Not only is email marketing the most successful and cost-efficient distribution channel in today’s world of new media, but it’s also the most misunderstood. Before I started working with IBM on email marketing campaigns, I had no idea how powerful and sophisticated the medium was. After a series of failures that resulted in mail blocks from ISP’s (Internet service providers) like Google and Apple Mail, I realized that email marketing is a bit more layered than I thought.

Just like many entrepreneurs, I was introduced to email marketing with a service like Mailchimp. Mailchimp removed the barrier to entry for most email novices and helped us get messages into the inbox with little to no thought… it became a batch and blast world.

With the new wave of email marketing experts raiding inboxes wherever they could be found, the gmails, ymails, and outlooks of the world were forced to respond with rules for the safety and privacy of their users. This got our emails blocked, flagged as spam, and throttled so that our messages wouldn’t reach users for hours and even days later.  However, with services like Mailchimp holding our hands, we may have not even noticed the World War Inbox going on right under our noses. But just in case you want to take your email marketing to the next level, here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about email marketing.


1. Email Marketing is SEO for the Inbox


Sometimes you may not understand why people aren’t opening and clicking your emails. You may have concluded that your copy or subject lines just aren’t. That may be a factor, however, many times – because of your sending reputation- ISP’s block your messages from getting through. Therefore, your intended audience never receives the messages they signed up for.

From an ISP perspective, services like Gmail and Yahoo want to protect the people using their mailing systems, to ensure that their users aren’t being spammed or bombarded with messages they don’t want to see. Similar to scrapping for the top spot on Google search, you also have to fight to get into users inboxes. 

Let’s start with the three things that are most likely to prevent you from reaching the inbox:

(1) Spammy email titles

You have to be very careful about what you write as your subject line. With the need to attract attention and also compel people to click, you may be prone to use tactics that can get you blocked or sent to spam. Words and phrases such as: “free”, “deal”, and “open now” can trigger spam filters and get your emails blocked. Use a subject line tool like Sendcheckit to make sure your titles are spam-free. 

(2) Bad email copy

Misspelled words, large gif images, and lack of optimization are all reasons you can get your email messages blocked. Just like search engine optimization, you have to make sure your email copy is optimized and clean so they pass the spam test. Make sure your images have alternative text and you use proper formatting on your page structure. Make sure links are working and your copy is compelling enough that users want to read it and won’t bounce right away. Yes, read time is very important. 

(3) Domain Reputation

Just like SEO, you have work on building up your domain reputation. Most email marketers send from their ESP’s (email service providers like Mailchimp) which is ok for beginners, but if you really want to be a master of the inbox you’re going to authenticate your domain using DKIM, SPF, and DMARC.


2. Email Authentication is Your "Members Only" Pass


Email authentication is like having your pilot license or a VIP pass at a Beyonce concert. ISP’s will see you as one of the elites and put respect on your name. If you’ve been an email marketer for some time you may be familiar with DKIM and SPF records, but if not, no worries, we’ll tackle that here. 

Most email service providers make it easy for you to send emails to your customers so you may have never felt the need to authenticate your sending address.  But services like Gmail and outlook know you’re serious about email marketing when they see that you have an authenticated sending domain. All this means is that your “send from” address matches your “reply to” address. See below: 


As you can see from the image above, this email tells subscribers and ISP’s (e.g. Gmail, Ymail, Outlook, Me.com) exactly who the email is from.

Below is an example of an email that is not authenticated and runs the risk of being flagged as spam or blocked by Internet service providers.


Can you imagine expecting a friend over, but when you go to answer the door there’s someone standing on your porch in a bear costume? Would you be quick to open the door, or would you hesitate or not open it at all?

Therefore, don’t let your emails show up unexpectedly. 

To authenticate your email address you will need to update your DNS records in your hosting account (e.g Go Daddy or Blue Host) or a CDN like Cloudflare. 

You can learn more about email authentication here


3. If you don't have an Email Fingerprint, you should get one


Did you know that ISP’s love sending patterns? Consistency helps to relax the spam filters. In email marketing we call this an “email fingerprint”. How and when do you normally send emails? If you don’t have an established schedule you should strongly consider one. Not having an email fingerprint is like showing up to someone’s house unannounced, they may not let you in right away or may never open the door altogether. However, if ISP’s know when to expect you, they’re more likely to open the door and welcome you into their user’s inboxes. 


4. Sending at odd times improves email deliverability


Free services like Mailchimp and Drip may only allow you to send in 15 minute intervals (e.g. 8:00, 8:15, 8:30, etc). This means that billions of emails are trying to reach the inbox all at the same time. However, a nice little trick is to send at odd times to make sure your emails bypass all the traffic (e.g. 12:07, 12:22, 12:53).


5. Sending to your most engaged users first improves your daily sending score


Many email marketers send to their entire list all at once or in random order. However, it’s much better to send to your most engaged users first. For example, if you have a daily email that goes out at 10:03 am, it’s best to send to your most engaged users about 15 minutes earlier than the less engaged subscribers on your list. This gives your engaged users a chance to open and click in your emails sending a signal to ISP’s that people love getting your emails. 

ISP’s will take this into account and your messages will have a better chance of reaching primary folders and avoid spam and promotion folders. 


6. A list-hygiene strategy is a must


Did you know that ISP’s like Google and Yahoo purposely add bad email addresses to your email list? These email addresses are called “spam traps.” They do this to ensure you’re practicing good list hygiene. 

A lot of times people will change their email addresses or domains will expire, and ISP’s will use these emails to try to punish unhygienic list owners.

If you send an email to a spam trap your sending reputation will be tarnished. Using services like Mailchimp and Emma can give you a bad reputation off the bat because you share a sending IP with a lot of other users that are probably using bad email practices. Authenticating your emails will give you a better shot at reaching the inbox, however, sooner or later you will want to graduate to a service that provides a dedicated IP so that you’ll have full control over your sending reputation.

Nevertheless, to avoid spam traps, make sure that you validate every new email and clean your list twice a year using a service like Briteverify to make sure you’re always sending to real humans. And if subscribers aren’t opening your emails, put together a plan to reengage them or remove them from your list altogether. 

ISP’s will take note of your efforts and your messages will have a better chance of reaching the primary inbox and avoid spam and promotion folders. 


7. There's an elite email marketing club you can buy your way into


Have you ever heard of service called Return Path? It’s an elite email whitelisting club that organizations can buy into, to make sure their emails are never blocked  or flagged as spam.

Return Path’s CEO Matt Blumberg said, “Going through the [Return Path] certification process is a sure-fire way to expose any possible domain reputation issues”.  That’s to say, that by buying their certification, Google, Yahoo, and other ESP’s will whitelist your domain and give your emails precedence over others. 


Is some of this surprising to you? Do you know other email deliverability secrets that most people don’t? If so, please let us know in the comments so we can all improve our email marketing efforts. 


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