Email is essential in the world of marketing automation.

There are certain steps to take in order to have great email deliverability and maintain your reputation as an email sender. These steps are authentication, permission, and engagement. The goal of any email sender is to start with permission and to continue the relationship based on engagement. This article will detail best practices involved when creating emails.

Internet Service Providers

While Internet service providers (ISPs) still encourage senders to avoid spam complaints, increasing weight has been placed on measures of engagement as a means of determining a sender’s quality. This change reflects a shift in the behaviour of email recipients towards flagging emails as junk rather than formally complaining or reporting an email as spam.

ISPs control the last mile of email delivery, and ultimately make decisions about what emails get delivered to the inbox of their users. While marketing automation or email service providers can set you up for success in avoiding the spam box, the ultimate inboxing decision rests with ISPs and their particular inboxing algorithms.

Spam and undesirable commercial email has become a large enough issue that ISPs have been implementing changes to proactively route unwanted email into junk or spam folders, and in some cases block the email entirely.

These changes by ISPs improve the overall email experience by allowing only content a recipient wants to reach the inbox. The shift in monitoring recipient engagement on a sender domain basis helps ensure poor-quality senders are personally held accountable, and it protects inboxes at large from receiving undesirable content.

Domain Reputation

ISPs track the reputation of individual sender domains. This means your domain reputation is more important than ever and is your responsibility to maintain. Switching email providers or marketing automation platforms will not remove damage inflicted on your domain reputation due to poor sending. That damage will follow you regardless of which provider you choose.

While the importance of sender domain reputation has increased, the IP pools used through your provider will still have an impact on the deliverability of your content. SharpSpring partners with SendGrid, the industry leader in cloud-based email service, to provide customers with the highest-quality sender IP pools. Together, SharpSpring and SendGrid get the emails to the ISP for each recipient.

The ISPs then use the historical recipient engagement and content analysis to make the final inbox decision. Delivering highly engaging content to recipients who want to receive it will increase your overall email engagement and keep your domain reputation in good shape with ISPs.

Authentication Best Practices

All email should be properly authenticated with DKIM. Authenticated emails tell receiving mail servers that SharpSpring has permission to send email on your behalf. ISPs are moving to systems that decline deliverability for emails without proper authentication. This means that ISPs now expect email to be authenticated in order to even be considered for delivery. Additionally, many anti-spam applications used by other mail servers are also configured to automatically reject email that lacks authentication.

Permission Best Practices

Email recipients should have expressly signed up with you. Sign-ups are often at events, at the point of sale, and during website visits. That said, there are many ways for a recipient to have a prior relationship with you, and for them to have granted you access to their email address. As a reputable email service provider, SharpSpring expressly forbids senders from using purchase email lists when using the SharpSpring application. Purchased lists are not permitted since they do not contain any way to obtain the permission of recipients.

Purchased lists almost always result in the following:

  • Poor inboxing rates
  • Poor opens and clicks
  • High unsubscribe rates
  • High spam complaint rates
  • Domain blacklisting

Taking advantage of permission-based methods—like confirmed opt-in and permission reminders—allows for higher engagement and deliverability. With permission-based methods, you make a point to put the recipient’s interests first.

Engagement Best Practices

A sender-recipient relationship is started with permission, but it is maintained with engagement. The goal for engagement is to create subject lines that recipients want to open, and to provide content that recipients want to consume and click—and not flag as spam or otherwise unsubscribe from. As such, SharpSpring recommends A/B testing your email to optimize each email campaign’s engagement stats.

ISPs now track your individual domain and are concerned with how engaged your recipients are with the email you are sending. Engagement is a measure of how likely recipients are to open and/or click on the emails that you are sending, and this is estimated by measuring the past performance of your email sends across all recipients on that mailbox. ISPs use this information to decide whether your next email message lands in the inbox or in the junk box of your intended recipients.

ISPs like to see senders who have engaged recipients and will give preferential deliverability to them. Senders with large segments of unengaged recipients should expect to see soft bounces. After removing unengaged recipients, you should see your email delivery speed and inboxing improve. SharpSpring recommends that unengaged recipients should be removed from your regular email list. This should be done, typically, three months after their last interaction with you.

List Management and Deliverability

When managing lists to better maintain engagement and improve overall deliverability, adhere to the following:

  • Remove role addresses. These are known to cause issues with spam complaints and unsubscribes.
  • Remove disposable domains. These are temporary email addresses used for quick sign-ups to avoid receiving mail in a real inbox.
  • Remove invalid addresses.  Do so before sending to the list. Invalid addresses cause hard bounces, elevate your email stats, and lower your email sender status. Please remove invalid emails before emailing to them.
  • Implement confirmed opt-in. This makes sure only valid emails are added to your mailing lists.

In addition to the above recommendations, following these email best practices will protect your domain reputation and improve the deliverability of your emails:

  • Use email authentication protocols such as DKIM, SPF, and DMARC.
  • Use dynamic content to personalize your email marketing for each individual recipient.
  • Segment your leads to strategically target similar recipient groups.
  • Make sure your content provides value to the recipient.

Less Is More

By adhering to these practices, engagement will increase, more email will get into the inbox, and you will get more clicks by sending less email. Click and open rates increase when sending to a smaller, targeted list of engaged recipients, as compared to sending to a large number of unengaged recipients.

Neglecting to pay attention to your recipient engagement will ultimately get your messages seen by no one. Sending to large lists of unengaged recipients will cause ISPs to start filtering your messages into junk folders, so your recipients—even the ones who want your content—will not receive your messages in their inbox.

Ready to Learn More? Coming soon blogs:

  • Using Email Engagement Tools
  • Acceptable and Prohibited Email Content
  • Understanding Spam Traps

This article was written by Tim Pogge for SharpSpring Inc.