Back the Curtain on Email Deliverability

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You can create the best email in the world, but it won’t matter if it doesn’t make it to your subscriber.

And that’s why it’s vitally important you work with an email service provider (like FeedBlitz!) who places the highest possible focus and dedication on their deliverability practices.

But what does deliverability mean? And how and when does it actually happen? And is there anything you can do to help?

The answers to those questions and many more are what you will find in this post. There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to email deliverability, so without further delay, let’s jump right in.

In this post, you’ll learn:

What is email deliverability?

Deliverability is a fairly common buzzword in the world of email marketing. However, unless you’re in the business of establishing and safeguarding it — or have had your email efforts impacted because of the lack of it — there isn’t a lot of clarity around the term and how companies achieve, monitor, and protect a high deliverability status.

In the simplest of terms, deliverability is the processes and protections that allow your emails to reach your subscribers. It sounds pretty simple, but everything that takes place to get your emails from creation to open is much more complex.

Knowing the ins and outs of email deliverability will help you make wiser decisions regarding your email marketing efforts. And it’ll also offer vitally important clarity when deciding which email service provider (ESP) to work with.

Because again, you can design the prettiest emails possible, filled with the best content of your life, but it all means nothing if you’re with an ESP who cuts corners and your emails don’t actually get delivered.

Key terms related to email deliverability.

Anytime you’re working with a complex topic, starting with a foundation of key terms is best. The following terms will be helpful to know as you dig deeper into this blog post:

  • Deliverability – getting your emails to a subscriber.
  • Inboxing – getting your emails to a subscriber’s inbox (including Gmail’s promotions tab) as opposed to the spam folder.
  • Reputation – receiving internet service providers (ISPs) review, judge, and estimate the safety of emails being sent by a particular email address — based on their own top-secret set of rules and guidelines — which ultimately determines whether your email will be allowed or denied.
  • Authentication – a process to further validate the sender of your emails established through SPF, DKIM and DMARC, which use DNS to ensure permission has been granted.

What happens when you send an email?

Deliverability checks are not something that takes place one time, in one specific step of the email sending process. It can — and does — happen at multiple stages of the process every time one of your emails begins to send.

To help give you a better idea of how and when this can happen, we’ll start with all the things that happen when you send an email, i.e., the path your email takes from the moment it begins sending to its arrival at your subscriber’s door.

There are many more steps than you may realize, and that’s because most of the process takes place behind the scenes. The full process is a bit more nuanced and detailed than what’s outlined here, but the six steps highlighted below will give you a solid frame of reference for the process.

While most ESPs follow similar, if not the same steps, below is a FeedBlitz-specific version to help show additional checks performed throughout the way:

A graphic diagram of the six steps of what happens when you send an email listed below.

Step 1 – You create an email. And when working in FeedBlitz, before you’re even able to send or schedule the mailing, the content is checked against our in-house protocols. For example, you won’t even be allowed to send an email that may potentially be rejected by ISPs.

Step 2 – The email begins sending. A unique email copy is created for each subscriber and sent to one of our outbound SMTP servers. (SMTP = the internet’s email protocol)

Step 3 – Our SMTP servers send the email to the ISP. FeedBlitz’s SMTP servers then send your mailing to the receiving ISP’s servers.

Step 4 – ISP reputation check. The receiving ISP’s inbound email server runs a series of reputation checks (on the sender) and content scans (on the email).

Step 5 – Receive, reject or quarantine. The ISP will then either allow your email through, immediately reject it, or quarantine the email by sending it to a subscriber’s spam folder.

Step 6 – Email received! (or bounced/rejected) FeedBlitz gets feedback on whether your email was received or recorded as a bounce/undeliverable.

At any step of the process, deliverability and reputation checks can kick in and prevent your email from arriving.

