Seven Tips to Increase Your Email Deliverability

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Email marketing has the highest return on investment of any marketing medium. It’s a powerful tool that’s not going away any time soon.

High success rates come when you put forth the effort to ensure your lists are clean and current, your content is sound and simple, and your ability to track results helps you fine-tune future campaigns to increase engagement.

Most small businesses operate on a very tight marketing budget. They usually have one person dedicated to handling email marketing; often, that person is also wearing other hats. Being able to efficiently create, send, and track email campaigns that work takes trial and error and lots of practice.

Below are seven tips to help you be successful in getting the most out of your email marketing efforts.

Tip 1: Start with clean-list-building practices. It’s important to create a list based on people who have already expressed an interest in hearing about your product or service. When you have consent or the proper permission to send an email to someone, success rates and deliverability go way up. You want the sender to recognize you when you send them an email. You also might consider segmenting your list so you can be more accurate when personalizing your content to a more specialized audience.

Tip 2: Keep lists current. The age of your list also matters. People’s interests change and their addresses change. Send a campaign at least every three months to make sure your list is still good. Lists that are over a year old put you at risk of getting blacklisted or blocked; once that happens, it is very hard to get your emails delivered. If you are concerned that you might already be blacklisted, see the current list of sites at the end of this article; use them to search your domain and IP address to ensure you’re in the clear.

Tip 3: Have an online presence. Stop using a Gmail (or Yahoo or Hotmail) address to promote your brand. Get your own domain and website. Include an email submission form on your homepage to help build your list. When you send an email with your domain name in the address, it is more likely to be recognized and opened. To improve delivery in the future, add a call to action at the beginning of each email asking your email recipients to add your address to their address book.

Tip 4: Develop engaging content. Personalize emails when you can. Keep content simple with a good balance of text and images. Spammers don’t usually “waste” time doing so, whereas some marketers want to dazzle with too many images. Emails with JavaScript and attachments also send a red flag.

Tip 5: Test. Trial and error is very valuable for testing email campaigns. We provide our customers with an A/B or split-test function, which allows them to divide their lists and test campaign content. One quarter of the list is sent one concept while another quarter is sent a different concept. Based on which quarter’s content has the higher opening rate, the winning concept is sent to the remaining 50% of the list. These tests give emailers a better understanding of what works.

Tip 6: Track performance over time. Gaining a window into your campaign’s open rates and click-through rates will help with tracking growth and success over time. This data helps you to get insights into what content and subject lines are successful and how to improve your approach.

Tip 7: Hire an Email Service Provider (ESP). ESPs help with monitoring your email deliverability and bounce-backs and ensuring your compliance with anti-spam regulations. When you send your email campaign through an ESP, it will include a standard opt-out and global opt-out link as well. If you have no design experience, ESPs can help provide templates to make email campaigns look professional.

Never underestimate the power of email marketing. Although social media has been getting a lot of buzz, not everyone is always logged into Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. But most people constantly check their emails, even when they are not at their computers.

Meet people where they are at and have fun while you are doing it!

Current Blacklists

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Nine Ways to Improve Your Email Deliverability

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HTML… I have a confession: I don’t even know what it stands for. But do marketers need to speak geek? Do you know your DKIM from your Kim Dotcom? Does thinking about SPF give you ADD?

Surely email marketing is like driving a car: You don’t need to know how it all works, you just use it. It’s simple: Choose your list, craft your message, send it into the world, and track the results.

Except when it breaks down and then you wish you knew a bit more than the basics! And email marketing can break down, including at delivery, when your beloved newsletter gets mistaken for spam.

Spam filters are here to make our lives better. But as marketers we feel frustrated if they block our emails. Using an email marketing application to be professional is a commendable step, but it’s also good to know how to “pimp your ride,” or fine-tune it, to get the best results.

Let’s take a quick look under the hood of email delivery.

Four Ways to Get Your Spam Score Low Like a Pro…

mechanic under car

1. Tag it

An alt tag is used when the reader cannot view the image in their mailbox (if their email client blocks images, for example, or if the person is visually impaired). It is a description of the image in HTML code (that word again!) shown when the image isn’t displayed.

For example, for the image to the right, in the following snippet of code the the alt tag would be “mechanic under car”: <img src=”garage.gif” alt=”mechanic under car”>

What you need to do: Add alt tags to your images. You should be able to add alt tags within your email marketing software, without having HTML coding knowledge. When you use alt tags, your readers know what each image is about even when they don’t see them.

Moreover, spam filters can’t “see” images, but they can “read” alt tags and thus are reassured by them: An image without an alt tag is an unknown blob to a spam filter and therefore looks suspicious. So do yourself a favor and add the alt tags to keep them happy.

2. Don’t cut and paste

If you’re using an email marketing tool, bringing in text directly from Word (or PowerPoint or Outlook) will mess up the HTML coding in your email. Instead, you can copy text from those Microsoft Office programs and paste it into Notepad (to convert the formatted text into raw text), and then cut/paste from Notepad into your email software, where you can do additional formatting.

3. Be authentic

Internet service providers (ISPs) such as AOL, Verizon, etc. use a combination of various methods of email authentication to confirm that the domain you are sending emails from can be trusted—i.e., that you’re not spam.

What you need to do: In the settings of your marketing software, check the box “Enable authentication” to maximize your delivery. When you do, the email service provider (ESP) will be able to digitally sign and send on your behalf.

There are four main authentication methods: SPF (Sender Policy Framework), Sender ID, DomainKeys, and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail). Your email provider should be certified to apply all of these protocols on your behalf.

4. Personalize

Default domain names used by ESPs are not linked either to your company name or your brand. As a consequence, these URLs may appear suspicious for your subscribers and also for certain anti-spam services. Just as you’re more likely to answer your phone when you know the person calling, you’re more likely to open a mail (and not mark it spam) when you know who’s sending it.

What you need to do: Have a personalized domain name. This option should be available in your email marketing software (see previous image). You’ll be more professional, easily identifiable, and trustworthy, leading to more opens.

And Five Classic Best-Practices for Deliverability

5. Use double opt-in

Make sure subscribers have twice confirmed their intent to receive your newsletter or to otherwise be added to your email list (usually, first on your website, where they sign up; and second, by clicking on a confirmation link in an email you send to them).

6. Avoid spammy content

Certain words, too-good-to-be-true phrases, styles, colors, lots of CAPITALS and exclamation marks can make you look like spam. (Here are some additional tips to avoid being classified as spam when you’re not—a “false positive”—from Spam Assassin.)

7. Respect the law

Obey the law of the land. In the US, this means being CAN-SPAM compliant (for example, include an unsubscribe link in your mail). If you’re not, you could more easily be considered (and reported as) spam.

8. Watch your text-to-image ratio

If you have too many images and too little text, your email could be considered dodgy. A handy guideline is one paragraph of text for every image.

9. Wake up your sleepers

If there are people in your email database who have not responded to your emails for a while, it might be worth asking them whether they’re still interested in receiving emails from you. If they’re not interested, instead of unsubscribing they could well click the spam button. And that’s something you’d obviously like to avoid.

Key Takeaway

It’s worth putting in a little extra effort to maintain a good sender reputation and stay on the right side of the spam filters—and in the inbox.

Bonus time: I looked it up… HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. I’ll try to remember it long enough to slip it into the conversation next time I go for coffee with the developers. Now I just have to pray that my car doesn’t break down.

Mechanic photo by Philip Bitnar

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