How to Improve Email Deliverability: 13 Dumb Mistakes to Avoid in 2020
Look, deliverability might sound like a complex subject, but it doesn’t have to be. If you just make sure to avoid some of the most common deliverability mistakes, you’re half-way there.
To make this easier, I’ve compiled for you 13 of these mistakes, and none of them is technical in nature. All of these are easy to fix, and the solutions are included right here, on this very page that you’re looking at.
A lot of marketers put off working on their deliverability because they think that’s “technical stuff” and outside the realm of email marketing. However, here’s the good news — all of these (except one) classify as marketing tweaks. So you get to improve your marketing while boosting deliverability at the same time.
Getting a handle on these mistakes will do far more than just improve deliverability as well. You will also see massive increases in customer loyalty, engagement and bottom-line profits.
This might sound like a marketing mistake, and it is. However, many marketing mistakes also affect your deliverability.
In fact, what a lot of people don’t get is that quality marketing and good deliverability practices are often intertwined.
This is for one simple reason. Your deliverability will primarily be affected by how well people respond to your emails. And your marketing is the primary determinant of how well people receive your emails.
When you send generic non-personalized emails people are less likely to respond well to them. In fact, the less personalized your emails, the more they will feel like “bulk mail”.
At the very least you want to use the “basic personalization” where you dynamically insert things like the person’s name and other custom information you’ve obtained during sign up.
2) Failing to segment
This is closely related to personalization, in fact, some might say that segmentation is part of “creating a fully personalized journey”. At its core level “segmentation” is about splitting up your audience into smaller segments based on common traits.
For example, if you have a health&fitness newsletter, you can segment your subscribers by primary interest. You might have a segment for those who primarily engage with emails about weight loss, and a different segment for those who primarily engage with emails about strength training.
When you use a platform like Emercury, personalization and segmentation are very easy. You can use our automation platform to easily gather all sorts of useful personal information about your subscribers and their engagement with your emails.
You can then store that information in custom fields and dynamically insert it into your emails using merge tags. Kind of like how you insert their first-name in subject lines, but you can use it for any type of information you can come up with.
You can even build custom customer journeys where our system automatically segments people based on those engagements and any extra information that they provide during their lifecycle.
More on that in our guide on creating customers with the help of email automation .
3) Spammy or boring subject lines
A lot of people will be surprised by this point. They understand that “spammy” subject lines could get you in trouble, and they will. But why “boring” lines?
How is a boring subject line a sign of being a spammer? Well, it isn’t. It’s just that if you’re boring you won’t get much engagement from subscribers. And poor engagement is a signal to ISPs to filter out your emails.
And therein lies the conundrum. You want to make your subject lines stand out, without being spammy. Lazy marketers end up in one of these two extremes. Smart marketers take their time to learn how to craft interesting subject lines that don’t cross the line.
4) Lazy and unengaging content
The subject line is there to make them open the email and start reading. The actual content should ensure that they keep reading.
Now, most people think of this as a purely marketing goal. You produce great content because you want to turn them into raving fans and sell lots of products.
But this is a perfect example of where deliverability and marketing have an almost perfect overlap. ISPs actually look at how much people engage with and love your emails. And it takes more than clever subject lines to achieve this goal.
When your subscribers actually take the time to read your emails because they’re packed with value, this achieves a lot of things.
- It makes them look forward to and open more of your emails in the future
- Helps drive other types of engagement such as clicking on your links
- Makes it more likely that subscribers mark your messages as “not spam” when a filter accidentally puts your email in that bin
All of these things contribute to increasing your reputation with ISPs and consequently your deliverability will go up.
5) Failing to make your identity clear to the recipient
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people get it wrong. The last thing you want is the recipient to say “who is this, and why do I have an email from this random sender in my inbox?” That will result in people clicking that “report as spam” button instantly.
To prevent such unfortunate situations, please go ahead and review your branding and identity throughout the process. This means looking at everything that leads them to sign up, the first welcoming emails and the different onboarding sequences.
You want to make sure that there is consistency in identity throughout the onboarding process. It also helps if you make a good effort to help people remember your identity and brand. This is in case you need to send emails from slightly different senders. For example ana@yourbrand, or support@yourbrand. If they recognize your brand, you won’t have a problem. If however, you didn’t do your due diligence, it might result in spam reports.