Luckily, the strict standards and practices many ESPs (like FeedBlitz!) have in place work to catch anything before the email even reaches outbound servers. They will also diligently monitor all feedback loops from ISPs and swiftly suspend any list whose feedback is not up to par.

Actions you can take to boost your deliverability and sender reputation.

Good email deliverability isn’t only in the hands of your ESP. You as a client can have a significant impact on your reputation with your subscribers, which can and will boost your individual deliverability success.

Below are five action items you can do to help boost your own deliverability and sender reputation even further.

  1. Set up authentication for your sending domain.

    Authentication is an added layer of verification to let ISPs know you are the true, valid sender of the email and that you’ve okayed FeedBlitz to do that for you. It involves SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. However, DMARC is typically used by high-level enterprise clients.

    FeedBlitz servers send your campaigns on behalf of the sending email you supply. (Note: This is why you may notice your email reads via [email protected] in email apps like Gmail or Outlook.) Authentication provides additional validation by saying, “Yes! This email is from me, and I authorize FeedBlitz to send it on my behalf! But please show me as the true sender.”

    This reinforces the level of trust an ISP forms with you and your emails. Hello, reputation booster.

    Are you a FeedBlitz client and not sure where you stand on your authentication? Click here to log in and run a quick scan.

    And if you’re ready to put authentication into action for your FeedBlitz-support campaigns, these steps walk you through how to set things up for your account: Protect Your Brand with SPF and DKIM and What Is and How to Create a DMARC Profile.

  2. Keep an eye on engagement data for your campaigns.How your email is received by subscribers is a strong indicator of the reputation you have with your audience. Are they opening? Clicking? Complaining? Unsubscribing? These data points are very important to FeedBlitz, fellow ESPs, and to individual ISPs who decide whether to prioritize (or deprioritize!) your emails.

    Healthy engagement is the strongest indicator of a healthy mailing list. And everyone likes healthy when it comes to deliverability.

    In FeedBlitz, you can track engagement data for each campaign from the list dashboard, dive deeper into in on the individual mailing dashboards, or pull a full engagement report to see engagement data over a chosen period of time.

    Note: Not sure what a good open rate is? Check out this episode of Win the Inbox to learn more.

  3. Review your content strategy and email best practices.

    This may seem a bit broad, but it relates back to something in section 4 of this post: Your audience ultimately determines what is or is not spam.

    Along with your quality content, you want to deliver a smooth, seamless experience for your subscribers. This means taking into consideration details such as:

    – Are you mailing regularly? A consistent cadence sets your subscribers’ expectations and can heighten open rates.

    – Is your branding all connected? From your website to your email template, the colors, the images, etc.? This helps with brand recognition, emphasizing you are someone the subscriber knows, likes, and trusts. (Again, better engagement is the result!)

    – Are you sending the content your audience signed up to receive? This can be a big determining factor in the frequency of how often a subscriber opens your emails. Deliver on what you promised when they signed up!

    – Is your template accessible for different audiences? This is where font size, color contrast, alt text for images come into play. The easier your email is to read and engage with, the wider your audience can become.

    That’s a small selection of things to consider, but it’s a great start to creating a smooth experience for your subscribers.

  4. Subscribe to your own list.Somewhat related to actionable #3 above, subscribing to your own mailing list not only ensures the end-to-end subscriber experience is up to your standards but also lets you know immediately if your emails are potentially being routed to somewhere other than the inbox.

    This also falls into best practices as you’re able to view test emails across different platforms and devices before hitting send.

    Again, the idea is to make sure your subscribers are having a seamless experience with every campaign you send, so it’s always best to check on different devices and email agents when possible.

  5. Remove people who are no longer opening or clicking your emails.While FeedBlitz handles unsubscribes and bounces for you automatically, if there“s one thing the team recommends the most to clients across the board, it’s removing inactive subscribers. This keeps your list — and engagement data — healthy.

    If a subscriber hasn’t opened or clicked one of your mailings in 60+ days, chances are they’ve lost interest. So instead of keeping them on your list with the mindset of “a bigger list is a better list!” set them free and move forward.

