Email Marketers’ Top Questions on Deliverability

Navigating the inbox can be a difficult task. Here are some of the most common queries we get from clients, along with answers and information on services Inbox Pros offers to resolve the problem. 

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Q: Our emails are flagged and going into spam filters, but we’re not on any blacklists. What’s the problem?

A: There are small things you can do to ensure that you don’t end up in the spam folder. It’s important to evaluate what percentage of your lists belong to each provider (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Apple, etc.). This is because each provider uses different filters to process where your emails end up. User engagement is a large part of why emails land in spam. If you continue to send to these users–and you are already in the spam folder–it’s inevitable that you will find yourself on a blacklist if there is no remediation. Go through your lists and remove unengaged users and bounced recipients, and check your content for spam-like words in your subject lines and content. Also, recheck that your images are sized correctly; if they are too large or too small, they can come across as spammy.

Q: What words do email filters consider spam?

A: Keywords are no longer the only method used to detect spam, but they are still important to deliverability. Spam keywords are based on what spammers have recently sent. Here are some recently abused keywords you should avoid.


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Q: How much do you charge for finding/fixing Gmail Spam issues, and how long would you need for this?

A:  Because Gmail looks mainly at user engagement, we would want to evaluate the engagement metrics of your recipients who have Gmail as a provider. There are many factors involved in successful Gmail inbox placement.

Q: Why are my sign-up verification emails landing in the spam folder?  

A:  There are many possible reasons for spam placement of transactional emails, such as promotional content, poor IP or domain reputation, insufficient or broken authentication, and user responses to promotional emails contaminating transactional content.

Q: We have Gmail postmaster tools setup, and it doesn’t show any feedback loop or spam issues. What’s the issue?

A: Ensure that you are monitoring not just your domain but also all subdomains and authentication domains (separately) such as SPF and DKIM. The feedback loop is non-traditional and requires coordination with your ESP. Keep in mind that Postmaster Tools will only show reputation data if the domain in question is regularly sending >1,000 emails in a campaign.  

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Q: We have been experiencing deliverability issues to Gmail addresses, which account for 46% of our entire list. Can you help us identify the issue and resolve it?

A: Gmail ISP filters measure a sender’s reputation, which is based heavily off of user engagement with the emails you send. Remove users who have not engaged with your emails in the last 90 days (opened, clicked, scrolled, moved to a folder, etc.). All of these are important to Gmail, as they want to make sure that the mail that lands in their recipients’ inboxes is mail that they actually want to receive. Confirm that you have a confirmed opt-in process and that the recipients you are sending to explicitly requested to get mail from you. Remove recipients who have hard-bounced, and use good opt-in practices to keep your bounce rate under 4%. There is also the potential for “reputation contamination” from other mailings, so the program must be examined holistically. 

Q: Why are my email response rates dropping?

A:  There are various tools that a sender can use to check to see their IP and domain reputation, blacklisting sites, inbox placement, etc. You can check your reputation through SenderScore, Microsoft SNDS, and Postmaster Tools. Blacklist sites include SORBS, Spamhaus, SpamCop, and Proofpoint. You can monitor metrics such as open rate, bounce rate, and complaint rate, and you can use a third-party tool such as eDataSource to check panel and seed data.

Q: What is the difference between ReturnPath and Inbox Pros?

A:  ReturnPath offers a product in the form of their tool and a service in the form of support for their tool. Inbox Pros offers an agnostic service, and we will work with and take advantage of any tools you already have as well as our own. Inbox Pros identifies structural and holistic issues as well as specific problems in the interest of increasing ROI. Remember, metrics and tests are just a tool–using them to increase ROI is the goal. 


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Q: Why was my email blocked?

A:  Email may be blocked for many reasons, and the blocked messages themselves are not always helpful. Deep industry knowledge and broad experience allow Inbox Pros to pin-down block issues and offer specific remediation. 

Q: We are having problems with our email deliverability and would like an expert to analyze and help solve our problem. We are getting a lot of emails in our SPAM folder.

A: There are numerous factors that play into bad deliverability. Elements include (but are not limited to): sending cadence, list segmentation based off of relevancy, engagement, etc., whether you’re sending off of a shared/dedicated IP, your IP/domain reputation, sending infrastructure, type of content you are sending, bounces, email authentication, and more. Inbox Pros can audit your entire program and provide specific and targeted solutions to improve deliverability and maximize ROI. 

Q: We have been put on a blacklist. Why does this happen?

