Matt Vernhout

Matt Vernhout is Chief Privacy Officer/Manager of Deliverability for Inbox Marketer.

9 deliverability questions to ask your email service provider

9 deliverability questions to ask your email service provider

"Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use filters to make sure only the emails that recipients ask for get to their inboxes. By examining email deliverability metrics more closely, you might discover that one or more ISPs are blocking your emails. If this is the case, your email service provider will need to look at the requirements of these ISPs to figure out why your emails are getting blocked and to help ensure they make it into the inbox going forward."

Your email deliverability metrics are trending downward, but as a marketer, you know you’re doing all the right things, including:

  • Sending permission-based communications
  • Creating relevant content that resonates with your audience
  • Sending email on a regular schedule and appropriate frequency
  • Avoiding elements that appear spammy, like too much punctuation, too many urls and too many spam trigger words
  • Making it clear and easy to unsubscribe
  • Adding legitimate branding and a physical address to make it clear you are the official sender

You suspect something else is going wrong, but you don’t know what questions to ask. Here are 9 conversation starters to help you work with your email service provider (ESP) to get to the bottom of the problem.

1. Which ISPs are recipients using to receive my messages?

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use filters to make sure only the emails that recipients ask for get to their inboxes. By examining email deliverability metrics more closely, you might discover that one or more ISPs are blocking your emails. If this is the case, your email service provider will need to look at the requirements of these ISPs to figure out why your emails are getting blocked and to help ensure they make it into the inbox going forward.

Here are a few popular ISPs with links to their email deliverability requirements:

2. Are there any coding errors that might be hindering email deliverability?

Coding emails according to standard best practices is a necessary step for ensuring delivery into the inbox. If there are too many problematic elements, such as mismatched urls (visible urls that are not the same as the coded urls), malformed HTML tags, script programming languages or large images, these will flag your emails as suspicious. Make sure your ESP uses experienced coders who understand and keep up to date with changing email standards.

3. Is email creative tested to ensure it appears correctly across email clients?

Email messages display differently depending on where they are opened. That’s because each email client has a unique way of processing email messages. If your recipients open an email message that looks garbled, they will be more likely to mark it as spam. This, in turn, can have a negative impact on your reputation and cause your ISP to block future messages.

It’s critical that your ESP follows best practices when it comes to coding your message and tests your email across email clients before it is sent out. An experienced HTML coder will know how to optimize your email correctly and ensure it does not include any coding errors that will trigger your message as spam. If you have a large number of subscribers who are opening your email messages on a mobile device, you should also consider using responsive or scalable design to ensure your message is easy to read and click on when viewed on a smaller screen. This will help you keep subscribers engaged.

4. Is my sender address on any blacklists?

ISPs look at recipient behavior to help determine the legitimacy of email senders. If a large number of your recipients mark your emails as spam, this increases the chance your email sender address will be added to a blacklist. The blacklist will prevent your emails from getting to your recipients’ inboxes in the future. To find out if you’re on a blacklist, there are a few tools your ESP can check, if they are not using tools already to monitor blacklistings:

If you confirm your address has been blacklisted, your ESP should work on your behalf to remove you from the list. Sometimes all it takes is filling out a simple form, but if the issue is more complex, more investigation and effort will be required to resolve the problem.

5. Which authentication standards are you using to validate my email messages?

Authentication tells an ISP that your email message is approved to send on behalf of your domain/brand. When an ISP can verify the identity of the sender, it knows the message is approved and can be sent through to your recipients. If email messages are not authenticated, they are more likely to be processed against additional spam filtering tests that could result in delivery to the bulk folder.

There are two main methods of authentication that your ESP should support: Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). SPF tells an ISP who can send mail from a specific domain name by listing the approved mail servers used by the sending domain. DKIM uses a cryptographic digital signature to help an ISP validate that the message sender has approved the source mail server as legitimate and has approval to send on the domain’s behalf.

Since some ISPs rely on SPF and others use DKIM, it is critical that your ESP authenticates your messages using both these standards to help ensure your emails are accepted and delivered to the inbox.

Another new authentication solutions that are gaining momentum is [DMARC ] (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance). This solutions allows for the sender to apply policy and receive feedback from several large ISPs (more are being added all the time) about the messages they are receiving claiming to be from your domains.

6. Do you have a regular procedure in place to keep my email list(s) clean?

List hygiene has a direct impact on email deliverability. Your ESP should remove unsubscribes and email addresses that hard bounce (those that can’t be delivered because the email address is non-existent, invalid or blocked) prior to sending your next mailing. Inactive email addresses (subscribers who don’t open or click on your message for 6 months) should also be taken out of your main mailing list. (Analyze these contacts separately and consider running a [reactivation campaign] against them to get them interested in your content again).

Since many ISPs look at how subscribers interact with your email content, sending messages to subscribers who do not open and click will make your email look spammy and increase the likelihood your message will be blocked or delivered to the junk folder. In contrast, if you follow best practices, continue to engage your subscribers and maintain a low number of bounces and complaints, you’ll be more likely to experience higher email deliverability.

7. Are you using a dedicated IP address to send my email messages?

A benefit of having your own dedicated IP address for sending marketing/promotional email is that you have more control over your reputation. That’s because if multiple senders use the same IP address, anything they do will impact you. For example, if senders engage in poor email marketing practices and have a bad reputation, this can have a negative effect on your deliverability as well. So, if you are sharing an IP address and seeing a sudden decrease in deliverability, work with your ESP to examine this situation further and determine if you should switch to your own dedicated IP.

8. Are you using a consistent, recognizable domain name for my email messages?

ISPs like email addresses that match a custom domain name because they show a legitimate connection between the email message and the sender. For example, emails from “Jane Doe at CompanyABC” should use an address like janedoe@companyabc.com not janedoe@outlook.com. Although it’s not mandatory to use the same domain in the “From” field of the message as the actual domain sending the message, it helps build trust with subscribers. If you are using inconsistent domains, ISPs become suspicious and your message may be blocked.

9. Are you ensuring that the message volume and send speed matches the requirements of each ISP?

Send volumes that are too high or too low can have a negative impact on your email deliverability. Your ESP should know how to balance your email volume according to the requirements of various ISPs. They should also help adjust the message sending speed by ISP to help ensure your email messages won’t be blocked.

Sometimes email messages that come from a different geographic location or cross multiple time zones can also be triggered as spam, particularly if that location has a reputation for sending a lot of spam messages (Asia is a good example). If you need to send messages globally, make sure your ESP is a legitimate global provider. You can also set up a mail server in the same country where your messages are being sent to help prevent deliverability issues.

Although email deliverability problems can be challenging to identify, by starting the conversation with your ESP, you should be able to work with them to get to the root of the problem. If your ESP can’t assist you, and your email deliverability metrics continue to plummet, persevere and find a provider who can help get your email program back on track. The best way to optimize deliverability is to ensure the entire team is up to speed and working together. It takes constant research and education, but is worth the time and effort. After all, an email only has value if it reaches the inbox.

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