3 Strategies for Maximizing Email Deliverability

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By: Mike Madden

Posted: January 28, 2016 | Email Marketing

Let’s get one thing straight: deliverability is sexy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s the only way your emails get seen, opened, and clicked on. And if you can increase your deliverability by even just 1%, it can have a significant impact on your ROI.

But achieving high deliverability rates that could make even a mailman jealous doesn’t come easy. Think of it this way: as an email marketer, you’re like the friendly neighborhood mailman. Every house that you deliver email to has a guard dog (ISP). And on days when you have junk mail (spam) or aren’t friendly to folks on your route (poor IP reputation), these dogs will chase you away and only let you deliver some of your mail. To maximize your email deliverability, you need to be familiar with these three deliverability tactics:

1. Set Lower Bounce Thresholds

When you hear the word “bounce,” you might think about fun trampolines or bounce houses. But for marketers, when an email bounces, it’s like bouncing on a trampoline except without all the fun with about 100 times the danger. Okay, I might be exaggerating—but there are definitely some business risks involved. To understand why, let’s first define soft bounces and hard bounces.

Soft bounce: A temporary problem with email deliverability that can be due to an unavailable server or full inbox.

Emails that soft bounce over and over again should be retired from future campaigns. If an email continuously soft bounced 10 times in the last 10 campaigns, it might be soft bouncing for reasons other than a temporary server issue. To keep your deliverability rate high and the risk of that soft bounce becoming something more, it’s best to retire that email for good.

Hard bounce: A permanent failure to deliver an email, usually as a result of the email address being non-existent, invalid, or blocked.

The less hard bounces, the better. ISPs prefer senders to have low hard bounce rates because it shows that you take care of your email lists and keep them fresh. Furthermore, because a hard bounced email may be invalid, non-existent, or blocked entirely, it’s a great candidate for a spam trap, which is an inactive, deliverable email address owned by an ISP to catch spammy senders.

Hitting a spam trap will severely hurt your deliverability and sender reputation, especially with a specific ISP, and could potentially put your IP address on a blacklist, an online database of spammy senders. Once your IP is on a blacklist, you’ll find it awfully difficult to get your emails delivered.

So what should you do to improve your soft bounce and hard bounce rates? Employ a bounce management strategy! Here’s how:

Managing soft bounces: Whether you use an email service provider (ESP) or a marketing automation solution, you should be able to set a soft bounce threshold. Oftentimes, these are set to a conservative number like 10 soft bounces = a hard bounce or an email that should be retired from email campaigns for good. To see how we manage soft bounces here at Marketo, check out my previous blog.

Managing hard bounces: Retire all invalid address hard bounces immediately. Most email providers and marketing automation solutions do this for you, but not all do, so make sure that any email that hard bounces is removed from your list. And if you’re using an ESP where you load email lists into the campaign from an external data source like SQL tables or Microsoft Access, be sure to regularly export all of your hard bounces and add them into a suppression list after each campaign. Then, scrub them against your email database when running a list selection.

2. Don’t Buy Lists

Whether you’ve been doing email marketing for a while or you’re a brand new business just starting up, buying an email list and having a larger email database can seem attractive, but it’s generally a poor practice and it may be detrimental to your deliverability rates and sender reputation. Here are four reasons why:

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