A: There are 3 different kinds of spam traps, all designed to catch senders who don’t get permission from users. Some are more damaging than others, but all are bad for your reputation. These are working email addresses, so they can’t be identified by list cleaning, and sending to spam traps is also the most common way for a sender to be put on a blacklist. It’s important to understand how these email addresses can end up on your list and what you can do to deal with any that are already there.

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Q:  Since changing our email platform (with new IPs), we experience recurring deliverability issues at Microsoft (Hotmail, MSN, live, …). After trying for a long time, we still do not know what exactly causes the problem, so we are looking for a partner that can help us identify the exact issue (technical/content/set up/…) and find a solution/monitoring.

A: Any infrastructure or identity change can cause deliverability problems and should be approached very carefully. Planning and remediation in the form of specific volume ramping, segmentation tactics, and remediation are all in Inbox Pros’s toolbox. 

Q: We are having issues getting to the inbox and need help. What factors cause deliverability problems?

A: There are many different factors that play into successful deliverability. These things include (but are not limited to): sending cadence, list segmentation based off of relevancy, engagement, etc., whether you’re sending from a shared or dedicated IP, your IP and domain reputations, sending infrastructure, type of content, bounces, email authentication, and more.

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Q: How do I improve my deliverability?

A: There are many different factors that play into successful deliverability. These things include (but are not limited to): sending cadence, list segmentation based off of relevancy, engagement, etc., whether you’re sending from a shared or dedicated IP, your IP and domain reputations, sending infrastructure, type of content, bounces, email authentication, and more.

Q: How do I fix my emails so they are not incorrectly labeled as spam?

A: Making sure that the type of content you are displaying in your emails is not “spammy” by avoiding spam words in your subject lines ensures that subject lines set good expectations with the reader. Regarding the content in the body, keep content at an approximately 70/30 ratio for text/image. Ensure the email’s HTML size doesn’t exceed 100k, and ensure image sizes don’t exceed 30k. Send relevant content to your subscribers–if this requires cleaning your lists to remove unengaged users, do so. There is a much higher probability that uninterested users will mark you as spam or abusive. Honor unsubscribe requests as soon as possible (10 business days is mandatory under CAN-SPAM Law), and use good opt-in practices to ensure your bounce rate is under 4%.

Q: Why was my email blocked?

A: There are many different factors that play into successful deliverability. These things include (but are not limited to): sending cadence, list segmentation based off of relevancy, engagement, etc., whether you’re sending from a shared or dedicated IP, your IP and domain reputations, sending infrastructure, type of content, bounces, email authentication, and more.Blocks commonly occur when a sender has used abusive opt-in practices which have led to blacklisting.

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Q: We need help setting up SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. We use SPF, but the records are not what they should be. We also use services such as Vertical Response, Subscriber Mail, and Sparkpost. Some emails tend to end up in junk mail and we need to improve deliverability.

A: There are many misconceptions about SPF, DKIM, and DMARC, and they all play a vital role in deliverability as well as the safety and experience of your users. While an ESP’s recommendations or an internet guide may provide a starting point, many senders find that their infrastructure and program do not fit into generic instructions. Examining every source and identity in an email program is vital to ensuring that email authentication is correct, non-conflicting, and flexible/extensible enough to reduce the pain of any future additions or changes.

Q: We are currently stalled with our project for implementing DKIM/DMARC and also cleaning up our SPF record. Do you offer any services to help with that?

A: Inbox Pros can examine every source and identity in an email program to ensure that authentication is correct, non-conflicting, and flexible/extensible enough to reduce the pain of any future additions or changes.

Q: We were recently targeted by a spoofing attack, and our domain reputation has tanked as a result. Getting into inboxes (not spam) is vital for our business, so we’re looking for the fastest path toward getting our reputation back.

A: DMARC is one of the latest authentication developments in email and is widely recognized by ISPs. Making sure the proper DMARC policy is in place is vital to the security of your brand and the experience of your users. DMARC cannot exist without SPF and DKIM, and both must be in place before DMARC can protect you and your users from becoming victims of a phishing or spoofing attack. DMARC also allows you to see all sources of email that are using your organization’s domain. This can help identify sources of abuse as well as configuration and authentication issues from legitimate sources. 

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Q:  What can we do to prevent our emails from being spoofed or phished?

A: Making sure the proper DMARC policy is in place is vital to the security of your brand reputation and the experience of your users. DMARC cannot exist without SPF and DKIM and both must be in place before DMARC can protect you and your users from becoming victims of a phishing or spoofing attack. DMARC also allows you to see all sources of email that are using your organization’s domain. This can help identify sources of abuse as well as configuration and authentication issues from legitimate sources.

