Email Deliverability Archives
Email deliverability best practices and tips to help you improve your delivery rate and reach the inbox.
Email marketers are the authors of a very particular story: the story of their email’s deliverability. Your own story starts when you turn on your computer screen and open the message editor in your web browser. So begins your email’s quest for the inbox. ISPs, spam filters and your subscribers themselves all stand between your [...]
Read "Be the Author of Email Delivery"
Have you ever used a link shortener on any of your email marketing campaigns? They’re a handy way to send a long URL to someone using just a few characters. And while they’re nothing new (TinyURL turns 10 in January 2012), they’ve become particularly popular since the rise of Twitter, Facebook and other communication mediums [...]
Read "Are Blacklisted Link Shorteners Getting Your Emails Blocked?"
Although emails from AWeber customers like you are already whitelisted on an ISP level through us, your emails may be filtered on an individual level.
So how do you get your readers to give you their stamp of approval? You ask, of course.
Ways to Ask
You can ask in two ways. Your choice depends on how long you want your request to be and if you have a site to host an instruction page on.
Ask Subscribers to Add You to Their Contacts or Safe Sender List
That way, each subscriber can take the appropriate action for their ISP.
This is quick to implement, and a simple message (like this one from Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment) indicates that the process will be easy.
Ask Subscribers to Whitelist You, and Offer Complete Instructions
This example makes it easy for subscribers to find custom instructions to whitelist and email address
This method offers flexibility: you could use a simple “whitelist us” link as Marketing Experiments does, or include a full paragraph on why you’re asking your readers to take this step.
Marketing Experiments provides a simple text link
If you need help putting together an instruction page, feel free to borrow from our examples.
Something to avoid: If you include an email address in your whitelisting request, make sure to disable the link. Otherwise, subscribers may assume that clicking the link will help them whitelist you, and be frustrated when that is not the case, like in this request from Steve Spangler Science.
Places to Ask
The places you make your request are going to depend on your preferences, your campaign history and your readers’ reactions. You may also want to put requests in place for both current readers and new subscribers.
The thank-you page.
Alert your new subscribers before they ever get an email. If you’re using a custom thank-you page, not only can you make your request, you could even include the full set of instructions. Whitelisting you at this point ensures that readers will get every one of your messages.
The welcome email.
Request an exchange: you promise to send your readers important updates, special deals and the best content you can provide. In return, you ask them to whitelist you. Make sure to point out how they benefit: they won’t accidentally miss out on those deals or updates.
A paragraph in a broadcast.
Did some subscribers miss the whitelist request on your thank you page or welcome email? A polite request in a regular email might be the best way to reach them – especially if you include other interesting content in the broadcast.
An entire broadcast.
This option requires careful consideration. On one hand, you can include instructions directly in the email without creating or linking to a separate page. On the other hand, such an email may annoy subscribers. Think about your readers. Are they likely to unsubscribe if they get a request instead of the content they are expecting?
This keeps things subtle. Listing a simple link at the top of each email reaches current subscribers without bothering them with an announcement. It also keeps the option of whitelisting you available for those who overlooked or ignored previous requests.
Keep in mind, while whitelisting can help you reach the inbox, you won’t stay there long if subscribers don’t like what they get from you. So keep striving for the most relevant, useful content possible!
How Do You Ask?
Do you ask your readers to whitelist you? How do you go about doing so? We’d love to hear your results and ideas!
Read "How to Get Subscribers to Whitelist You"
Getting subscribers to whitelist you sure is a popular email marketing topic lately.
Fresh on the heels of Yahoo’s announcement that users can choose to view only emails from their contacts, Gmail is making a change of its own that makes email from contacts more usable and readable than email from non-contacts.
They’re not making a separate inbox for contacts, but they are changing one important part about how they treat emails from certain contacts:
Images On By Default For (Some) Contacts
Gmail recently announced that they’ll be enabling images for certain people in users’ contact lists.
- You must be in the Gmail user’s contact list.
- You must be authenticating your emails using SPF or DKIM (AWeber does).
- The Gmail user must have sent you at least 2 emails. (They note that this is a starting-out threshold that may change.)
“You Mean Subscribers Have to Email ME?”
