Email deliverability checklist: Sending email is not the same as delivering.

email_deliverability_checklist

In this Email deliverability checklist we will see that the actual sending of email is one tiny step in a larger process of delivering email.

There are a myriad of other requirements that need to be covered by yourself and your ESP to get emails into the inbox and for the emails to then be engaging enough for your customers to read them.

Deliverability is a complex environment that requires all the moving parts between technology, professional services, industry knowledge and processes to work together.  There is no silver bullet and all the settings in this Email deliverability checklist need to work in conjunction with each other to have the desired result.

Email Deliverability checklist

How does your ESP measure up when it comes to maximizing deliverability? Use this checklist as a guideline to judge their deliverability rate.

email deliverability checklist

1. Email deliverability Technology

An ESP’s MTA (mail server) may not be able to support some essential features that are required for enhancing deliverability.

Make sure they have all the features in this Email deliverability checklist and are able to provide these in their standard offering.

Static/Dedicated IP address (Dedicated for higher volumes)
When your email sends reach a certain volume, in order to have full control over your deliverability you want a dedicated IP address. This is a single point that only your emails are sent from.  You have full control over your reputation and subsequently your deliverability.

Multi-part emails (text & HTML)
By not sending both parts of the MIME you run the danger of having your messages flagged by a heuristic filter that specifically checks valid MIME headers that include TEXT & HTML

Throttling
Some ISPs bounce emails if they receive too many messages from one sending address at a time. Throttle the number of messages per hour to meet ISP restrictions.

Sign outgoing messages with DKIM
ISPs authenticate incoming messages to verify the sender. If you are unable to authenticate yourself, you may be seen as a spammer.

DKIM is an anti-spam method that uses a combination of public and private keys to authenticate the sender’s domain and reduce the chance that a spammer or hacker will fake the domain sending address. This technology helps fight phishing.

Retry feature for temporary failures/greylisting.
A mail server using greylisting will “temporarily reject” any email from a sender it does not recognize. If the mail is legitimate the originating server will, after a delay, try again and, if sufficient time has elapsed, the email will be accepted.

IP Warming
An IP address with no sending history is in danger of having the emails blocked. Employ IP warming techniques so that you can build up a reputation with recipient mail servers before you start sending them large batches of emails.

email deliverability checklist2. Sender Authentication & whitelisting

It is important to confirm your identity as a sender. Email providers should check your domain or IP against databases of trusted senders. This also helps prevent phishing and spoofing of emails.

Although your email service provider may be the one directly responsible for the setup of these items, it is important that your mail administrators work with the ESP, as they will guide them through the process and give the correct settings.

Sender Authentication setup
ISPs authenticate incoming messages to verify the sender. If you are unable to authenticate yourself, you may be seen as a spammer.

    • SPF – This is a way to say an IP or domain can send email on your behalf. It prevents ‘from’ address spoofing.
    • DKIM - A means to digitally sign an email message and associate a domain name with it. This signature gives recipients and ISPs a reason to believe the email message was created by a known sender and that it was not altered in transit.
    • DMARC – A DMARC policy allows a sender to indicate that their emails are protected by SPF and/or DKIM, and tells a receiver what to do if neither of these authentication methods pass – such as send to junk or reject the message.

Other DNS entries

  • A record – Ensure that your sending (sub)domain resolves to an IP address by creating a DNS A record
  • PTR record - Ensure that each of your outbound IP addresses resolve to a hostname, or a Fully Qualified Domain Name.
  • MX record - Ensure that each email (sub)domain has a valid MX record that specifies a mail server responsible for accepting email.
  • Abuse and postmaster email addresses setup
    Ensure that your sending (sub)domain has an abuse@ and postmaster@ mailbox so that you can easily be contacted
  • Public Who is listing
    Visible contact information for the domain and sub-domain is important to show you are not hiding your identity as a sender.
  • Privacy policy for the sending domain
    A publically accessible Privacy policy shows the use of best practices and is required during most whitelisting processes.
  • Whitelisted with major ISPs
    A sender can get whitelisted if they are labelled as a safe sender by the subscriber and their ISP. Whitelisting provides an additional opportunity to hit the end user’s inbox.
  • Setup Feedback loops to monitor complaints
    Complaints reduce your reputation score so it is essential that customers who complain are unsubscribed.
  • 3rd Party accreditation
    3rd party accreditation provides access to an exclusive whitelist that can improve delivery. Senders are required to undergo an extensive vetting process to ensure they are using all the required best practices.

