10 Expert Insights to Boost Your Email Deliverability

True or false: there is a specific list of things that will accomplish great email deliverability, if followed to the letter.


While there are plenty of best practices that can help improve your deliverability, it is never 100% in your control. Your deliverability fate rests in the clicks of your subscribers, how ISPs measure inbox placement, shared IP reputation, your ESP, and your sending infrastructure, just to name a few. Oftentimes we don't recognize deliverability problems until the damage is done. When problems do occur, there is no "fix it fast" button. Depending on the extent of the issue, they can take days, weeks, sometimes months, to resolve. A proactive and ongoing strategy is essential to maintaining optimal email deliverability.

Chris Arrendale of Inbox Pros, Steve Henderson of Communicator Corp, and Brad Gurley of WhatCounts share their thoughts and insights into email deliverability and email marketing best practices.

Deliverability is a moving target

"For the people who understand delivery and know the best practices, the biggest pain point is understanding that deliverability is a moving target. There’s never a list of things that will accomplish great deliverability. For example, 'Here are 4 things, do these and you will make it to the inbox.' If we’re sending email to people that want to receive it, and we're doing it in a smart way, then that’s what’s really going to drive good deliverability."

Brad Gurley, WhatCounts

Know that every email marketer experiences deliverability issues

"With email delivery, it’s far from just the 'problem senders' who have issues. The email industry is constantly changing. ISPs change their standards and policies, and every email marketer experiences delivery issues."

Steve Henderson, Communicator Corp

Send timely relevant email and set expectations

"The absolute best practice is to send timely relevant email to people who have asked you for it. In practice one of the best things you can do is to get people interested in your email.

Don’t go out and scrape someone’s address off the internet and assume they want your email. Get the opt-in, and set the expectations. We have so many marketers who are getting opt-ins, but they aren’t setting expectations about what type of email you’ll be getting or the frequency you’ll be receiving it. These things are important not just because you want to avoid spam complaints and delivery problems, but you want to make sure you’re sending people what they want to receive.

Have a preference center that lets customers say 'I’m interested in these 3 products.' Then, you know what they’re interested in, and you know they’re going to be engaged. Those are the types of things that don’t just help delivery, but they help business overall."

Brad Gurley, from The Deliverability Series

Pay attention to sending infrastructure, the data used for campaigns, and email content

"You need to make sure the servers, IPs and sending domains are secure and correctly configured. You need to use email lists which have an audit trail; so you can say for certain that you are sending to those who have recently subscribed or are active recipients. You also need the data to personalize, segment and target. The emails you send must be well-crafted, and relevant to the individuals who will receive them. These practices together provide a secure means of sending the right emails to the right people at the right time."

Steve Henderson, from The Deliverability Series

Your email list is often the culprit of poor deliverability

"I would say the majority of issues I find associated with clients’ problems have to do with the list - due to no segmentation, or sending irrelevant email to recipients that weren’t expecting it or haven’t seen an email from them in quite a long time."

Chris Arrendale, Inbox Pros

Delivery issues come from data

"With most people, delivery issues come from data; specifically not having the best strategy for dealing with the lifecycle of customers and their data."

Steve Henderson, Communicator Corp

Purchased lists cause deliverability problems

"Majority of the time, it’s not an ESP that’s causing the problem, it could be that maybe the client has been sending to an older list, maybe they’ve purchased a list, maybe they’ve changed their sending domain without notifying the ESP and gotten the correct DNS records."

Chris Arrendale, Inbox Pros

Decreasing your email list size can improve deliverability

"If I am sending 100,000 emails to Gmail, and now you tell me to decrease that to 50,000, of course my open and click rates are going to go up, because now I’m sending to less people. It’s all a numbers game, because the ISPs are looking at your metrics - the complaints, the spam traps, the bounces."

Chris Arrendale from The Deliverability Series

Good business goals often fall in line with deliverability best practices

"If someone is actively engaged with your emails then that’s who you want to be mailing to the most. Not just from a standpoint of "If I follow this rule, then this will happen", but from a business standpoint you want to know that your customers are engaged with you.

There are all sorts of ways to work with customers who aren’t engaged, whether it’s re-engagement campaigns, or reducing frequency to those [unengaged] people. All of these things aren’t designed to just say 'I’m following deliverability rules'; they also fall inline with most people's business goals."

Brad Gurley, WhatCounts

If it isn't working, try something different

"If you’re sending over and over again to the same person, and they’re not responding in any way, maybe you’re not sending the right creative at the right time, maybe you need to change the email message altogether, maybe you need to reach that person a different way."

Chris Arrendale, Inbox Pros

You are in the email deliverability trenches every day. What change would you like to see in the email marketing space?

Chris Arrendale, Inbox Pros:

"I would like to see the sender and receiver community get closer. If we were able to better communicate, or have information that we share - possibly even sharing information about bad senders. In this case, maybe a vetting tool would no longer be needed because you have all the bad senders identified at your fingertips. But then you’re looking at, from an ethical perspective, what qualifies as a 'bad sender'?

ISPs feel it’s their responsibility to protect their mailboxes. I think that privacy is of utmost importance. I would just like to have some sort of secure communication channel to identify problems or issues and work more closely with them on certain things that data will help with. Like, I mentioned having some sort of data portal for each ISP or receiver to have that information."

Steve Henderson, Communicator Corp:

"Two things, actually. Bounce codes need rethinking! The codes we have can’t accommodate the complex nature of email now, so ISPs and email domains are forced to make things up as they go. It means that every set of bounce codes from every domain is different from the next – it’s painful!

Secondly, for managers and directors who dictate marketing strategy to understand that high standards are good for business; that sending emails to people who don’t want them and/or people who don’t exist doesn’t work; and that email marketing is a rich landscape of intelligent solutions and not just an electronic version of direct mail."

Brad Gurley, WhatCounts:

"Increased communication is the biggest thing. There are a handful of organizations out there, as well as conferences and meetups, and there’s really an open dialogue in the email deliverability space. Now we’re seeing a little of that from the ISPs. There’s been some improvement recently, but I would love to see that continue to grow with the mindset of wanting to work together to actually make the email space better, not to just avoid filters. We don’t want to take the back way in; we want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing and benefiting both parties."

Check out more tips and quotes from these deliverability experts below.


Brad Gurley has over 10 years of experience in email marketing, with a focus on email deliverability and ISP relations. At WhatCounts, he oversees the deliverability of three application platforms and provides delivery strategy for the organization. Follow Brad on Twitter >

Chris Arrendale is a known expert for problem solving in the email deliverability, privacy, and software space and is an active member of multiple email organizations. Arrendale is the CEO & Principal Deliverability Consultant of Inbox Pros and has worked as a Deliverability Expert at several reputable consulting firms and ESPs. Follow Chris on Twitter >

Steve Henderson is the Compliance Officer at Communicator Corp. He has worked through the implementation of ISPs and email domains migrating from content-based delivery to reputation-based delivery. Henderson developed the email delivery, analytics, and reporting systems for Communicator. Follow Steve on Twitter >

Email deliverability is a moving target, and your inability to reach the inbox is often due to your email list. Create a free account and start maintaining your list quality today!

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