Email marketing remains one of the most powerful ways marketers can reach their audience and nurture leads. But it’s useless if your emails are never delivered.

According to the latest Return Path research, 1 in 5 emails never reach the inbox:

Return Path Research

If you’re ready to manage your email list and boost deliverability so you can focus on your main email marketing goals, these 17 tips and tricks will help:

Use your own lists

Growing an email list from scratch takes time and dedication. Buying or borrowing email contacts from others can seem like an appealing solution, but it’s actually rookie mistake number 1 of email marketing.

When you use a list you didn’t build yourself, you’re reaching people who never subscribed to your emails in the first place. That actually makes them pretty difficult to market to, and many might mark your emails as spam as a result. The more you get marked as spam, the more difficult it is to reach inboxes. If it happens too many times, you could get blacklisted or get your account deleted by your email service provider.

With all that in mind, just remember it’s better to market to a growing list of 50 subscribers than buy a list of thousands.

Send out welcome emails

It’s much easier to keep your email list clean by taking action when people first sign up. Immediately send out a welcome email for each new contact to remind them what they signed up for.

Make sure you personalize these trigger emails with your subscriber’s name and other relevant information. Include a quick overview of the value subscribers can expect to receive in your future marketing messages.

You should also include ways for users to adjust their preferences (e.g. the kinds of emails they receive and frequency). Make an option to opt out prominent so you can eliminate uninterested subscribers from your list at the beginning.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

You’ve probably encountered a business or two that buries their unsubscribe button at the bottom of the page where it’s difficult to find. That’s actually a very bad strategy for several reasons:

  • One: It’s against CANSPAM regulatory laws for email marketing.
  • Two: Making your emails difficult to unsubscribe from will just cause many to ignore them, or worse, start flagging your emails as spam.

The more you get flagged as spam, the more difficult it becomes to reach inboxes overall. So make sure your subscribers can opt-out easily if they’re not interested in your marketing emails.

Track engagement metrics

Improving engagement metrics like open rate and click through rate is important no matter what your email marketing goals are. And as it turns out, engagement matters as much for deliverability as it does for lead nurturing and driving sales.

So track your engagement metrics and look for opportunities to encourage these behaviors with your subscribers. If users are particularly unengaged with a certain kind of message you send, replace it with something that does engage. Tracking your engagement metrics shows you what marketing message resonates with your audience, and helps you identify tactics to improve your sender reputation.

Check your sender reputation

One of the biggest factors that can affect your ability to reach subscriber inboxes is sender reputation. Sender reputation comes from a number of factors, including domain reputation, IP address, and mailbox provider.

Checking your sender reputation using your IP address is a smart idea. You can use a tool like Mail-Tester to figure out what IP address your emails are sent from. Then you can plug it into a tool like Talos Intelligence to evaluate your email reputation:

Sender Reputation

If your IP reputation is poor, then you probably need to change your IP address. If it’s neutral, then you can try using some of the other tips in this post to improve it.

Clean your lists

Email addresses get cancelled/changed all the time. You might think it’s nothing on you to keep sending out messages to inactive email addresses, but it’s actually bad for your reputation and can affect your ability to reach inboxes in the long-run.

So set up a schedule to regularly clean up your lists of unused/irrelevant email addresses. Remove all hard bounces and recurring soft bounces when possible.

How frequently you need to do this really depends on the size or your list and how quickly it grows. At a minimum, you should do it every month or after each new campaign.

Ask subscribers to verify

Asking subscribers to verify their email after signing up can seem like a tiresome, unnecessary task, but it’s actually a great practice for maintaining list health. Using a double opt-in sign up form will automatically weed out subscribers who gave you bogus email addresses.

Asking subscribers to go through a two-step process also ensures your list is full of people who genuinely are interested in receiving your emails. Your email marketing software should have native features to help you set this up. You can include verification along with your welcome email (see tip number 2 on this list):

zelo

Offer options

Even if a user is interested in your business, they very well may unsubscribe for other reasons, such as too many emails or receiving the wrong kind of marketing material. To avoid losing these subscribers altogether, offer options using the subscription management features of your email marketing software.

Include a “manage email preferences” link near your “unsubscribe” link:

unsubscribe

Make it possible for subscribers to adjust frequency (e.g. monthly newsletter, weekly updates, all promotions) and categories of content (e.g. promotional deals, updates about your products, etc.). Then your marketing message will be customized to the preferences and needs of individual subscribers.

