What is Email Deliverability?
“I think my deliverability is ok…”
What does that mean? Where do we see Deliverability?
This is the stat you see in your SMTP dashboard or in your HighLevel email stats (along with opens, replies, clicks, bounces, complaints, etc.)
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page regarding the difference between “Delivered” and “Deliverability” because they are very different!
Delivery just means the email got to the recipient mail server – somewhere – could be the inbox, spam, promotions, updates – who freaking knows where it landed??? It’s also possible the mail server will choose not to hand it off to the email account, but that’s not as likely since most mail servers would prefer to outright reject the email and provide that feedback to the sender.
… You know… like when the postal carrier marks your package as “delivered” in their system, but it’s nowhere to be found in your mailbox so you start hunting around your doorstep and asking neighbors if they got it by mistake, but it’s nowhere to be found (sorry… went off on a tangent there!)
A good Delivery rate is 98%+
Because – what’s the alternative?
The opposite of Delivered is Undelivered… meaning it didn’t get delivered AT ALL. It failed or bounced or got rejected by the receiving mail server – none of those are what we want.
NOTE: Delivered is a stat MOST email marketing tools DO NOT share with you! Why? Because they’d have to answer to it. Instead, they show how many people went into a campaign or automation, then skip right over Delivered and just show the Open rate.
For those using Mailgun with HighLevel, every stat is visible. So, unlike other email tools, HighLevel lets you have full visibility into your delivery rates, and direct communication with your own SMTP provider, which means the power is entirely in your hands to get the best possible results from your email marketing efforts. THIS is why I love the HighLevel/Mailgun combination so much! No other email toolset gives this much opportunity for excellent deliverability.
Unlike Delivery, Deliverability is a stat you don’t see anywhere.
Deliverability = Inbox Placement… in other words your Inboxing Rate – how much of your email hits the Inbox vs. other folders (like Spam or Junk or Promotions…) or not delivering at all.
Email Service Providers do not provide this level of detail in their feedback loops, so we don’t actually see stats related to which folders our email is landing in – only if it was delivered.
A Good Deliverability rate would obviously be 💯%
Although, there’s no such thing as 100% to the inbox, every time, it’s important to understand some of the factors that play into it, so we can come as close to 100% as possible.
- IP and domain reputation
- Reputation is KEY! Many, many things affect reputation, but there are 2 main categories that weigh heavily… Volume and Consistency, and the almighty Engagement (opens, clicks, replies, bounces, complaints, unsubscribes).
- Individual Email Service Provider (ESP) filtering preferences
- Google, Yahoo!, Outlook, etc. – they don’t all filter exactly the same… There are 100s of things that play into email deliverability, but none of these companies provide a whitepaper with their filtering logic
- Those pesky DNS records – the SPFs, DKIMs, and DMARCs of the world. And don’t forget your MX records… if those aren’t configured correctly that could also land you in spam or even prevent delivery.
- Domain age
- Whether it’s a root domain or a subdomain, age factors into warm-up considerations. Treat your new domain like a first date… the goal being to get a second date. When you show up at the door with a new domain, you have no history and no reputation, so make sure to start sending slow and don’t rush things. A good reputation can overcome a young domain age.
- Domain suffix
- Some of them have a bad rep from the start! The most trustworthy domain suffixes are .com, .co, .net, and .org (.edu and .gov for those who can use them) There are others that work well and some that can send you directly to the spam folder. See how your domain suffix rates here.
- Subject line and body copy
- What you say, matters. One time I took the word FREE out of a subject line, and that alone improved Deliverability by 7%! Stay away from known spammy words/phrases like “click here”, “opportunity”, “free”, “100%”, etc.
- The dreaded “Black Spot”. There are actually different types of blacklists and different reasons for ending up on one. Some cause huge problems, and some are just temporary. Check to see if your domain or IP is blacklisted here.
- Link types, link length, number of links, link reputation
- Even a simple signature tool can have a dramatic effect on deliverability. Keep in mind, having a link in your email that’s associated with a blacklist or has a bad reputation makes your email “guilty by association”, so make sure any links used inside your email are ones you trust and/or control.