    In FeedBlitz, there are two ways you can go about this: one would be to send a re-engagement campaign and check if these inactive subscribers are still interested in sticking around, and the other would be to identify and remove them in one fell swoop. The choice is yours. Just remember, the name of the game is healthy, engaged mailing lists!

Some of these action items you can work on and complete right away, and others you may choose to take a week or month to focus on. Either way, the suggestions outlined above will not only have a positive impact on your deliverability but also on the relationships you have with your subscribers.

How FeedBlitz safeguards and boosts deliverability.

In this section, you will learn some of the secrets, standards and practices FeedBlitz has in place to protect and boost email deliverability.

These practices not only keep our clients’ emails going but allow us to consistently maintain our industry-leading deliverability rate of 99.8%. When an ESP works hard to safeguard their reputation, they’re also working hard to safeguard yours.

It’s important to take deliverability practices into consideration if you’re comparing ESPs to see which is a good fit for you. While an ESP may not go into great detail on their in-house practices, you’re welcome to use the six items outlined below as a guideline for questions to ask.

Without going into too much detail — we do have to protect some industry secrets, and we’re highly aware that bad actors read this to learn how to try and skirt the rules — below are six deliverability-related items you may find interesting. (Or, at the very least, you may find them insightful if you’ve ever had a list suspended or mailing halted!)

  1. We own all of our servers.That means when you’re sending with FeedBlitz, you’re not sharing a server with anyone who hasn’t been well-vetted or anyone who also isn’t being monitored 24/7/365. We have complete control over our infrastructure.

    Owning our own servers is hugely important. Some ESPs do not own their servers, and ultimately, they do not have full control over their reputation management. This leaves you vulnerable to your emails being potentially stopped if an unknown bad actor sends from the shared server your emails are sending from, the entire server, and everyone on it, is taken down.

    When this happens, the server’s IP can be added to a blocked list which is monitored by ISPs (who then reject your emails, not letting them through the door), as well as third-party lists many ISPs check as well — all because of emails you didn’t even send!

    One bad apple really can ruin the barrel in these situations…which is why FeedBlitz doesn’t cut corners when it comes to protecting deliverability.

  2. Feedback loops and changes with major ISPs (i.e., Gmail, Yahoo, Comcast, etc.) are constantly monitored.Meaning, we keep very close tabs on things such as how your audience interacts with your emails, any rejections or bounces which come through, oddly large groups of hard bounces, and velocity-based triggers. Resulting in your email having the best chance of getting through to your subscriber.

    As part of the monitoring process, if one of our servers is being throttled by an ISP, your campaigns will be quickly routed away from the machines in question so they can continue sending while further research is completed on the server and IP.

    If an ISP has cleared out a batch of old or undeliverable emails, we’ll confirm this is correct and not merely a glitch in the email ecosystem.

  3. Every email list and every subscriber is checked before they’re even allowed in the door.

    And that is not an understatement. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 subscribers or 10 million subscribers, each and everyone is checked against our own set of internal block lists, matched against 3rd party known purchased or rented lists, and will result in immediate suspension — and quite possibly being blocked from FeedBlitz all together — if an email address returns as a spam trap.

    We ruthlessly guard imports to protect the reputation of all FeedBlitz clients. If a list is suspended due to a blocked import or poor quality metrics (more on this below), it will remain suspended for at least 24 hours while the import file is being reviewed. After reviewing, the deliverability team will evaluate whether or not the import will be allowed to proceed and if the list will be reinstated.

    To put it plainly, we check receipts on each and every subscriber you try to bring into our home so our clients can rest easy knowing everyone is held to the same high level of quality control.

  4. Before you’re able to leave the editor, your emails go through the same content filters ISPs will run when deciding whether to allow or deny your email entry to the subscriber.

