4 Expert Email Marketing Tips to Achieve Great Deliverability

When customers don't receive their loyalty program emails, order notifications, and other email campaigns, you miss out on a valuable opportunity to capture more revenue and build brand loyalty. Join this webinar to find out how you can drive more email conversions by making sure your emails land in the inbox.

We’ve partnered with Mailgun to share the top email best practices and how these guidelines can ensure better engagement and deliverability for your marketing campaigns.

Join us and Kate Nowrouzi, Vice President of Email Deliverability & Product Strategy at Mailgun for this webinar and learn:

  • How to boost deliverability and improve your chances at getting opens and clicks
  • Which common pitfalls will lead you to the spam folder
  • Other tools you can utilize to achieve better inbox placement


Ensuring that your loyalty and engagement campaigns land in the inbox is critical for ROI. Join us to see how email best practices can benefit your customer loyalty programs and transactional email.

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Read the Webinar Transcript

Jess Shelcusky: 

Today's presenter is Kate Nowrouzi, VP of e-mail Deliverability and Product Strategy at MailGun

Kate overseas deliverability efforts Internally and externally across all MailGun Cloud customers and helps them achieve a high inbox rate through following e-mail marketing best practices. With over 20 years of experience in the messaging space, Kate has worked both at the ESPs is an ISPs in the past.

Prior to joining MailGun she was a Senior Vice President at Message Systems and SparkPost for nine years. A recognized authority on e-mail deliverability and anti-spam practices, she worked at AOL anti-spam Operation Team, and UUNet Verizon as a Network Operation Engineer.

Kate continues to be an active voice in the worldwide messaging community by speaking at conferences, hosting roundtables, and publishing blog posts, as well as being an advocate for stem and women in tech. So, welcome, Kate.

Kate Nowrouzi:

Hi, everyone. Thank you so much, Jessica, for the warm introduction. 

I am very excited to present this webinar with one of our major customers, Paytronix.

One of the questions that comes up in the e-mail marketing world is: Why does deliverability matter? And that question usually comes in when people say, oh, we have 99% delivery rate. So why does it matter? It seems that everything is fine. But not all of the e-mails that they are delivered to the ISPs make it to the inbox, some of those messages go to the spam folder.

So only the messages that they make their way into the inbox have a high opportunity for opens and clicks, and they tie directly to the ROI, and only messages that are clicked, those are the ones that they have been opened. So opens and clicks, they make a huge difference. And the messages that go to the spam folder, usually they have a very, very low percentage of opens and clicked rates. So that's why it matters. The e-mails that you're sending to the ISPs, they actually make it to the inbox, not to the spam folder.

So what is the difference between delivery and deliverability?

You may have a 99% delivery rate, but your deliverability rates may not be that high. And the e-mails that they are accepted by the ISPs, any e-mail that you receive a “250 OK” upon sending by any of the major or minor ISPs that counts as delivered. But a portion of those messages gets filtered to the spam folder on the ISP sides, and the ones that they make it to the inbox, those are the ones that are actually considered as the deliverability or inbox placement, and those are the messages that people have the opportunity to open and click those. So that the difference. So if people are saying that, “oh, we have a great dedicated rates, so we should be fine.” Your question should be, what is your open rate? And by average right now for the market in traffic the open rates are between 20 and 25%. This number is higher for transactional traffic. So that is the deliverability that ties directly to your opens and clicks.

Deliverability is half art, half science. Parts of it is you make sure that your infrastructure is properly set up. That's the science part. Making sure you have the correct configurations in place for your DNS, you are properly authenticating your traffic with SPF, DKIM, DMARC, and your traffic is being segmented; meaning your transaction law, your triggered messages, your marketing and welcome messages are properly segmented into different IPs and sub domains. That is the science part. 

The art part is your reputation. That is your IP reputation, domain reputation, engagement, whether or not people are opening and clicking on the campaigns you are sending. So that's the art part. And they go hand to hand with each other.