email deliverability checklist3. Email deliverability and Content

Getting the email into the inbox is great, but this is not a once off exercise. You have a few seconds to capture their attention so they don’t delete or complain about your email.
That is why it is an important part of this Email deliverability checklist. You can reduce email complaints and stimulate opens by taking the following steps:

  • Recognizable FROM email address
    In many cases it’s the first thing your customer sees, so it is essential that it is recognizable and trustworthy, otherwise it may be seen as SPAM.
  • Subject line reflects the content of the message
    Only a few characters stand between email success and the trash bin. Make sure it is relevant and interesting.
  • Copy gets to the point
    Customers often scan emails rather than read them in full detail due to busy lifestyles. Use headlines, sub-headlines, call-outs and bullet points that break up text for quick scanning.            
  • Copy stays on topic and has a call to action.
    Be clear on what you are asking the customer to do, otherwise they are likely to just file the email or delete it.
  • Messages are formatted for viewing on mobile
    Mobile rendering can often be very different to the desktop views. With the number of people reading emails on mobile devices increasing it is important to make sure your message is easily readable and actionable.
  • Physical address and phone number in the footer of the email
    This is to help demonstrate that you are a real live company, with a real physical presence. Many ISP’s and 3rd Party Authentication companies require this for Whitelisting.
  • Comply with opt-out legislation
    Non-compliance can lead to rejection during the Whitelisting process and even legal action, not to mention irritating your customers and getting complaints.

4. Email deliverability and Testing

email deliverability checklistTesting is essential for an email campaign, no matter how experienced you are. There are several areas that require testing to achieve higher email deliverability.

This can’t be missing from your Email deliverability checklist, for Email deliverability testing goes further than just seeing if the email has a good inbox placement.
You also want to stimulate good email marketing results.

A. Design

Knowing what your customers will see across all devices and email clients is very important for your emails results. But why include it in your email deliverability checklist? Something as simple as not being able to view a message properly can prompt them to complain about the email.

  • Previewed or rendering tests across multiple email clients and devices
    This enables you to fix any issues before you send your messages to customers.
  • Structured for optimal readability
    Based on eye-tracking we know that most people scan more than they read. . .
    - Average time to capture a user’s attention: 2 seconds
    - Once you have their attention, average time spent on the email: 51 seconds
  • Clean HTML code
    HTML syntax and format errors are common tricks spammers use to foil standard content filters, so SPAM filters now also verify that your HTML code is valid. Invalid code is rendered across a wide variety of browsers and the outcome is unpredictable.

B. Content
Customers have come to expect functional and efficient messages as they receive hundreds of communications daily. Email providers check content of emails as another step in fighting the war against SPAM.

  • Content spam check
    Pre-checking that your content does not contain any “Spammy” words will allow you to fix any issues before you send
  • Subject line checked (length & content)
    Testing that your  subject line displays correctly will allow you to fix any issues before you send
  • Seed list delivery testing before the 1st campaign is sent
    Sending emails to a test list and checking if they arrived in the inboxes is the perfect pre-send test to see if your email has all the correct elements.
  • Valid from and reply email address
    Make sure you have a working FROM and REPLY address, as replies to emails count towards engagement which can improve your deliverability.
  • Working unsubscribe
    If your unsubscribe is not functional, people are more likely to complain and select “This is spam” instead

C. Data
It is all about keeping the list clean. This involves some process, reporting and ESP services at every stage of a campaign

  • Email cleaning and verification
    ISPs measure how many invalid email addresses are being attempted, this could cause a temporary or permanent block for the sender
  • Avoid Spam traps
    Purchasing lists can lead to unwanted email addresses that are actually spam traps. These will have a detrimental effect on your deliverability.
  • Remove complaints and unsubscribes from your list immediately
    Complaints count heavily towards your reputation and in turn your deliverability. Failing to unsubscribe customers and having them complain again will cause deliverability issues

5. Email deliverability Reporting and Monitoring

email deliverability checklist

Your ESP should provide you with a comprehensive set of reports so that you are able to monitor your Email deliverability metrics.