6) Erratic sending schedules and frequency
This is probably the number one mistake we see out there. This is probably due to the fact that it’s the easiest one to make. Most people tend to fall in one of two unbalanced camps.
On the one side, you have the people who worry that they don’t have anything valuable to send, so they go months without sending anything to the list. On the other hand, you have the people who believe they need to bombard the subscriber with emails.
Both strategies will result in getting marked as a spammer, albeit for different reasons. If you go too long without sending people an email, they will forget who you are. Sad, but true. That means that when you do finally send them an email, they are likely to mark it as spam. Not fair and all, but that’s what happens. If they forget who you are, you might as well be a random person sending them an email for no reason.
When you send too many emails on the other hand, some people get annoyed and decide they don’t want any more. Do they go ahead and click the unsubscribe button? Unfortunately, a lot of people use the “report as spam” button because they find it easier. Sometimes they do so as a form of protest because you annoyed them with your frequency. In general, though, you want to avoid sending too many emails.
7) Prioritizing quantity over quality of leads
Most of us like to measure success in absolute numbers. In that sense, we often assume the more subscribers we have, the better off we are.
This mindset is often one of the main reasons that people end up with lacklustre deliverability.
If your lists include anyone who might even remotely have some small interest in your topics — that’s going to kill your deliverability.
The main thing ISPs look at is how much people engage with your emails. And if most people on your list aren’t motivated to ever open your emails, you will end up with disastrous deliverability.
It is much better to set a goal of getting highly-interested and qualified email subscribers who are interested in what you say. If those are your criteria, then growing that number is a good sign. Growing the number at all costs isn’t.
8) Making unsubscriptions difficult
This is one of the most common mistakes, and also the most dangerous. You have to realize something — people who aren’t excited to be on your list are useless. In fact, they’re worse than useless, they are profit killers.
Even today, in 2020, the primary factor that ISPs look for is engagement. And the most negative signal is when a lot of people ignore and delete your emails.
This means that ISPs decide to filter out your emails in general. Let me repeat that. When a lot of people ignore and delete your emails, the ISPs stop delivering your emails to anyone. Even the people who are excited about getting them. Even the people who would have bought a ton of your products.
So please, don’t make this mistake and please make it easy for people to unsubscribe. Make it clear that if they’re not sure about receiving your emails, they can opt-out at any time.
A lot of people are afraid that a potential customer could unsubscribe “too easily”
People come up with all sorts of excuses to make opting-out difficult. Most-commonly people say something similar to this:
- “Yeah, they might be unengaged today, but what if 3 months down the line they suddenly get excited about the topic and start buying all my stuff”?
- “Isn’t it better to make it difficult to unsubscribe, so that it gives them a second chance to get excited about this topic again”?
I have both bad news and good news for you. The odds are that this is a fantasy. If they are considering unsubscribing, they’re not going to magically turn into a loyal fan later on. They’ll just stay on your list, ignoring all your emails and sending all sorts of bad signals to the ISP.
In a minority of cases it is possible for a person to be temporarily uninterested in a subject, but would be interested again in the future. The good news is that today we have a solution for this, it’s called retargeting.
You can build a custom audience in your advertising platform of choice where you occasionally hit up past subscribers with some of your content. That gives them a chance to re-engage and sign-up again if they show interest in the topic again.
9) Lack of good list hygiene
This is the easiest mistake to make due to complacency. Especially if you’re doing a good job at prioritizing quality signups for your list.
You might even say:
“Hey, I’m super picky about how I get people on the list”
“I make sure only highly interested people sign up”
“We even make it super easy to unsubscribe!”.
Unfortunately, I have to inform you that while a good start, this isn’t enough. It’s a major mistake to assume that this will keep your list clean of unengaged subscribers.
Most email subscribers are quite lazy. And no matter how easy you make unsubscription, they just prefer to ignore and delete your emails. This sends really bad signals to the ISPs.
10) Using too many broadcasts, and not enough email automation
ISPs want to make sure that readers are interested in what you are sending and that it isn’t a spam email. How do you get readers (and consequently the ISPs) to give you their trust?
You have to treat them as the unique individuals that they are. When you send the same email to everyone at the same time (broadcast), it feels like spam to most people.