If you do not have a proper infrastructure, then the chances that you will be successful in deliverability is lower. If you have a proper infrastructure, but you are not sending meaningful e-mails to your subscribers and they are not opening or clicking -- or even worse, they're reporting your traffic to spam --- then you are missing on the art part. So these two should go hand in hand together and we're going to review details on both of these.

So, the four key indicators of a successful campaign. The first one is acceptance. You need to make sure that your traffic is accepted by the ISPs. If your IP is blocked or the domain is blocked, you don't even reach ISPs. Let's say Gmail is blocked, then you cannot go into the inbox. So the first step is to make sure your traffic is accepted by the ISPs.

The second portion is your reputation. How good is your IP domain reputation? Are you a good sender, are people interacting and engaging with your traffic? So, ISPs, a sign of reputation to each sender. This is like your credit score; each person has a number.

So the better your score is, the higher the chance that you can bypass the ISPs filters. 

Placement in inbox is third: If you have a good reputation you have a higher chance of making it to the inbox. If ISPs are in doubt, they send their traffic to the spam folder. And if the IP reputation is not good, they block it outright at the gate base.

The fourth thing is engagements are people. Now you have made it to the inbox, are people engaging? Are they opening and clicking the e-mails that you send?

Are those campaigns meaningful to them to the point that people are making purchases and so forth? So these are the four key indicators of deliverability.

IP domain reputation. The first major thing is your identity and branding. You need to make sure that you are clear as a sender. For example, if you are sending traffic on behalf of Target, you need to make sure that target.com is obvious in the email subject lines. People must know this traffic is coming from Target or from a Gap. And you need to make sure that your campaigns and your e-mails are relevant.

If people wanted to receive, let's say daily deals, you and you start sending something about open houses in the area, then that is not relevant.

So making sure you’re relevant ties into a direct engagement from the end users. 

Predictable volume and predictable frequency. These are very, very important, you need to make sure that you're the ISPs can predict if you spike. So, for example, doing Cyber Monday after Thanksgiving, most of the ISPs expect an uptick in traffic from marketing campaigns. 

So, if you go 10x on Cyber Monday, that is expected. But if you all of a sudden go 10x on a regular day, that is not expected. And I, I think I have a slide on that. So, I'll go more into the details.

Reputation has positive and negative signals. The positive signals is like the IPSs looking for opens and clicks. Is the sender authenticating traffic? Are they doing DKIM, SPF, and DMARC?

So, those are the basic things that they look for. If a sender is not authenticating with DKIM, SPF, and DMARC, it means that they do not have a proper infrastructure to prevent phishing attacks on their networks. So, ISPs are not going to cross the traffic coming from a network that it is not properly authenticated.

Then they look for if people are engaging video traffic. Are you sending traffic to people, whether or not people look at them, delete them, or they actually can open them? So, all of those plays a major role in bringing up the reputation score on your IPs and domains.

The negative signals are lack of engagement. If you do not have permission from your subscribers, a lot of marketers think the bigger lists are better. So, unfortunately, I see some marketers that get into the habit of purchasing or writing a list to grow their audience. And if there is no permission at the point of contact, that can seriously backfire these days.

People are receiving way too many e-mails in their inbox these days. The ones that they actually signed up, for instance, they go to their favorite store and upon checkouts, they are asked, “if you sign up with their marketing traffic, you can get a 20% off.” A lot of things can motivate you to give up your e-mail address. So you need to be very, very careful, given people are already receiving somewhere between 150 to 200 messages a day. They have a really, really short attention span to look at the e-mails that are coming in.

So, make sure that your message in your marketing campaigns are to the point, they are relevant, and this is exactly what people signed up for. And a poor list hygiene can also contribute to a lower reputation. If you do not remove your hard bounces, or the people who actually report to the spam on your traffic, if they keep naming those people that plays a negative role in your IP domain reputation. And the worse comes to worst, the IP domain gets blacklisted.

So ISPs, they do have a tolerance. There's a threshold. They do accept people who have reported spam. People report spam on e-mails that they already even signed up for. Because maybe they have too many of the e-mails that they signed up. For instance, I'm going and unsubscribing they report as spam, and that has become more common these days.

