Signed, Sealed, Not Delivered? Email Deliverability and Blacklisting

Ivana Simovic here, with your quarterly post on why email marketing is a whole heck of a lot like dating. Yes, this is basically a dating advice column. We’re getting dark here with the topics of email deliverability and blacklisting

What the heck is email deliverability and blacklisting?

Deliverability is something us in the email marketing world always hear about! Most of us know the consequence of having consistently poor email deliverability leads to being blacklisted. But what happens if you do get blacklisted? I can help you navigate through this hellish nightmare. Unfortunately for me, I’ve experienced this myself. I’m here to save you (and your subscribers) from yourself.

INDICATORS THAT YOUR DELIVERABILITY IS TANKING

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I like to strive for a delivery rate of 97-100%. Some ESPs measure email deliverability in percentages and monitoring it is a task you take on your own. Others (specifically ESPs that tend to have more customers on shared IPs) will notify you when your deliverability is dropping and may even cut you off from sending anything when it drops beneath a certain rate.

Your reputation and sender score are also key indicators that something is off. I often check senderscore.org to ensure my clients are as close to 100 (the best score you can get) as possible.

Getting back on track

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Your ESPs deliverability team will likely manage conversations with the affected ISPs, track down which message was the trigger for being blacklisted or blocked and provide a somewhat vague reason why it had happened. While that’s being worked out, you should cease mailing anyone who was affected by the block (i.e. any soft and blocked bounces). I tend to suggest a double and triple check of all upcoming campaigns, ensuring the message is clear, alt text is properly used and that you’ve selected an actual target group (harsh reality check: your entire database is not a target group).

You’ll eventually get the a-ok to send to your database again. Just please learn from the nightmare that was THE BLACKLIST and don’t find yourself in that position again. The pointers below should help prevent you from being blocked:

Slow and steady

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Throttling your campaigns (sending to small chunks of your database over a specific period of time) is a not-so-secret weapon I like to keep in my back pocket. Why? BECAUSE SO MANY REASONS.

  1. You won’t look suspicious to ISPs. When you batch and blast campaigns at once and get a load of soft bounces due to sending to spam traps, too many spam complaints or questionable content that soft bounce is the ISP telling you, “Hey, this looks a little strange to me. I need some time to take a look at this and confirm that it’s ok to resume sending.” Not listening to that and continuing your send makes you look like one of those awful spammers that give us good guys a bad reputation.
  2. You won’t crash your site. Sending an email campaign to everyone in your database, within minutes can cause your server to go down and potentially affect results of your campaign. Find out what kind of traffic your server(s) can handle, do some math based on your average click rates and set your throttling limit based on that.
  3. It could save you from sending and OOPS campaign to everyone. When you throttle your sends, you’ll be sending to a small group every hour. You know that if something is wrong in your email, it’s extremely obvious within minutes of the email going out. This way, you’ll have time to fix it and only a small percentage of the database saw the error.

Unsubscribes can be good

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No really, they can. When someone unsubscribes, they’re telling you they’re just not that into you. They’re not reading your emails anymore, or the content is no longer relevant or they’ve simply outgrown a need for your product. Having the customer communicate that with you is the breakup equivalent of getting closure. A much more desirable outcome than those subscribers who are ghosting you.

Ghosting: The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date. This is done in hopes that the ghost-ee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested. (source)

Verify and Confirm

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Using services like BriteVerify are quite handy, specifically when collecting email addresses at point of sale, there’s loads of opportunity for error and a lot of incorrect/fake addresses are making their way to your database. Uploading new subscribers here first will help verify the real addresses from the incorrect or fake ones, helping you maintain a healthy delivery rate.

Confirming opt-ins via double opt-in has been a point of contention for email marketers. Here’s my professional stance on it: I strongly recommend double opt-in when collecting email addresses verbally or at point of sale. This will help avoid adding valid but incorrect email addresses to your database and will help cover your butt for those in Canada or sending to subscribers in Canada.

Email Marketing is a lot like dating

Listen to your loved one (send relevant content), don’t be a Playboy (no more batch and blasting) and never forget my birthday (what? I love birthday promos). Following the rules above should keep you out of the dog house….err, off the blacklist.

I spoke at the Litmus Email Design Conference in Boston this August on email deliverability, and email blacklisting. Check out the slides from my presentation below:


The Email Design Conference – Litmus Live 2016 Presentation by Ivana Simovic from Demac Media