Yep – getting them to list you in their address books is step #1, but they’ll also have to email you a couple times before images will be on by default.
But that’s OK. In fact, it’s a great reason to do something you should already be doing anyway: ask your subscribers for feedback!
Have them email you their thoughts on your emails…
- What they like
- What they don’t like
- What they want you to discuss in future emails
… and not only will you be on your way to meeting Gmail’s requirements for having images on by default, you’ll gain invaluable insight into how you can improve your emails.
Read "Gmail Gives You One More Reason to Get In the Address Book"
But the writing is on the wall for marketers who aren’t getting subscribers to add them to their address books.
Soon, if you’re not in there, it’ll be even easier for customers and prospects to ignore your email marketing campaigns.
Here’s what I mean:
Yahoo! Helps Subscribers Quickly Filter Out Email From Non-Contacts
On their official blog, Yahoo! Mail announced that users can now toggle from viewing all mail to only mail from their contacts.
As they say in the announcement,
“You get a lot of emails, some good (from friends, family, even favorite interests that you’ve added to your Address Book), and a lot of not-so-important emails (special offers, newsletters, emails you rarely read).”
So they’ve introduced a way to quickly separate those “important” emails from the “not-so-important” ones.
Essentially, Yahoo! is making it easier for users to do the same thing with emails that we all do with our postal mail – we look through for messages from friends, family and other people we know and put it in an “A” pile, and we take everything else and put it in a “B” pile.
Many of us already do it with email, too, by using filters – but up until now we had to set those up manually. It’s not hard to do, but it is an extra hoop that most email users wouldn’t jump through.
A one-click filter like the one Yahoo! has created makes faster email filtering accessible to even novice users. Don’t be surprised if you see other email programs do something similar.
So How Do You Make Sure Your Email Doesn’t Get Filtered Out and Ignored?
Well, in this case you do it by getting subscribers to put you in their address book (sometimes called a “contact list”).
As for how you do that?
- Ask on your thank you page.
You should already be using the thank you page to set expectations immediately after subscribers join your list.
And one of those expectations should be telling people who the emails will come from (i.e., your “from” name and email address).
Add a sentence asking subscribers to add that address to their address books. Quick and easy.
- Ask in your welcome email (and maybe other emails).
Some people might not add you to their address books while on your thank you page (they may have overlooked the request, forgotten or just not wanted to yet).
Now that subscribers have seen an example of your email, point out that to ensure that they keep getting the information they signed up for, they should add you to their address book.
You might also put a reminder in some of your follow ups and/or broadcasts.
- Build a relationship with subscribers.
If you want subscribers to treat you like a contact, you have to earn that status in their minds.
Providing valuable content is a big part of this.
So is coming across as a real person (see our social networking tips for email marketers).
So is being accessible.
The Inbox is Shrinking
One could argue that this Yahoo! move is effectively creating multiple inboxes – one with all email and one only with email from contacts.
Given a choice between viewing “all” email, and only email from preferred sources (like your contacts), which one are you going to spend time in?
To take a “tree falling in the forest” view of it,
If an email goes to an inbox, but nobody ever looks at that particular inbox, is it really delivered?
If you think about it, as more email programs implement tools like Yahoo!’s and the email that’s important/relevant to the recipient ends up in a “contacts” inbox, the “default” inbox really becomes more of a “junk” folder than an inbox.
And none of us want to end up there. Right?
1: Hat tip to Mark Brownlow for pointing out Yahoo!’s announcement.
Read "Reason 9,785 Why You HAVE To Get In Subscribers’ Address Books"
After looking back through other posts on spam complaints, I didn’t see one that fully addressed his comment the way I wanted to. And I’ve heard similar comments and questions from other people.
So let’s talk about it.
Problem: Getting Spam Complaints When You’re Not a Spammer
Here’s what I took away from John’s comment, along with quotes from his comment:
- He’s getting a higher complaint rate than he’d like. 1
- His emails are not promotional. (“We are still in start up mode and not [even] selling anything. Our emails are short two-paragraphers linking to a high-content blog post.”)
- His subscriber base is “entirely web-based sign ups” so these should be people who want his emails.
