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6 Email Deliverability Pitfalls and Best Practices

Written by Gabrielle Wathen on December 5, 2019 at 8:15 AM

Email Deliverability Best Practices and Pitfalls Higher Logic Blog

If you want your marketing emails to earn a home in the right inbox, you’ll need more than brilliantly crafted content and personalization working for you. Those factors have the potential to pay off when your email hits the inbox and is opened, but what if it doesn’t make it that far? It’s important to understand what goes on behind the scenes after hitting send.

If you’re up against poor email deliverability rates, or simply need a refresher on deliverability best practices, assess your strategy for these common pitfalls then get busy making improvements to impact how you’ll send emails moving forward for maximum exposure.

If you were at our recent Super Forum conference, you may recall these tips from an engaging breakout session on deliverability presented by Amanda DeLuke, Higher Logic Deliverability Analyst, and Dean Canellos, Manager of Deliverability Operations.

Attendees reported that the session provided “Great information that really impacts how we’ll send moving forward,” as well as introduced concepts both new and old that made it “Worth it!” Let’s get into it. 

What is Deliverability? 

Has anyone ever told you they didn’t receive an email that you are positive you sent to them? You’re not alone in frustration. Before jumping to conclusions, do not confuse “sent” with “delivered.” Sent emails go undelivered every day, as senders and email service providers do not have control over where their message lands.

It’s important to understand that deliverability is the ability to reach the inbox, while the term “delivery” assumes delivery unless proven otherwise. 

Dialing into deliverability factors like authentication, permission, engagement, reputation, and consistency will help you rise out of the pit and optimize your chances of landing in the inbox. 

Deliverability Pitfall #1: No Sender Authentication

Much like the average person doesn’t answer a call from an unknown number, the average consumer inbox isn’t going to trust an email from an unfamiliar or suspicious sender. Sender authentication is the foundation of email deliverability, as it helps identify an email’s legitimacy while protecting against fraud, simplifying delivery, and building a positive domain reputation. 

Authenticating your “from” domain improves the credibility of your emails by implementing protocols that verify your domain as the sender of your messages. It’s important to only send emails from domains that you control. If you don’t understand SPF, DKIM, and DMARC - meet your pitfall.

These are three email authentication protocols that are essential to your success: 

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF)
  • DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM)
  • Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, & Conformance (DMARC) 

Read SPF, DKIM, DMARC: The 3 Pillars of Email Authentication for a digestible deep dive into these fundamental concepts. 

Deliverability Pitfall #2: Sending to Purchased Lists

You know what they say… if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. While it may be tempting to send marketing emails to purchased lists of contacts, it’s a pitfall with the potential to result in more trouble and annoyance than deliverability promise and retention. 

There are various reasons why you shouldn’t send emails to purchased lists: 

  • No permission 
  • Poor delivery rates
  • Low open rates
  • Spam complaints 
  • Spam traps
  • Legal implications 
  • Contractual obligations 

Read 4 Tips for Maximizing Deliverability for guidance on how to monitor your open rate, review your bounces, know and segment your audience, and keep your lists engaged

Deliverability Pitfall #3: Using Link Shorteners + Exposed URLs

What do you do when you’re up against a URL that seems longer than the yellow brick road? Many people turn to link shortening services, which convert long URLs to shorter versions that lead to the same landing page. While link shorteners can be an effective tool for, say, keeping a Tweet you want to publish under 280 characters, they’re not ideal for increasing inbox delivery.

Here’s why you shouldn’t use link shorteners in your email marketing content: 

  • Third-party link shorteners (services like bit.ly and tinyurl.com) are typically blacklisted
  • Spammers use these services to hide their destination URLs
  • Link shorteners will hurt your email delivery

Exposed URLs with click tracking present additional link related pitfalls. An exposed link is a hyperlink that uses the URL itself. Any mismatch between the display URL and the destination URL will cause delivery issues, so it’s best to avoid this problem by covering URLs with text. 

Exposed URL | Read our blog: https://blog.higherlogic.com/improve-my-email-deliverability

Shortened URL | Read our blog: http://bit.ly/360BGEu

Recommended URL: Read our blog on Improving Your Email Deliverability

Deliverability Pitfall #4: Sending Attachments 

Wondering if you should send attachments in an email?

Consider these deliverability factors: 

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may mark it as spam 
  • Your subscriber may still think it’s spam
  • Your messages become too large 
  • Attachments get lost in the forwards 

Rather than sending attachments, host the file online and link to it in your emails. By linking to the attachment you gain the ability to reduce the risk, improve the user experience, implement tracking, and increase the chances people will open and read your messages.

Note that a text file (.txt) is the only attachment that is considered safe.

Check out 8 Tips to Write Emails Your Association Members Will Actually Open

Deliverability Pitfall #5: Changing Your “From” Address

There are reasons you might want to change your “From” address, but the pitfall lies in how you execute that decision. If your contact is used to the emails they love coming from Sally, but now the same email comes from Joe, they might gloss over it entirely and you could lose a reader.

If you’re going to change your “From” address, here’s a few best practices to keep in mind: 

  • Let your contacts know before you make the change
  • Authenticate, authenticate, authenticate! (dialing back to #1)
  • If you have a lack of sending history, expect to warm this domain 

Familiarize yourself with 4 Secrets to Better Email Deliverability to Members and Customers

Deliverability Pitfall #6: Sending Emails Too Infrequently

This may seem counterintuitive since the age-old question is “Are we sending too much email?” But if you don’t want to fall off the radar of your email contacts, it’s critical to maintain consistency. 

Sending emails too few and far between is a pitfall because it runs the risks of your recipients:

  • Forgetting they signed up for your emails (leading them to unsubscribe)
  • Becoming unengaged
  • Not getting your email at all, due to email address turnover

Marketing automation can improve your strategy by giving you the ability to send the right messages to the right people at the right time, improving consistency, brand awareness, personalization, deliverability, and a lot more that impacts your bottom line.

Learn all about Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation here.

Deliverability Pitfall #6: Sending Without Testing

Have you ever opened an email that immediately made your eyes hurt because of poor design? Or enough spelling errors to tip off the grammar police? What about a link that takes you to a different place than intended? Busted–someone didn’t put enough time into email testing

Testing is an imperative quality assurance step that ensures the display functionality and content accuracy of your email. Opting out of this process isn’t strategic and can lead to various pitfalls.

Here’s why you need to test your emails before sending: 

Here’s what you should test before sending your next email: 

  • Email design
  • Accuracy of links (don’t forget about those tips from #3)
  • Proof your content
  • Images displaying properly
  • Font and text displaying properly 
  • Virtual inbox/deliverability testing 

Read our blog Testing, Testing: 4 Tips to Streamline the Email Approval Process to learn more.

Get Strategic About How to Improve Email Deliverability

There you have it—six common email deliverability pitfalls with actionable insights to improve your strategy and reach inboxes more effectively. Thirsty for more knowledge to support a strategic, well-executed email marketing plan? If you want to improve personalization and deliverability, our free marketing guide below is the exact resource you’ll need for your action plan. 

Get The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Automation

If you attended the email deliverability session at our 10th annual Super Forum or have feedback on our tips, please share your takeaways below.

Topics: Email Deliverability, Email Marketing, Marketing Automation, Super Forum

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