- Text to HTML ratio
- There’s a time and a place for “fancy” email templates. The general rule is 60:40, leaning heavy on the text side. The audience know/like/trust factor and previous engagement can weigh in on how much HTML you can get away with. Also, it’s important to test. It may be that the heavier HTML, even though decreasing deliverability, may still win on conversions.
- Volume and consistency
- How much you send, how fast you send it, and how often you send… All of these factors can affect your domain or IP reputation, which can then affect your deliverability. Think of what a “spammer” would do… sends a lot, all at once, more interested in just shoving the email out than concerning themselves with nurturing the recipient relationship. Don’t be like a spammer. (see Domain Age)
- Recipient email behavior
- Believe it or not, how the user interacts with their own email account factors into how your email might be directed. Learning to factor recipient behavior into your deliverability strategy will take you much further than most marketers.
- And many others…
We don’t have control over every factor that plays into Deliverability, but it’s important to isolate the things we CAN control – even if just a little bit, and then just do everything we can to control them entirely.
“How do I know if my stats are good?”
Let’s drill down on the different types of email stats and their technical definitions.
Here’s a list of the most common stats: (available stats vary between Email Marketing Tools and SMTPs – for the sake of this article I’m using Mailgun terminology)
- The total number of message requests received by Mailgun (both outgoing and incoming, including posts via Routes like web-hooks)
- The total number of outgoing message requests received by Mailgun (emails you tried to send)
- The total number of requested messages that actually got Delivered to the recipients mail server (and presumably onto one of their account folders, but no guarantee)
- The total number of times a Delivered message triggered an Open (this does not necessarily mean a person literally opened the email…)
- The total number of times a Delivered message triggered a Click
- The total number of times a Delivered message triggered a Reply
- Bounced (hard)
- The total number of Accepted messages that were not able to be Delivered due to bad addresses or bad/inactive accounts (The Bounced stat we want to monitor closely is often referred to as “Hard Bounced” or “Permanent Failure”, although a Permanent Failure does not always count as a “Hard Bounce”)
- The total number of Delivered messages that get marked as spam or junk by the recipient
- The total number of Delivered messages that trigger an Unsubscribe response by the recipient
- The total number of Accepted messages that were not Delivered due to having previously Bounced, Complained, or Unsubscribed
Now let’s break a few of these down, so you have some context for what to look for and what those numbers mean.
I’ll provide average numbers/ranges based on various sources. Keep in mind, every situation is different. Also, keep in mind average results are for average people doing average things… and who wants to be average?
✅ At or above 98%
⚠️ Around 97-98%
❌ Under 97% – this means 3% of your email did not get delivered, which should definitely be a red flag
Where to look:
Delivered rate should be monitored at the domain level, as well as the individual email level
- The opposite of Delivered is Undelivered…
- Delivered just means it made it to the recipient’s mail server – not the inbox. When you see delivered less than 97%, it usually means a majority of the email that is getting delivered is likely going to spam/promotions
- Indicative of MULTIPLE problems
- Delivered 97-98% can still indicate problems, especially in conjunction with other red flags
✅ When working with clients, we like to shoot for 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s – higher open rates are achievable, depending on various factors
⚠️ Average Open rates across all industries run 16-26%
❌ Under 15%
Where to look:
Opened rate should be monitored at the individual email level
- Consider the things a recipient can see prior to opening your email and make sure you’re controlling those (From Name/Email address, Domain/Brand recognition, Subject Line, Preview or first couple lines of body copy)
- The decision to Open an email is in part related to the level of comfort on the part of the recipient. Show up in a way that makes them feel comfortable with opening.
- The average for Open rates will change as we move into Q4 2021 due to the new Apple iOS 15 Privacy changes, which will start to trigger Opens automatically – not specific to a real person opening the email (I wrote another article on this to help explain how this change works and ways you can respond). Expect the average Opens range to recalibrate to a higher range of normal as we near the end of the year.