- He emails weekly (“so it’s hardly too much or too little that they forgot who we were”).
In short, it sounds like John’s trying to do the right things.
So what’s going on here?
Spam Complaints Happen For Many Reasons
Not all spam complaints occur because the email is “spam” as it is traditionally defined.
Here are a few scenarios where complaints might occur (and what John – or anyone else – might do to avoid them):
- It’s easy to click “spam” – and not as easy to find the unsubscribe link.
Solution: make it easy to unsubscribe – consider putting an unsubscribe link near the top of your email.
- Some recipients don’t trust unsubscribe links and/or have heard they shouldn’t click them unless they remember subscribing.
Solution: remind people when/where they signed up and why they’re getting your email (you can use personalization fields to include information like the date/time/URL that a subscriber signed up on.
- The email was requested but not relevant.
Solution: make sure that your emails closely address your subscribers’ needs and wants. Track what subscribers are responding to in order to create more relevant campaigns as you go.
- Similarly, the content or timing of the email was not what the subscriber expected (perhaps because expectations about the specific email content and frequency were not explicitly set when the subscriber opted in).
Solution: set expectations clearly when subscribers opt in. Tell them what they’re going to get, when they’re going to get it and who it’ll be coming from.
- The subscriber didn’t like something about the email – or something else about the company sending it (“I had a bad experience on Company X’s website/in Company X’s store, so now I’m marking their email as spam.”).
Solution: request feedback from prospects and customers. Find out what they do and don’t like about your emails – and your business as a whole. Customer service, product selection, pricing, policies, everything… they can all affect subscriber perception of your company. Then take that feedback and improve.
There are certainly other possible reasons for spam complaints, and other courses of action that you might take, but by addressing these areas of your email marketing, you can reduce your exposure to spam complaints and maximize your email deliverability.
What Have You Done To Reduce Spam Complaints?
Have you addressed these causes of complaints? Other ones? What have you found to be effective?
Share your thoughts below!
1. For the record, part of John’s complaint rate is due to the low volume of email he’s sending. One or two complaints raises his rate significantly. I think it’s reasonable to expect that as he connects with more subscribers, he should see lower complaint rates – if he follows the advice here, of course!
Read "Why Did That Email Get Marked As Spam?"
A lot of email senders are concerned with whitelisting and spam complaints.
They’ll ask questions like:
- Are you whitelisted? How do I get whitelisted?
- So if you’re/I’m whitelisted, I won’t ever go to the spam folder?
- How do you make sure I don’t get spam complaints?
- How do I know who marked my email as spam?
If you’ve ever been concerned about your email deliverability, you’ve probably wondered the same sorts of things.
All of these questions can lead to useful discussions about getting your email delivered. But a lot of times, those discussions require more than a simple one-word or one-sentence answer.
I recently came across a handy resource on ISP whitelisting and feedback loops that gives us an opportunity to clear up some misconceptions and uncertainties that many people (perhaps even you) have had about email deliverability.
Fact: Not All ISPs Offer Whitelisting or Feedback Loops
The problem with asking a question like “are you whitelisted?” is that it assumes that whitelisting is an everybody-or-nobody proposition.
Even if you’re whitelisted (as AWeber is) with the ISPs who do offer it, there are other ISPs who simply don’t offer whitelisting.
The same goes for Feedback Loops – not all ISPs will tell you when a subscriber marks an email as spam.
For a handy list of ISPs that do and do not offer whitelisting and/or feedback loops, see this blog post at Word to the Wise.
Keep in mind, if you’re using AWeber, you don’t need to get whitelisted separately for your email campaigns through us.
What Does It Mean to be Whitelisted?
What’s interesting about this question is that I cannot recall anyone ever asking me this in my 4+ years at AWeber. People will ask if we’re whitelisted, but they don’t ask what that means or what the implications of being whitelisted are.
Here’s something that a lot of people don’t know about whitelisting…
- Whitelisting does not in any way guarantee that your emails will all end up in the inbox.
It doesn’t. That’s not why it exists.
Being whitelisted at an ISP is not a “free pass” to send whatever you want, whenever you want, without any potential deliverability repercussions.