For instance your Bounce Rate (aim for 3% by removing bounces and keeping your list as clean as possible, etc) & Complaint Rates (under 0.1%).

You’ll also need detailed processes defined that indicate what must be done with the information once you receive it.

Email deliverability Reports
Reports provide you with the valuable information you need in order to take action, especially when it comes to unsubscribes and complaints

-       Delivery Report
-       Complaint Report
-       Unsubscribe Report
-       Click tracking Report

Notifications
Early detection of any issues will allow them to be corrected quickly, an important part of your email delivery monitoring

-       Campaign failures
-       Data issues

Monitoring
Constant monitoring of key indicators will give you insight into your deliverability status. A definite part of your email deliverability checklist when reviewing different ESPs.

-       Check your reputation (Sender Score)
-       Monitoring Blacklists
-       Actively monitor SMTP logs to detect any issues
-       Activity trends

Processes
Effective processes are essential for easy management of campaigns to make sure all the relevant actions are being taken

-       Bounce & undeliverable
-       Complaint
-       Re-contact inactive users

The ultimate email deliverability checklist

An ESP that can offer all these items on the email deliverability checklist is far more likely get your email delivered. When choosing or evaluating your ESP, be sure to keep this email deliverability checklist close by, and you’ll be well on your way to working through the multiple layers of spam defence that ISPs have created around Sender Authentication, reputation checks and content filtering.

About Linda Misauer


Linda Misauer is the Head of Global Solutions at Striata and is responsible for technical Research and Development, Operations and Project Management for global initiatives. Linda has nearly ten years of experience in the IT industry, ranging from video streaming solutions and website application development to electronic billing and messaging. Linda previously led the Product Management of the Striata Application Platform before moving across to Striata North America as CTO. As CTO, Linda is responsible for all technical operations for North, Central and South America, including the Project Management, Support, Production and Data Engineering.

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  • http://twitter.com/thexyz thexyz

    Great article, well done.

  • Jonesthemail

    It was going really good until we got to the part where you started
    hawking Return Path’s pointless, overpriced offerings. I took marks off
    for that!

  • http://www.coldcallinginsider.com/ Frank R

    Great article! However, I’d pass on using an ESP. By following these best practices on my own server I get surprisingly better deliverability than any ESP I’ve tried including SendGrid which seems to have the best reputation.

    I think it comes down to the fact that with an ESP, your IP(s) are on the same Class-C block as hundreds of other mass email marketers. Not good. ISPs assign reputation not just to individual IPs but to Class-Cs as well, and I wouldn’t doubt that they know all the Class-C block of the larger ESPs and handle them differently than a true dedicated IP.

    (I’m hosted at Rackspace BTW – they’re very flexible with giving you as many IPs as you need and have no problem with mass mailing from their datacenter.)

  • http://www.emailvendorselection.com Jordie van Rijn

    Hi Frank, thanks for your comment, but I think you are mistaken that a self-hosted environment will give you better deliverability. Depending on your set-up, bounce management, throttling
    and resolving of domain specific deliverability issues by ESPs often can’t be beat.

    Unless of course you have a server being managed for you or you are a deliverability expert yourself.

  • http://www.coldcallinginsider.com/ Frank R

    Yes, both servers were built by an expert who is the deliverability person in a Fortune 100 company and I pay him on an as-needed basis; however is still infinitely less expensive than using SendGrid was and open rates are about 20% higher.