Anyone who sends email (bulk or transactional) wants to know what percentage of email makes it into the inbox, but the answers — and the explanation of those answers — can vary.
As email is sent out into the receiving universe, one of three things will ultimately happen to it: it either arrives safely, it heads to the junk folder or it goes missing into the ‘black hole’ (or just plain missing).
The only true way to measure email delivery rates is through seed-based monitoring.
Seed-based monitoring is simply seeding your distribution lists with email addresses at every ISP you are delivering to. Then by logging in and checking to see where the mail ended up (inbox, junk or missing), you can gauge inbox delivery.
Of course, setting up and monitoring mailboxes across 200+ ISPs around the globe is a big job and expense, a service that Dyn provides for SmartMTA and EMS customers.
However, email delivery rates and overall deliverability is primarily impacted by the best practices of both your Email Service Provider (ESP) and most importantly, you: a partnership that can help influence the percentage of email arriving into the inbox.
What We Control
Your ESP is in charge of infrastructure – namely the technology powering the intelligent and successful delivery of email to the inbox. A great example is our SmartMTA service which we created and maintain to do just that, the same technology that powers EMS.
Reputable ESPs ensure proper email authentication is configured and, where appropriate, will work to tailor to your sending domain and brand. Your ESP also ensures the sending MTA (Message Transfer Agent) is optimized to throttle mail to individual ISPs based on their ever-changing requirements.
Often we’re asked ‘How many emails can be delivered per hour’ in an effort to get out messages as fast as possible. The answer to this is something smart marketers and IT folks need to get their heads around to ensure not just timely arrival of messages, but to ensure they actually get there. Here’s why:
ISPs, in an effort to let the good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out, require you to send mail to them in a certain cadence. Break those rules and they’ll quickly shut off the stream of mail you’re sending to them. Do it too often and you may have your sending IP permanently blocked. This listening and optimizing based on ISP requirements is the job of your ESP.
There is also the matter of sending from a dedicated IP address versus a shared IP.
The basics: a shared IP is like shared web hosting as many mailers are sending from the same IP address and “sharing” reputation. As in the shared web hosting world, where one site’s issues can cause all others to come crashing down, so too can one bad sender spoil the sending reputation of everyone else.
With both EMS and SmartMTA, Dyn works with clients directly to optimize delivery success and, depending on list size and sending frequency, may suggest a dedicated IP whereby you are the only one to influence your sending reputation and overall delivery success over time.
What You Control
You, on the other hand, control the assets of best practices driven email, namely the creative (copy, graphics and HTML code) that makes up your outbound campaigns. Best practices ignored in proper HTML formatting can cause desktop, web-based or gateway spam filters to flag your mail as spam.
Image-heavy emails can also raise red flags as often spammers use images to hide spam-related keywords so as not to be scanned and stopped at the gate.
Of course, great creative designers need to understand this and know that designing for email is not the same as designing for print or even browsers.
There there is the issue of list hygiene. Sending to old lists, rented or purchased lists, harvesting addresses, or even having a “somewhat” opted-in list can quickly put you on blacklists. Due to a high bounce or spam complaint rate, ISPs can and will stop the delivery of your mail.
Of course, any reputable ESP will have automatic bounce handling and suppression, along with RFBL (real-time feedback loops) with ISPs to capture spam complaints and suppress those addresses from being sent to again.
But the decision to send to anything other than a permission-based audience who requested and desire to be communicated by you is asking for trouble – i.e. poor delivery rates, high opt-out’s, spam complaints, blacklisting and poor sender scores, ie your sending reputation.
As you can see, there are many ways to build a good sending reputation and increase the percentage of mail that arrives to the inbox. Due to great work by our Director of Deliverability Stephen Wheeler, our sending IPs (both shared and dedicated) consistently rank high sender scores.
The reality is there will be issues now and then, but a smart ESP and a smart client working together can ensure more mail makes it to the inbox and ultimately will build a solid sending reputation you can take to the bank.
Brett Houle is the Director of Product Marketing at Dyn Inc., an IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) company that features a full suite of DNS and email delivery services. Follow him at Twitter: @heybrett and @dyninc.