I think of it this way…
Being whitelisted is like taking a pledge – by providing information about your mailing practices to an ISP, you’re saying “I practice responsible email marketing, and I’m willing to prove it by letting you keep a close eye on me and how recipients treat my email.”
After all, one of the effects of getting whitelisted is that you make it easier for an ISP to identify email coming from you – and potentially block it.
This doesn’t mean whitelisting is bad. It’s a good thing to do, and whitelisted senders have an advantage over those who are not whitelisted. But don’t think it’s a free pass to send unsolicited or irrelevant emails to people.
What About Feedback Loops? What Do They Mean to You?
Here’s the lowdown on feedback loops:
- When an ISP offers a feedback loop, it means that they will tell us when one of your subscribers marks your email as spam.
The feedback loops are what enables us to show you complaint rates within your account.
- If your complaint rates get too high, an ISP may not deliver your email campaigns to the inbox.
Being on a feedback loop is kind of like being whitelisted – you’re taking responsibility for your email practices, and their consequences.
- Whenever someone marks your email as spam, we immediately unsubscribe them from your list.
If you run any email campaigns outside of AWeber, you should regularly export your unsubscribes (this will include people who marked one of your emails as spam) so you can make sure that they’re not on those other campaigns.
What Other Questions Do You Have?
Is there anything else you’ve wondered about email deliverability, but not asked about before?
Share your thoughts and questions below!
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Read "Answers to Common Questions about Whitelisting"
When you run your campaigns as single opt-in, you run the risk of people or scripts maliciously signing up other people’s email addresses to your list – meaning you’re spamming them.
Unintentionally, yes, but it’s still spamming, because that person who you’re now emailing never signed himself/herself up to your list.
For many people, the idea that someone would use their signup form to sign up someone else’s email address just makes no sense.
Well, you’re right – it doesn’t make sense.
But it happens, sometimes on a grand scale.
Spamza: How One Site Created A Lot of Spam Problems for Single Opt-In Email Campaigns
Recently, email marketers had a scare thrown into them by the website Spamza.com.
Spamza promoted itself as a site that allowed people to “spam their enemies” by entering an email address into a web form.
Spamza then took the email addresses entered and subscribed them to hundreds of email newsletters.
Spamza is no longer online (although they are apparently looking for new hosting), but you can see a screenshot of their homepage below (click for full-size version).
Scary Stuff – If You Run a Single Opt-In List
What if your email newsletter were one of the ones Spamza signed addresses up to?
Well, if you were running your campaign using Confirmed Opt-In, anyone added to the Spamza form would get your confirm email. The owners of those addresses would either delete that individual message or mark it as spam. And that would be the end of it.
If, on the other hand, you were using single opt-in, you’d have quite a problem on your hands.
- Your list size would be artificially inflated with uninterested subscribers – lowering your click and open rates
- Your subsequent email newsletters would get more complaints as the owners of the addresses added to your list started marking your messages as spam.
- You could show up on URL blacklists (based on links that appear in your messages) – meaning future emails with your website in them could be blocked, even if they were sent by other people (like your affiliates) or if they were transactional messages (like payment notifications or responses to customer support tickets).
- Perhaps worst of all, your target audience could label you as a spammer (which could lead them to persuade others not to do business with you, online or offline).
“Sure – But I Use Single Opt-In, And I Wasn’t Affected. That Stuff Just Won’t Happen To Me.”
I hope not – and I mean that sincerely. I don’t want to see any of that stuff listed above happen to you.
But is hoping that it won’t happen to you really a prudent way to run your business?
Anne Mitchell, founder of email accreditation firm ISIPP, had this to say:
[E]ven if it isn’t Spamza – in fact, even if it isn’t a targeted effort – people enter the wrong email addresses in web sign-up forms all the time. Sometimes it’s by accident (they typo their own email address and the result is someone else’s email address), but often it’s on purpose.
The fact is, malicious subscriptions are quite real, and if you’re not confirming subscribers, your email deliverability could be threatened by a script like Spamza’s.
More Coverage Of Spamza
It’s a weird, wild Internet we do business on. Better to protect yourself than to run the risk of some knucklehead taking advantage of your single opt-in signup process.