Handle IP Addresses with care

How you behave when sending emails from different IP addresses can also impact your sender reputation. It’s best to avoid tactics that can come off as spammy, such as sending out 10,000 emails on a brand new IP address.

Whenever you use a new IP address, make sure you “warm it up” by sending out just a few emails to test deliverability. Over time as you use the IP address, you can send more without raising any eyebrows.

You might also consider using your own dedicated IP address for domain emails. This eliminates the potential that other senders using the same IP address can affect your sender reputation.

Reengage or remove subscribers

Still receive marketing messages from that business lead magnet you downloaded 9 years ago? It happens to everyone. You haven’t opened their emails in years but they just keep coming in.

These kind of subscribers are not only bad for list health, they’re a wasted marketing investment. Unengaged subscribers may not have unsubscribed from your emails, but they don’t have any intention of consuming your marketing message. It’s best to periodically go through and remove subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails in more than 6 months.

Before you start purging unengaged subscribers, first make a final effort to re-engage them. Create an optimized email specifically to see if they want to continue receiving email messages from you. Give them a chance to opt-in, and if they don’t engage, then remove them from your list for good.

Segment your emails

Segmenting your lists is good practice for email marketing in general, and has secondary benefits for deliverability. Target your subscribers with personalized content that truly catches their attention and interests them.

For example, using their name in the subject line can increase open rates, while including product recommendations based on their past purchase behavior can improve click through rate. Here’s an example of a marketing email that personalizes their subject line and suggests bookings based on the subscriber’s past travel destinations:

travel-booking

These engagement behaviors in turn improve your sender reputation, making it easier to get into subscriber inboxes.

Use reCAPTCHA

reCAPTCHA is another simple tool you can use on your sign up forms to ensure spambots aren’t signing up. It can be a barrier that prevents real people from signing up, but it’s worth it if you’re growing a large list and want to keep it to serious subscribers.

You might consider using reCAPTCHA is lieu of another verification method (like two-factor opt-in).

Optimize frequency

Even if you offer options for subscribers to customize how often you send marketing emails, not all will take advantage of it. One of the main reasons people unsubscribe or stop paying attention to emails is because they get too many of them.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to identify the perfect frequency for your subscribers. You can perform experiments to see what frequency (Once a month, once a week, 3 a week, etc.) leads to the most engagement and least unsubscribe requests from your lists.

Optimizing frequency can help minimize how often subscribers mark your messages as spam. Segment out your most engaged subscribers, as they likely will prefer a different frequency than your overall list.

Make efforts to maintain permission

If there’s a sizable gap between email campaigns or you’ve taken a hiatus from email marketing, it’s good practice to make efforts to maintain permission with your list. Reconfirm with your existing subscribers that they’re still interested in receiving marketing messages from you. This will help reduce bounce rates and keep your sender reputation high.

You can also include a reminder in each of your campaign emails that they signed up to receive emails from you. Make sure you also include an option to unsubscribe.

Monitor blacklisting

It’s a good practice to check and see if your mail server has been blacklisted. This happens when a server sends out a lot of spam. Even if you’re following best practices to avoid spam folders, other mail coming from a shared server can affect your email deliverability.

MxToolbox is a simple tool you can use to see if your mail server has been blacklisted.

my-toolbox

If it has, then you should stop sending out emails or risk making things worse.

Send test emails

No matter what tactics you use to improve email deliverability, nothing beats actually testing your messages with real inboxes. Before launching an email campaign, send out a few test emails to people using different domains and email clients (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Apple Mail, Outlook). These can be your own private test accounts or accounts of people you know (not your marketing email lists).

Sending out test emails can help you identify and troubleshoot issues that keep your emails from being delivered, or send them to the spam folder.

Target your most engaged subscribers

One way you can strategically improve your email deliverability is by targeting your most engaged subscribers. The more people click on and engage with your emails, the better your sender reputation will be come.

Segment and create unique campaigns designed to target users who’ve engaged a lot in the past. Targeting them with unique content can help boost their engagement even more, as well as drive other important marketing objectives, like sales.

Wrapping up

Mailbox providers are always looking for new ways to improve user experience and protect people from spam. As a result, it’s getting tricker to stay visible in inboxes as a marketer.

When creating your marketing message and developing distribution tactics, just remember they also have an impact on deliverability. Follow all the advice in this email marketing guide, and you’ll be well on your way to building healthy lists and a positive sender reputation.