Definition of deliverability

First, let’s clear up some confusion about what exactly deliverability is.

In simple terms, deliverability measures the number of messages placed in the intended recipients’ inboxes. (Yes, the promotions and other tabs are still the inbox!)

There is a similar term, delivery rate. This is the rate at which mailbox providers accept the messages without knowing where those messages will be placed for the intended recipient. (When you see companies talk about a 99% deliverability rate, they are actually talking about delivery rate!)

I wanted to make sure that we are talking about the same thing here: The inbox rate ;-)

What happens if you get it wrong?

Like everything else in deliverability … It depends ;-)

You will hear … It depends … A LOT when talking to deliverability folk.

Absolutely nothing could happen, or you will not be able to deliver any email and all possible stages in between ;-)

The good news is that if you’re not doing egregiously bad things like buying or scraping lists, you can always recover as long as you are willing to take the right steps and be patient. Like your own reputation, your email reputation can be hurt very quickly and will take serious time and effort to recover.

Where do I start?

You start at the beginning ;-)

Before you send the first email …

  • Does have an A record?
  • Does have an MX record?
  • Does have an SPF record?
  • Does have DKIM records for all the platforms you will be sending email from?
  • Does have a DMARC record that includes a reporting address?

All of the above is true, even if you will not send email marketing messages from ESP platforms!

If you will be sending email from an ESP, and all the above is already properly setup for you ESP as well, then …

  • Do you have bot protection on your signup forms? Things like CAPTCHA, honey pot fields, and anything else that could protect you from bot signups?
  • Do you have some kind of address validation in place to catch things like typo’s … You know … ;-)
  • Do you have the best possible defense in place … Confirmed opt-in, also known as double opt-in.

I know this already sounds like a lot, and it is just the beginning!

How is it measured?

There is no reliable way to measure inbox placement, unlike delivery rate.

The only way to get some indication of inbox placement is through the use of seed addresses. There are addresses specifically created to receive messages and see where they are placed at various mailbox providers.

You can either create a bunch of these yourself or use one of the several services that provide the addresses and report on where messages land.

Be aware, though, that this will always only be a general indication of where messages may land and will never be 100% perfect, as most mailbox providers currently do individual-level filtering. Just because a message lands in the inbox for one subscriber does not mean it will land in the inbox for the next subscriber at the same mailbox provider.

Looking at some other indicators over time, purely as a trend, can also be useful … Things like open rate, click rate, unsubscribe rate and spam complaint rate … PURELY as a trend over time, will give you some indication as to wether you are landing in the inbox or spam folder.

How is it improved?

There is a good reason I chose the image above as the featured image for this post … This is really what monitoring and improving deliverability feels like …

Turn this dial, flip that switch, slide that slider a little, all the time, watching the stats and logs on the monitors to make sure things are beginning to improve instead of declining.

Good deliverability starts before you send your first email as mentioned above, but then, right at the beginning of the subscriber journey … Data acquisition. How are they getting on to your list, what expectations are set, how are they welcomed, etc, etc, etc.

Whenever I dig into a deliverability problem for a client, I always start at the beginning, looking at the DNS records, and then immediately after that, data acquisition.

I have seen countless email programs fall flat on it’s face because they did not button down data acquisition in the first place. It can cost a lot in time and money, to fix bad data and bad data acquisition.

Why does it matter?

From a business perspective … Good deliverability means more sales, which means more money, whether you are using an ESP platform for email marketing or sending individual emails to people who directly ask you for more information about your products or services. Not that disgusting cold outreach garbage! YUCK! 

From an email ecosystem perspective … Good deliverability practices mean less spam and phishing emails clogging up email servers!