Take control of your email deliverability

It’s time for brands to take ownership and control over their own deliverability and here’s why.

For as long as I’ve been in the field of email marketing there has been a tension, to put it mildly, between marketers and mailbox providers that has led to problems with delivery.

Almost without exception dealing with these problems has fallen to deliverability specialists working for email service providers.

It’s understandable as many aspects of delivery are arcane and complex requiring a combination of technical expertise and very specific domain knowledge. I was rather surprised therefore when I heard Laura Atkins saying that brands should take ownership of their own deliverability.


If you don’t know Laura you definitely should. She is the owner of email deliverability consultancy Word to the Wise and is one of, if not the, preeminent expert in the field. I asked her why she thinks brands should do what ESPs have historically done.

She started out by describing the experience of many marketers today.

“For a long time deliverability has been an issue that companies pay attention to when everything breaks. Companies would look for solutions, be it monitoring or consulting or whatever, when they were experiencing problems with delivery.

Many senders believed deliverability problems were random and couldn’t be planned for. Most people discovered ‘deliverability’ because one day their email marketing program stopped working. They hadn’t really changed anything and all of a sudden their mail is blocked.

As they see it, they changed nothing so there was no reason for the block. The overall message was that deliverability problems couldn’t be prevented and could only be fixed.”

This certainly fits with my experience and I don’t doubt it resonates strongly with many marketers today.

But Laura continued:

“This isn’t really true, though. Deliverability problems can be prevented and they can be anticipated. I can identify different times when it’s likely email delivery will suffer.”

This is a subject that doesn’t get talked about very much because marketers often don’t understand deliverability and ESPs get paid to respond to delivery problems not prevent them.

Worse than that, as Laura went on to say, “Many companies expect that deliverability is what their ESP does, and if there are problems the ESP will be responsible and fix it. This isn’t actually true. In most cases a sender having problems getting to the inbox is responsible for those problems.”

That’s all well and good, but easier said than done surely?

Laura’s take is that:

“[Deliverability] should be seen as one of the parts of an email marketing strategy. Baking deliverability into the overall strategy both results in fewer ‘deliverability broke, we must fix it’ emergencies and improves overall email marketing results.”

This is really sound advice but the question is how should a brand email marketer do this? Laura says:

“Unfortunately I don’t have simple solutions and answers. Brands need to start getting into the mindset that deliverability problems are predictable. There is a cycle. We need to move beyond deliverability as an unexpected emergency and start thinking of it as something that can be planned for.”

This is not a “do these five things” problem. It’s about changing a mindset and approach to deliverability because:

1. Deliverability is not random. There are consistent, predictable patterns of how and when marketers get blocked.

2. It’s your business. As a marketer it’s your list, your email and your deliverability. You cannot and should not abdicate responsibility for it to your ESP.

3. Deliverability must be baked in. Deliverability needs to be part of your email marketing strategy from the ground up.

At the end of the day, as the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Email is a hugely effective channel and having it stop working unexpectedly is a significant business risk, one you must take control over.

Until next time…

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