    Step four in the process listed above is where the destination ISP runs a series of checks to then decide what to do with your email.

    FeedBlitz created a series of content-based checks within the Visual Mailing Editor (VME) to mirror those an ISP will run.

    And while the industry has evolved quite a bit, and there is less emphasis on the presence of common spam/trigger words when it comes to deciding whether to allow your email through or not, it is still a factor to take into consideration.

    These content scans are also a safeguard against making sure your account has not been compromised.

    It’s frustrating, but bad emails can still come from good places, and that’s why multiple checks and balances are in place throughout the email creation and sending process to help ensure the success of your efforts.

    Important note: Because reputation extends to the links in your emails as well, this is why FeedBlitz doesn’t even allow an email that links out to a bad IP to be sent. We’re always looking out for you!

  5. How your subscribers engage with your mailings has a big effect.Just because a mailing passes our filters, ultimately, it’s up to your audience to decide whether or not it’s spam.

    Even if your email isn’t flagged as spam, ISPs (and FeedBlitz!) track all feedback from subscribers in how they interact with your mailings.

    This includes opens, clicks, and unsubscribes. It all has an impact on your deliverability. ISPs keep just as close tabs on this as we do. For example, when emails aren’t opened frequently, a subscriber’s ISP makes note of this and can demote or deprioritize them.

    FYI: If a mailing comes back with a lot of unsubscribes or complaints, it’s suspended in FeedBlitz for at least 24 hours while our team conducts a thorough review.

    This all works to keep your reputation and the reputation of all FeedBlitz clients in as good of standing as possible. And as you’ve probably picked up on by now, we don’t play around when it comes to sending reputations.

  6. New practices are regularly implemented.

    As the world of email evolves, so do we. Our team continually adjusts our in-house practices and protocols, as well as implementing new items. For example…

    – In April of 2022, we informed clients our deliverability team was increasing our email capacity by 40% by warming up a new batch of servers. Deliverability ✅

    – Large lists with a very low open rate (<10%) will be run through an auto-purge feature to maintain open rate stats and engagement data? You guessed it, deliverability ✅

    – New DMARC checks are live in the authentication dashboard of your account settings. Again, hello, deliverability ✅

    Some updates are minor (auto-purge, for example) while others are more substantial (i.e. a new batch of servers). Regardless, all current and new practices are multi-pronged to address a variety of deliverability-related factors.

That’s a very small handful of the practices in place which keep FeedBlitz not only in good standing with all major ISPs but also leading the industry with a consistent 99.8% deliverability rate.

Because when your ESP has a good reputation, you have a good reputation, and your emails are much more likely to reach your subscribers.

And that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it?

Why deliverability should be your ultimate determining factor.

Email deliverability isn’t as exciting as email templates or a buffet of features you may or may not use. However, it’s email deliverability that will actually get your emails to your subscribers. And even though it’s incredibly important, it’s not always top of mind when considering who to work with on your email marketing.

If you’re in the market for a new ESP, factor the provider’s deliverability practices and rate into your search. Ask their team if deliverability is a high priority for their company (which it absolutely should be!), and they’ll be more than happy to chat with you about it.

You don’t even need to get super technical here. A few key questions to ask would simply be:

  • What is your deliverability rate?
  • Do you own your servers? If not, do you use shared servers?
  • How do you handle bounced and undeliverable emails?
  • What do you do to safeguard subscriber imports?

Those four questions, paired with the information in this blog post, will give you a strong overall sense of a provider’s deliverability prioritization, helping you make a better-educated decision on who will facilitate communications with your audience.

Because again, you can create the best email in the world, but it won’t matter if it doesn’t make it to your subscriber.

Ready to send your emails with FeedBlitz’s industry-leading deliverability?

Head to this page to start your free trial. Questions? Feel free to reach out with any questions through our Support Page. While live support is available Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM Eastern, and you can always find helpful information 24-7 at the resources linked here.

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