Email Deliverability: The What and the How
Email Deliverability is one such topic that is always often overlooked by the majority of entry-level SDR’s. I’ve seen people focus a lot over trying to find a lot of new techniques on how to go about doing the account-based prospecting, finding out emails, validating those emails, enriching this data and then taking that into a Google sheet and feeding that into a sales automation platform. This is usually followed by fixing email subject lines and email copies. In the entire process, nobody actually cares to know or plays with everything that happens between pressing the send button and the email reaching into the prospects’ inbox.
Here I’ll walk you through the steps involved between sending the email and the email reaching your prospect’s inbox so that you don’t know miss on a lot of stuff that you can use to better strategize your email campaigns and gain better results.
Email deliverability to me is having to know the process of what actually happens in the backend of when an email is delivered and then to be able to optimize that process to achieve improved inboxing which leads to improved chances of higher open rates and reply rates. In plain simple words, email deliverability is the number of emails landing into your prospects’ inbox divided by the number total email sends, so think of it like you have an email database of 500 people and you sent out 500 emails in the morning and out of this 500 people only 200 people are receiving emails in the inbox (the others either received the emails in the spam folder or in the promotions tabs or didn’t received the emails at all -emails bounced) email deliverability, in this case, is 40%. This is something that happens on a daily basis is hurting your campaigns real bad.
Now that we have established that email deliverability can make or break an email campaign and as a parameter, it should be stressed a lot more and steps should be taken to improve it if you’re are experiencing reduced open rates. Let’s now dissect this process step by step.
DNS Record Check – SPF, DKIM and DMARC
Step 1: After you have hit send, your email now goes to your recipients’ email server and there it is checked for a number of parameters. The first set of parameters against which your email is being checked is the DNS records. Think of the DNS records as a proof of identity for your email. DNS Stands for Domain Name System and acts as an authenticating medium for your emails. On reaching the recipient’s email server your email is checked for particularly three DNS records Namely SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. Once your email is being checked against these records it authenticates two basic things, the first being that the email is from the actual person whose address is mentioned in the from address section meaning that it is not a robot or somebody else who’s trying to spam by faking the sender’s identity. This acts as proof telling the email service that there is an actual person who has to send this email and this matches the from the name and from email address mentioned in the email.
Secondly, it checks for and ensures that the message that is the email body content is not compromised during this process meaning that the content sent by the original sender is intact and has not been altered during the email transmission process. This in nutshell is how DNS authenticates your email by running checks against the sender name and address and against the email content, we’ll dive deeper into the exact working of DNS records in the later blogs of this series.
Domain and IP Reputation Check
Step 2: Once your email Is authenticated at this step it then moves on to the next step where your sender reputation is checked and based on that the email either goes to the next step or is bounced back. Both in the first step and during this step your email has yet not been gauged in terms of the actual content meaning it has yet not been checked against what you have written inside the email. This clearly points to one important caveat that if your email does not pass the first and the second check you won’t even reach that stage where the server is checking your email content and then deciding whether to put this email into the spam folder or the inbox folder, so highly important to honor the DNS records and maintaining the sender reputation. Okay, coming back to step two of checks against the sender’s reputation, to understand sender reputation you should understand that everybody on the internet has some reputation, be it your domain your IP address your email service providers’ IP address everybody carries some reputation which determines how credible they are. This reputation comes into play when we are sending emails too and when looked at in this respect this is termed as the sender reputation. While running checks to gauge your sender reputation you are being judged against abuse report(s) filed against you, reports of you hitting the spam traps, reports of your domain or IP being mentioned in any of the popular blacklists, how frequently have people reported you as spam over the course of the past 12 months and by how much has your sender score degraded over the course fo the past 12 months.
Content Check – Spam, Profanity, and Promotional
So the server runs the checks and analyses these parameters and then comes to the conclusion of whether to allow your email to move to the next step where it is then checked for its content or to send it back as a blocked email. If the server finds that your reputation does not hold great meaning having a lot of abuse reports filed against your domain, being into blacklist(s) it is certain that it would not allow the emails to move forward and would block them. But in the case that you have a good sender score and a good reputation the email now goes into the next step where it is checked for its content.
This last step of gauging the content against a process to classify whether it is a genuine email or if somebody is sending a bulk mass email and trying to spam has now become very advanced and crucial and something that all the email servers have gone very hard on today and the reason for this is the fact that email happens to be one of the greatest marketing mediums today and due to such massive adoption of emails companies generally exploit this medium by sending tons of promotional emails. This, in turn, has forced email servers to update their algorithms and get very strict when it comes to classifying content as spam and anti-spam.
During this step, three basic checks are made no matter what email provider you use or which email server is the recipient server. These checks are to gauge the percentage of spam, profanity and promotional content in your email body.
To check both spam and profanity levels in the content, it is run against a set of words and phrases which indicate spam and if a similar looking or exact word is matched the server clearly identifies and classifies that email as not going into the inbox folder and moves that email to either the social and promotion tabs or to the spam folder based on the intensity of spam level it gauges.
For checking against the promotional levels in the content, along with passing the content against a set of words and phrases that points to promotional email type, the server also checks a few other things including the text to image ratio, the text to HTML ratio, the number and the type of links present (both long and shortened URLs raise red flags).
The text to image ratio is a concern because a lot of brands today market their products and services using email newsletters and generally these newsletters have high image to text ratio meaning there are lot more images in the email which are difficult for an email client to load up and in turn signifies that there is some kind of promotion being done by the presence of so many images.
The same logic applies with the text to HTML ratio as being chosen as a metric because all these newsletters that you receive today, they are all HTML coded templates and NOT handwritten emails. Over the past so many years email servers have gotten very smart and have started to associate these emails (containing a lot of HTML) as newsletters irrespective of the fact whether you are sending out newsletters or one-on-one emails, if there is a lot of HTML present in the email it will be classified as newsletter and would be pushed to the promotional tab. So good advice is to keep the text to HTML ratio high meaning that your email should have more text and less HTML code.
Based on this check the email either lands into the inbox, promotion tabs or the spam folder.
This is all that happens when you send out an email. Now before you stop reading this post I want you to take care of three things to improve your email deliverability.
- Fix your DNS records: positively apply SPF and DKIM. If possible also configure DMARC
- Find out sender reputation associated with your domain and IP: Check if you are listed in any of the blacklists and work towards increasing your sender score.
- Always double check your content in relation to the spam words and phrases. Also, check it against words and phrases that trigger the promotional nature of the content.
I hope this post helps you to understand the importance of maintaining high email deliverability. I’d love to discuss this with you. Hit me up in the comments and I’ll revert as soon as possible.