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Q: What is GDPR, and does it affect me?

A: The General Data Protection Regulation is a law that protects all residents of the European Union. If you have any users who reside in the EU, GDPR must be taken very seriously. GDPR has stringent requirements regarding data storage and handling, as well as user opt-in and opt-out.

Q: What is an acceptable email deliverability rate by industry?

A: While 100% deliverability is nearly impossible as user mailboxes change or people leave companies, the recommended deliverability goal is above 95%.

Q: Will a high bounce rate affect my email reputation?

A: Yes. A hard bounce rate of 7% or higher is widely considered abusive and most ISPs strongly frown on a bounce rate of only 5%. It is recommended to remove users who have hard bounced or soft bounced multiple times and to keep your bounce rate at 3% or lower.

Q:  Why did my email get blocked? It’s the exact same message I sent last week, and it wasn’t blocked then.

A: There are many reasons why this could have occurred. Did you send to a new list that you haven’t sent to before? Did you receive a lot of abuse complaints/hit a lot of spam trapsHas the reputation on the IP address gone down? ISPs can and will change their filters thousands of times a day. A word or phrase that was accepted 2 hours ago may be blocked now. Test your content before sending to your live lists. ISPs will also track your reputation based on how users respond to your emails. If users largely respond poorly to a campaign today, the ISPs may begin to filter emails with similar content and/or from the same identities (domains/IPs) as soon as that same day.

Privacy & Compliance – What It Means For Your Email Program

Q: Will my deliverability change if I change my from-domain?

A:  Yes. Sending from any new domain or IP will affect your deliverability, as it doesn’t have a reputation built with the ISPs. We recommend using a domain warming plan to let the ISPs know that you are sending from a new domain rather than sending immediate email blasts that can mimic spam-like sending behavior.

Q: What are some steps I can take to reduce the number of abuse complaints I receive?

A: There are multiple steps involved with this. First, you can evaluate how often you are sending to your lists. List fatigue is common when a sender is sending to recipients who are unengaged more than 2x a week. Reduce your sending to 1-2x a week. Second, remove any users who have not engaged with your emails in the last 90 days. This eliminates the most common sources of user frustration: repetition and loss of interest. Lastly, process your unsubscribes as soon as possible. CAN-SPAM Law requires all unsubscribe requests to be processed within 10 business days, but users expect them to be processed immediately and there is rarely any reason that cannot happen.

Q:  Should I separate types of email campaigns to their own IP address/domain?

A: Different types of marketing emails are recommended to be sent out using sub-domains rather than all coming from top-level domain. Marketing emails can come from one subdomain and transactional emails can come from another; typically the parent/top domain is reserved for correspondence-type emails. Separating sending domains for various types of emails allows the top-level organizational domain to maintain its reputation if a single subdomain reputation starts to lower. This is important because if the top-level domain reputation starts to falter, this can cause a trickle-down effect to all subdomains. Some ISPs, particularly in the EU, prefer to see marketing and transactional emails come from different IPs. This is another reason why understanding your list is important, but ISPs will largely use subdomains and content filters to tell the difference and sort the emails accordingly; this sorting helps keep transactional emails in the inbox even if marketing emails start to falter.

Q: We don’t understand email privacy rules and need help.

A: The key to email privacy rules is user consent. GDPR (European Union) and CASL (Canada) take user opt-in very seriously and also require specific records to be kept. We can examine your program to identify privacy and compliance issues and provide specific targeted recommendations to improve compliance, user experience, and user safety. 

Q: How does deliverability and inbox placement impact my email program KPIs?

A:  In the end, the only email KPI that matters is ROI. That is typically affected by how many users open and click through emails. Deliverability is an additional KPI that monitors whether or not the user even saw the email, which is naturally a prerequisite to opening and clicking. It’s important to understand, however, that increasing volume, and therefore opens, may not actually increase ROI if users are opening and realizing the email is irrelevant. This can also reduce deliverability, meaning that the users who would have been interested would not even see the emails the next day. Inbox Pros can help ensure that the actual sources of ROI see the emails.

Q: How much does it cost to clean my email marketing list?

A: Inbox Pros can recommend partner providers who have very competitive rates. It is important to understand that, in addition to removing bad addresses, senders should also remove uninterested users. This is free and can dramatically improve deliverability by showing the ISP filters that users on the whole are interested in your emails, reassuring them that it is okay to show the email to a user who hasn’t seen it before.

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If you have additional questions that you’d like us to add to our FAQ page, send us an email.