But how can you treat a large mass of people as individuals? That’s where email automation comes in. Unlike a broadcast, with automations, a person gets emails based on when and how they engaged with your brand.
With Emercury you can even build custom customer journeys where our system automatically segments people based on those engagements and any of the extra information that they provide during their lifecycle. You can learn more about this in our guide on creating customers with the help of email automation .
Typically, you want it so that most of your emails are being sent by your email automations, and only use broadcasts for special one-off events. And you want to send those broadcasts to people who are already engaged with your automated emails. You can read more on this topic in our article on email automation vs broadcasts .
Primarily this strategy is taught for marketing purposes. It helps customers become raving fans and buy more of your stuff. However, it also helps build up a great reputation for you as a sender, which results in higher delivery rates.
11) Failing to ramp-up for a big event or the holidays
If you’re working with Emercury, you should have your own delivery specialist, so there wouldn’t be anything to worry about. But if you’re not on Emercury yet, it is really crucial for you to know what I’m about to tell you, unless you want to destroy your deliverability overnight.
To simplify things, I can tell you this — you just need to realize that ISPs are alarmed by sudden changes in frequency and volume. So one of the biggest problems we see with email marketers is that they increase their volume abruptly whenever they have one-off major promotions. It could be due to a product launch or because of the holiday season.
However, just because you build up a great reputation from sending highly segmented and personalized emails — it doesn’t mean your reputation has then become “invincible”. You can’t just rush to the broadcast option, choose the entire list and send your big announcement to everyone all at once just like that. I mean you can, but it’s going to hurt your deliverability.
What you want to do is take some time to plan a ramp-up process leading up to any such broadcast. If you’re going to send the same email to your entire list, that would constitute a sudden change in volume. So what you want to do is gradually send higher volumes of email to larger chunks of your list, leading up to that one big broadcast.
If you need more help on applying this strategy, don’t hesitate to chat with us.
12) Failing to set up your own SPF and DKIM records
If your emails lack a sender-policy-framework or DomainKey identification, it is possible for your emails to get rejected by the recipient ISP.
Now, when you use an email-sending service, by default your emails are signed and declared as being sent by your email provider. This is ok to get started, but you will want to switch to using your own and signed domain as quick as possible.
For example, our own newsletter is sent by emercury.net servers, and the sender email is also @emercury.net. This means that there is a match between the declared sender domain and declared sender email. Such as set up ensures both that you have the highest possible deliverability and that your reputation is your own.
If you don’t utilize a custom mailing domain there will be a mismatch between the sender email and signed domain
For example, your subscribers get an email from firstname.lastname@example.org , but in the email header it says that it was sent by sendingserver456.emailsendingservice.net. And while that mismatch is not a big deal a lot of the time, it’s far from perfect.
It also means that you share your reputation with everyone that sends email through sendingserver456.emailsendingservice.net which is far from optimal.
Now a good email service provider will keep track of its customers and make sure there aren’t bad apples lowering the reputation for everyone else. However, again, this is far from ideal. You will want to transition to sending from your own custom SPF and DKIM signed domain as soon as you can.
13) Thinking that your email sender cares about deliverability
This point is often a surprise to many people. A lot of people assume that if you pay a service to handle your email sending, that they care about your emails getting delivered.
It should be the case, however, it’s not. Most email marketing platforms are focused on what gets them the most customers. Since most customers are new and inexperienced, the best way to get them is to use fancy shiny features and gimmicks. That’s who the major email platforms focus on.
This is why we get experienced marketers moving their huge email lists to Emercury every day. Once you get some experience, you realize that most profit ties into the core features and good deliverability. Fancy gimmicky features don’t contribute to your profits, but they do ensure the provider sacrifices deliverability.
If you want to try a provider that’s “obsessed” with your business success, I have some good news for you. For a limited time, we’re offering the most generous “forever-free” plan in email marketing. That’s right, if you fetch your own username now, you get this plan for free, for life. And it is the most generous free-plan you’ll find anywhere.
Michael Batalha helps startups and businesses with making their sites work for them like a sales machine, from building your story to collecting leads to nurturing those leads into customers. He has successfully created numerous startups and sat on the board of the Entrepreneur Organization. His passion is working with entrepreneurs and building businesses. Follow him on twitter @mikebatalha for tweets on awesome marketing tips.