✅ Shoot for Click rates above 10%+
⚠️ Average Click rates across all industries run 7-9% (who wants to be average?)
❌ Under 5%
Where to look:
Clicked rate should be monitored at the individual email level, specifically where a “click” call-to-action (CTA) is the focus
- The psychology of a Click is much different from that which encourages a Reply
- Make your Click call-to-action clear to the recipient, and easy to take action on
- Consider using a short message (3-5 lines of copy) with a clear Click CTA at the end
- With longer email copy, consider placing the Click CTA within the copy multiple times
- Ensure the recipient is clear on what will happen/what they’ll get when they Click, and that it’s something they’ll find of value (ie. what’s in it for them?)
- Avoid muddying up the Click CTA with several different things to click on within the email body. Try to keep the ONE Click you want as the main focus of the email.
✅ Shoot for reply rates of 30%+
⚠️ Average Reply rates across all industries run 15-25% (again, who wants to be average?)
❌ Under 10%
Where to look:
Replied rate should be monitored at the individual email level, specifically where a “reply” call-to-action (CTA) is the focus
- The psychology of a Reply is much different from that which encourages a click
- Make your Reply call-to-action clear to the recipient, and easy to take action on
- For a boost in replies, consider asking simple, low/no-friction questions (ex: yes/no), or offering something of great value in exchange for a reply in order to sweeten the pot (ie. what’s in it for them?)
- Avoid muddying up the Reply CTA by including links to click on within the email body. Try to keep the Reply CTA as the main focus of the email.
✅ Keep your Complaint rate as close to 0.00% as possible
⚠️ Mailgun’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) allows a threshold of 0.05%, which equates to 1 recipient out of 2000 emails marking your email as spam/junk
❌ At or above 0.04%
Where to look:
Complained rate should be monitored at the domain level, as well as the individual email level
- Following best-practices should keep it well under 0.03%
- Once it starts approaching the 0.04% range it may start affecting your domain/IP reputation.
- High Complaint rates can lead to your SMTP taking action like disabling your domain and/or account, and it can land you on a Blacklist, as well.
- Ensure the recipient has an easy way to opt-out of your email, such as an Unsubscribe or Update Your Email Preferences option. Unsubscribes don’t hurt your domain reputation, so are way more preferable to a Complaint, which does.
✅ Bounce rate well under 1%
⚠️ Mailgun’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) allows a threshold of 5%
❌ Over 2-2.5%
Where to look:
Bounced rate should be monitored at the domain level, as well as the individual email level
- Following best-practices related to list hygiene (initial and ongoing) should keep this well under 1%
- Once it starts approaching the 2-2.5% range it can start to affect your domain/IP reputation
- High Bounce rates can lead to your SMTP taking action like disabling your domain and/or account, and it can land you on a Blacklist, as well
These numbers are a guideline and by no means meant to be applied literally to every situation. The individual email or campaign, the message, the audience, and the level of segmentation all weigh into the numbers.
It’s important to monitor your deliverability stats on a regular basis – weekly is recommended. This is best-practice in order to stay on top of what’s working and what’s not working and gives you the opportunity to course-correct along the way, for the best possible results.
Take a look at your current numbers and set some goals for yourself, then make one small tweak at a time, and assess what effect it had on the big picture, then do another round and keep going.
The GOAL is not to achieve some specific number, but rather to IMPROVE from where you started, and ultimately to improve your bottom line.
Need Some Help?
This article touches on a handful of things that affect whether or not your email gets delivered to the Inbox, but there are 100s of things that play into deliverability, and every situation is unique.
Proper setup/configuration is necessary to get you TO the inbox, but it’s the behavioral stuff that ensures you STAY there.
It’s virtually impossible to troubleshoot email deliverability issues over a Facebook post, helpdesk chat, or ticket. Troubleshooting properly requires an understanding of all the factors and thorough analysis in order to properly troubleshoot.
*If you’re struggling to get your emails to the inbox, or even if you just want to look at ways to turn your email marketing up a notch, please book a call with Krystin at Email2Inbox