The Two Building Blocks of Email Deliverability

The Two Building Blocks of Email Deliverability

Organizations invest a lot of time, money, and heartache to craft the perfect campaign, but spend little time optimizing email deliverability. This isn’t ideal. With only 85% of all emails making it to recipients’ inboxes (2018 Deliverability Benchmark, ReturnPath), all that effort could be wasted when over 1 in 10 emails aren’t even seen by your intended audience.

So what can you do to improve the chances of all your emails being delivered to the sweet, sweet inbox? When it comes to email deliverability, there are two things that ISPs want you to prove.  These are:

  1. Are you who you say you are?
  2. Are you sending emails that people want?

Proving your credentials

Because everyone uses email, email is one of the most common avenues for scams.  And one of the most common methods used by scammers to con the public is phishing, where the scammer pretends to be from a reputable, well-known brand in order to get the target to reveal personal information. For scammers, it’s purely a numbers game.  The more emails they send out, the more likely they are to hit a target.

To prevent this, ISPs use a variety of methods to verify that the organizations sending large amounts of emails are who they say they are.  If your marketing organization sends out a lot of emails per month on a dedicated IP (i.e. you have a branded email domain and internet address that is used solely for sending out your emails), you’ll want to ensure that you use these verification methods.  They are the first step to ensure that your emails are accepted by the ISPs for delivery into the email inbox.

Because these methods require changes to your organization’s Domain Name Server (DNS), you’ll need to work with your IT team to get them implemented.  For Oracle Eloqua users on a dedicated IP, two of the methods (SPF and DKIM) should have been part of your Branding and Deliverability set-up; however if you’re experiencing deliverability issues, it’s always good to do a double check to ensure that everything is good.

Sender Policy Framework (SPF):

This protocol uses a txt record on your DNS that lists the IPs that are authorized to send from your email domain.  When ISPs receive an email from your platform, they check this txt record to ensure that the IP that sent the email is actually allowed to send on your behalf.

Domain Keys Identification Management (DKIM)

DKIM uses encryption to enable organizations to take responsibility for sending an email and lets ISPs ensure that the email hasn’t been altered during transmission. It does this by using a pair of encryption keys, one kept privately by your organization, and another that is made publicly available to ISPs.  When your platform sends an email, the private key is used to encrypt parts of the email’s technical information (known as the header) to form a digital signature. When the email is received by the ISP, it reaches out to your DNS to get the public key, which it then uses to decrypt the signature. If the decrypted signature then matches the elements in the header, the ISP knows that the email hasn’t been tampered with.

Domain-Based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC)

DMARC builds upon SPF and DKIM to authenticate whether the email was actually sent from the owner of the friendly from-address.  It does this by comparing the email domain in the from-email domain against the domain set in SPF and DKIM. It also provides a way for email senders to tell ISPs what they want to happen when an email fails this test and gives a feedback mechanism.

Note: DMARC set up is not included in standard Branding and Deliverability setups. It also requires a tool to process the feedback reports from DMARC

Are you sending email people want?

Outside of any technical issues that may be causing deliverability problems, your emailing behavior is going to be the key to getting your emails into your recipients’ inboxes.  Every time you send an email, ISPs use the results to track your sender reputation both of your email domains and the IPs. This reputation takes time to build and can be pretty easy to destroy if you’re not careful.

Factors that ISPs use to judge reputation are:

  • Sending Volume (Do you send a consistent volume of email?  Spammers tend to have massive swings)
  • Engagement (When you send emails, how do people engage with them?  Opens and clicks are just a few of the metrics that contribute to this)
  • Spam complaints (Do people hit spam when they receive your email?  This is one of the reasons that making it easy for people to unsubscribe is vital.  You’d rather they do that than hit spam)
  • Hard Bounces (Does a high percentage of your emails consistently hard bounce?)
  • Blacklist status (Does your IP or Domain appear on any of the industry lists of IPs or domains that send unsolicited email)
  • Spam traps (Have you sent messages to email addresses that were set up to trap unsolicited emails)

As you can probably tell from this list, developing a strong sender reputation relies on elements that are firmly in marketers’ control: Data hygiene and segmentation.  Coupled with a solid double-opt-in process, there’s a lot that marketers can do to ensure that their emails have the best possible chance of being seen.

If you’d like to receive help with this or anything else in regards to marketing automation, feel free to reach out to us.

By | 2019-04-01T14:15:18+00:00 April 1st, 2019|Email Marketing, Marketing|0 Comments

About the Author:

Kam Wa Tang has been in the marketing and advertising industry since 2006 and has worked on both the client and vendor side of marketing technology. A native of the UK, he now lives in Minneapolis and spends his free-time hitting the gym, exploring local neighborhoods, and feeding his book addiction.


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