People have lost their trust in unsubscribe links, so they just go report to spam. 

The other issue is sometimes you want to unsubscribe, but you need to go through five different questions of why you’re unsubscribing. And people don't have time. They just click a spam, and it's gone.

So, when too many of those reports of spam are received by the ISPs, anti-spam operations look at the sender. And they say, “You know, what? Way too many people are complaining from this IP or domain, we are gonna block the domain.” 

So, when that happens, then you will get a really heavy reputation hit, and then repairing that may take a very, very long time.

So, make sure you establish a consistent and reliable identity for your e-mails, make a consistent ‘from’ address so ISPs know who they expect. That's one. 

The second part is your subscribers. You need to make sure you are identifiable as a ‘friendly from’ so, so people know and kind of can connect the e-mail to your brand. And as always, use e-mail authentication that shows that you are the owner of the domain and you care about keeping the ecosystem clean. 

Being relevant is very, very important. If there's no activity between 3 to 6 months, then it shows that this person is not going to engage with your brand. So, it is better to move them to a different list that you contact them less frequently or after 12 months. I highly recommend to remove inactive users from your mailing list. If you segment them properly then you can have re-engagement campaigns, but they are less frequent.

So if you receive the highest spam complaint, even if you are not blocked buy an ISP, that is a signal that something goes off with that campaign. Maybe it was not relevant. Maybe there was not much value in it.

Let's say you signed up to receive some weekly newsletters, and they don't present a good content. So after a while, people will say, “You know what? This is a waste of my time. So I am going to just report to spam.”

So you need to make sure that whatever you are sending to your subscribers is valuable. I highly recommend to create a preference sender for your subscribers, so they can go and choose whether or not they want to receive daily or weekly, or even monthly communications from your brand. You will be surprised as, like, loyal, loyal people, loyal subscribers, they may be only interested to hear from you once a month. So, respect that, because if you don't, and you start sending them daily or weekly, then they become tired, and then they leave your platform.

And that frequency of targeting is different from one person to the other. So it is really important to segment your traffic based on engagement. For most engaged people, those are the people who open 

Major internet service providers or ISPs do track subscribers engagement if people are opening and clicking and enabling images. That is a positive thing.

To maintain a good reputation, a very key item is to make sure your traffic is opt in. Do not buy or rent lists. That is not going to do anything positive. Right now, we are so bombarded with so much information on Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, Twitter. So there is a very, very limited time that people can pay attention to an e-mail. Make sure you're sending only to the people who request it. You have permission from them.

The second thing is segmentation. When you are moving traffic or migrating into a new provider, or your existing provider, make sure your transactional newsletter marketing and traffic are properly segmented on different IPs and sub domains.

And spam traps, those are something that they come into conversations when we are troubleshooting, and deliverability matters a lot. Spam traps are e-mail addresses that are used by ISPs, and anti-spam operators to find out whether or not we are doing a good practice, good list hygiene.

You are not buying a list or renting a list because when customers or brands buy a list, there is a high possibility that their e-mail addresses or spam traps are part of those lists. There are two type of a spam traps. We have a pristine spam trap and recycled drops pursing a spam. Pristine spam traps are the e-mail addresses that have never belonged to a real person. The recycle spam traps; these are the tricky ones. At some point in time they did belong to a person, but that person, for example, didn't even log into their accounts for a very long time. So major ISPs, such as Microsoft or Verizon Media after one year inactivity in the inbox, they shut down that e-mail address for a period of like, 6 to 12 months. Then after that, they may turn them into a trap. So it's very, very critical to remove inactive users from your mailing list.

Because if someone did not open or click in 12 months, there is a high chance that that e-mail address will be used as a spam trap by the ISPs or spam operators. So it is very critical to make sure that you are removing inactive users from your list.

Four tips to avoid the spam traps: Do not purchase or rent a list. Remove hard bounces. Re-engage inactive subscribers. Remove disengaged subscribers. I would recommend 12 months.

I have some people pushing it to 18 months, but definitely do not go over 18 months. That is a very, very high risk with inactive users.

4 Expert Tips To Achieve Great Deliverability 2

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