How to Ruin Deliverability in 10 Easy Steps

Hello, is this thing on?

E-mail professionals like me talk all the time about the best practices senders must employ to improve their programs. Time and again, I see marketers ignore this advice and make the same old mistakes. They then get lousy results and blame it on service providers or ISPs.

Maybe they’re tired of all the finger-pointing and rulemaking from us deliverability experts. So, to lift their spirits and make them feel as if they’re accomplishing something (even as they run their e-mail programs right into the ground), here’s my top 10 list of sure-fire ways to ruin a sender’s deliverability:

  • Fail authentication checks. You should have the proper authentication records in place (SPF, SenderID, or DomainKeys) to give the ISPs a fighting chance to identify senders and use reputation data to make delivery decisions. However, a broken or incorrect record can do much more damage than not having one. Consider that authentication identifies the sender and IP address the message is coming from. When you fail the authentication check, you’ve just told the ISP, “This e-mail didn’t come from me. So don’t deliver it.”
  • Use an unrecognizable sender line. Recipients use the sender address to help decide what to do with the e-mail message. If they don’t recognize your name, they’re more likely to ignore it, delete it, or report it as spam. Go ahead and try to conceal your identity or pretend to be someone you aren’t — it’s a sure trip to oblivion.
  • Use a spammy subject line. If it reads like spam, odds are recipients will treat it like spam. Together with the sender line, the subject line is one of the most important elements in a successful e-mail campaign.
  • Let your list get dirty. A large list of invalid addresses is one of the metrics ISPs use to gauge a sender’s reputation. Bad list hygiene can be the deciding factor in whether a message is delivered or blocked. Remove invalid addresses immediately, and regularly cull your list of nonresponders. Process unsubscribe and spam complaints immediately as well.
  • Generate excessive complaints. This is one word-of-mouth campaign you don’t want to initiate. ISPs use the number of complaints a sender receives about unwanted messages as the number-one factor for judging a sender’s reputation. Remove any addresses associated with a spam complaint as soon as you receive it. But don’t stop there. Identify how they got on your list and what common elements they share so you can improve your programs and drive complaints down.
  • Ignore permission. While ISPs use sender reputation to determine whether to deliver your e-mail, how you acquire new subscribers is still one of the most important ways to manage and reduce complaints. Always use permission-based methods, and let subscribers choose what content they want you to send and how often.
  • Send irrelevant content. You’re on the fast track to e-mail hell if you give in to temptation and send messages that promote your own needs rather than match subscriber preferences. When was the last time you reached out to subscribers to ask how they liked what you send them and whether there’s anything else you could do for them?

    Permission and interests change over time. Put yourself in your subscriber’s shoes, and ask yourself, “What’s in this for me?” whenever you consider sending an offer. Create a preference page to help your subscribers control the types of content they want. An all-or-nothing approach usually means you end up with nothing.

  • Don’t worry about rendering. If you can’t be bothered to ensure your e-mail shows up in a meaningful way no matter what platform your readers use, they might not bother with a message they know they can’t decode.

    Proper design for image blocking and preview panes helps drive recognition. If the subject line got their attention but they can’t read the e-mail, see the logos, or figure out what the message says, recipients are much more likely to delete or report the message as spam. This harms your sender reputation. Don’t rely on the “view online” link alone to solve all problems. Proper design is essential to success.

  • Ignore unsubscribe requests. Federal law requires you honor unsubscribe requests. More important, you need a reliable unsubscribe process to build trust with your audience. If they tried to unsubscribe but failed once already, they’ll probably go right for their e-mail client’s “report spam” button.
  • Never test. Sending e-mail with broken merge fields, non-working links, or the wrong offers sully the relationship with your audience and can drive complaints up. Always test campaigns before you hit the send button.

Did you recognize yourself in any of these top 10 worst practices? Don’t sweat it. You can always change what you’re doing to conform to best practices (and what your competitors are likely doing). Just don’t wait until after your next campaign to change your ways.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

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