Email marketing and deliverability: an interview with an expert

We al know that deliverability is a hot and important topic in email marketing. For one thing, the number of emails increases. Secondly, (direct) marketers waste money on emails that never reach their primary target.

And there are more challenges. Time to involve an email deliverability expert. An interview with Casper Schoute, who is co-chair of the international committee of the Online Trust Alliance.

What defines whether an email gets delivered or not and have the ways ISPs and spam filters operate changed?

Casper Schoute: The days that emails were filtered based on content only are long gone. In the war against growing volumes of spam and fraudulent email such as phishing, ISPs and incoming spam filters are continuously using more and more techniques to filter the bad guys from the good guys. Since email is critical for most businesses, getting email into the inbox is valuable. Deliverability is not only an issue for bulk email, such as newsletters and smart campaigns, but also (and maybe even more important) for transactional email like order confirmations. In fact, it is an issue for all outbound emails.

Sender reputation is key in email deliverability

If the days that emails were filtered based on content only are long gone, then what is determining deliverability in this day and age?

Casper Schoute: Nowadays, reputation is key. Various metrics are taken into account to determine the reputation of a sender. For instance, when somebody hits the “this-is-spam” button, ISPs will treat this as a complaint by one of their customers, and they are very serious about that. If there are too many complaints the whole outbound email program is at risk of getting send straight into the junk folder or not accepted at all. Another aspect is the way that organizations perform bounce management. Sending email to a lot of addresses that no longer exist (hard bounces) is a red flag for ISPs. They see this as spam-like behavior, because spammers don’t bother to process hard bounces either. So, a company should make sure that their user base is ‘clean’ and hard bounces are deactivated. The same goes for complaints; these should be processed. After all why would you send email to people that obviously don’t want it

Sender reputation and bounces are crucial. Recently, we wrote about the fact that ISPs are starting to look more at elements such as interaction (number of mails opened, clicks, etc.) and in these social media and engagement marketing times it seems obvious that those elements are taken into account also.

Engagement and brand protection

Casper confirms the importance of engagement in email marketing deliverability: “Sending email to people that really want to receive it and having low complaint rates, has been and will stay very important for inbox placement”.

Casper Schoute: Respecting receiver’s wishes is getting even more important as various ISPs have implemented, or are implementing several engagement metrics into their reputation systems. Are emails opened and do people click in them? Also, marking an email as “This-is-not-spam” has a positive effect on sender reputation. Having an opt-in and inbox placement does not automatically go hand in hand. At one hand, you have the legal definition of spam and at the other hand, there are the ISPs and receivers that determine the legitimacy of email, and whether it is placed in the inbox. To get an engaged user base, companies should be transparent at the opt-in process, manage user expectations and deliver relevant content, giving customers control over their data and preferences.

Engagement, again that magical word. However, if you think you now know all you need to know about email deliverability, think again.We also asked Casper to tackle issues regarding authentication. Casper, who groups them under the title “Identity and brand protection” has a message for email marketers, regarding the authentication of domains.

Casper Schoute: Implementing authentication methods like SenderID and DKIM is a must for email deliverability. These techniques are used at the receiving end to check if a sender really is who they say they are. Authenticating has an additional benefit, by using these techniques companies battle phishing and protect consumers. I strongly recommend all businesses to authenticate all domains, including domains not used for email, to protect their brands from abuse like spoofing and phishing.

Conclusion: there are many changes in the email deliverability area. Reputation, interaction, engagement and sender reputations are just some of the elements and of course good old content-based filtering still exists too. And remember that email deliverability is not only about achieving the best results possible from your email marketing efforts: it’s about brand protection too!