(If you’re still on the fence about confirming your subscribers, check out these common Confirmed Opt-In Myths.)
Read "Confirmed Opt-In Protects Against Spamza and Other Malicious Sites"
Others don’t want to be bothered locating the unsubscribe link in your email.
In both cases, recipients may click the “spam” button in order to unsubscribe – raising your spam complaint rates and possibly reducing deliverability.
Wouldn’t it be nice if ISPs made unsubscribing easier and more trustworthy for users (at the same time reducing your complaint rate)?
One major ISP is already doing so.
List-Unsubscribe Header Allows ISPs to Add an Unsubscribe Button or Link
By adding a “list-unsubscribe” header to your outgoing email marketing campaigns, you enable ISPs to add an unsubscribe link or button into their user interface.
That way, readers who want to unsubscribe, but who don’t want to be bothered with locating the unsubscribe link in your email, can do so without clicking the “Spam” button in their email clients.
How Hotmail Uses the List-Unsubscribe Header
Windows Live Hotmail (for simplicity’s sake, I’m shortening it to “Hotmail”) is the first major ISP to implement support for the List-Unsubscribe header.
Here’s what happens.
When a Hotmail subscriber first gets a message from you (like this welcome message from our Test Drive), since s/he hasn’t added you to the Safe Senders list yet, images and links are disabled.
The top of your email looks like this in Hotmail:
When someone clicks the “mark as safe” link, images are turned on and the top of the email changes to include an unsubscribe link:
If someone clicks the unsubscribe link, they see an alert box:
When they click “OK” they’re taken to the unsubscribe page:
What Do I Need To Do To Use The List-Unsubscribe Header In My Emails?
If you’re an AWeber user, nothing at all – we automatically add this header to your campaigns.
Read "List-Unsubscribe Header Makes Unsubscribing Easier and More Trustworthy"
Unfortunately, sometimes that experience is really painful.
This is never more true than when a well-intentioned business, eager to grow, gets suckered into a “quick fix” by someone offering them an inexpensive “shortcut” to building their email list.
I recently came across an example of someone who learned a hard lesson about email marketing, list-building and email deliverability…
Buying an Email List Is An Awful Idea
I can already hear a lot of you saying,
“Yes, yes, we all know… don’t buy email lists, they’re not good prospects, they don’t know you and never gave you permission to email them, blah blah blah…”
I know it sounds like I’m beating a dead horse here.
After all, buying email lists is so… 1999. Right?
Unfortunately, for new email marketers, it’s not always obvious what is and isn’t a bad idea.
Some Companies Prey On These New Email Marketers
They’ve learned there’s money to be made by offering new email marketers a “shortcut” to building their own subscriber lists.
So they compile email address lists and advertise them as…
- “Clean” (shouldn’t that be a clue that purchasing lists is inherently dirty?)
- “Real Time”
…and a whole lot more.
What those companies don’t advertise are the consequences of sending to purchased email lists.
One Company Learned Those Consequences The Hard Way – And Turned To The Internet To Share Their Lesson
Javelin Marketing, a marketing/consultancy firm in the financial advising sector, got lured into buying such an email list (of supposed financial advisors).
No doubt they expected to find their message well-received by many of those advsiors, and to quickly grow their prospect list as a result.
As you might expect, it didn’t turn out quite that way:
“…upon emailing to 100,000 of the records, 85,000 bounced, clogged up our mail server and also got us fired by our web-based email provider. Lesson learned.
“Don’t give business to the pushers. Develop your own marketing to build your opt-in list. There’s no quick fix.”
Key Quote: “There’s No Quick Fix.”
Attracting subscribers is a deliberate process.
The only thing you’re really buying when you buy an email list… is a massive headache.
Because that’s what you end up with after dealing with the damage that purchased email lists do to your email deliverability and your reputation as someone doing business online.
OK, I’m climbing down from my soapbox now…
All kidding aside, I know most (hopefully all) of you realize what a bad idea it is to buy email lists.
But for those who don’t, or who want to see what the real-world consequences are, Javelin provides a classic example.
Please, when someone asks you about buying email addresses, point them here so they can see why it Just. Doesn’t. Work.
Read "The Ugly Truth About Buying Email Lists"