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9 Critical Steps to Improve Your Email Deliverability & Land in Inboxes

High email deliverability is like getting past a hard-to-impress doorman at a posh London venue. You have to dress immaculately, be in a perfectly-sized group, show up when it’s not too packed inside, and manage to match your driver’s license while wearing two pounds of makeup. Sounds formidable, doesn’t it? 

But that’s not half as many hoops as your emails must jump through to get to your subscribers’ inbox. 

Emails must be well-designed, well-written, have the right image-to-word ratio, not too long or too short. They must be sent from an authenticated warm domain, from a reputable server and IP address, and to relevant recipients. Phew. No wonder then that one out of five emails never reaches the inbox. 

Marketers understand that cold email outreach is unwanted and take extra care of the deliverability of their outbound campaigns. 

However, with inbound emails, the ones they send to customers primed to do business with them, they’re often counterintuitively lax. This has staggering opportunity costs — inbound marketing is 10x more effective for lead conversion and costs only a fifth of outbound marketing per lead.

But what’s a good enough deliverability rate for your campaign? 

These are the commonly accepted benchmarks:

If you’re having trouble with any of these metrics, here’s how to fix them and bolster your email deliverability rate:

Set up your SPF, DKIM, and DMARC before sending emails 

Emails often land in spam when not sent from an SPF, DKIM, and DMARC-authenticated domain. Together, this trio of security protocols lends your emails the credibility to bypass sensitive spam filters

SPF (Sender Policy Framework) spoof-proofs your domain by specifying servers authorized to send emails on your behalf. Emails from other servers get marked as spam. 

To set up SPF:

  1. Visit your domain registrar (GoDaddy, Domain.com, etc.).
  2. Go to DNS Records.
  3. Create TXT entry for SPF.
Set up SPF record screen

DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) is more complicated. I could throw around words like “encryption” and “private and public keys” or make things easier for both of us by telling you it’s basically a diplomatic sticker on your emails. It certifies their source and allows them safe passage to inboxes. 

To set up DKIM:

  1. Create a DKIM record on your ESP’s website.
  2. Add it to the DNS record on the domain registrar website.
Improve email deliverability by setting up DKIM

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) uses SPF and DKIM to validate the sender of an email. If an email fails one or both tests, the DMARC policy determines whether to do nothing, quarantine it (send it to spam) or reject it (prevent delivery). 

To set up DMARC:

  1. Create DMARC on your ESP’s website and specify the policy. 
  2. Add it to the DNS record on the domain registrar website. 

These processes can be a little tricky for non-technical people, but fortunately, Encharge does the heavy lifting for you. Once you add your email domain to your Encharge account, Encharge automatically sets up the SPF and DKIM for your domain. You do not need to set up the DMARC policy. No extra work is necessary, your domain is verified, and you can start sending email campaigns. 

To do that, you must add the DNS records to your hosting provider. If you need assistance with the process, you can always email us.

Encharge domain verification instructions
Verifying and authenticating your domain with Encharge

Warm up your email address 

Think of your inbound email marketing campaign as a 12,000-mile marathon. It’s going to take sustained effort to get to the finish line. And if you don’t warm up before, there will be consequences. 

If you have a new domain, or you’re using an older one that hasn’t seen action in a while, you can’t start sending out email blasts to thousands of people straight off the bat. That’s a shortcut to the spam folder and can even get your domain blacklisted by some email clients. 

Try following the 20-30 rule. Start with a small number (20-30 emails) and make controlled increments to reach a daily volume of 2.000-3,000 in the next ten days. Once you’re there, increase the volume by 20-30% till you reach your target.

Alternatively, you can use automation. Encharge has a built-in email throttle feature that will warm up your domain for you by sending your first few emails in small batches. 

Clean your email lists periodically

Email lists, unfortunately, aren’t perennial and everlasting. In inbound email marketing, renting, buying, and using scrapped lists is an obvious no-no. But painstakingly built organic lists also decay over time. 

Even if your ESP has a free email verification feature as Encharge does, manual periodical list clean-ups every few months can fix many deliverability blind spots. Clean your list at 3/6/12-month intervals to lower bounce rates and make your campaign data more reliable. 

A dedicated email verifier like Hunter’s can weed out defunct email addresses, inactive subscribers, and spam traps on your list in one simple step. All you have to do is type in the address you want to verify. If it’s valid and functional, your screen will look like this. 

Hunter.io email validation tool

If it’s not valid, like this one here, strike it off your list. 

Hunter.io email validation tool

Hunter also has a bulk email verifier that can validate your entire list simultaneously and facilitate high deliverability. 

Implement double opt-in 

Single opt-ins are those where users don’t need to confirm sign-up over email. Undoubtedly, they offer more convenience and higher conversions than double opt-ins. But because signing up for your emails is so easy, it adds dead weight to your list in the form of fake email addresses and spambots. 

Switching to double opt-in will slow down the pace at which your email list is growing. But it provides high-intent leads, almost eliminates hard bounces, and is strong proof of consent under data protection laws. 

If you’re worried about its impact on subscriber growth, make the extra step worthwhile by offering free content or a special discount.

Lead generation form with double opt-in
Source

Clearly share the requirement for a confirmation after sign-up. You can use a pop-up like this one. 

Improve email deliverability with double opt-in confirmation

The confirmation email is an excellent opportunity to ask your subscribers to add you to their address book. If you pair this with a clear privacy policy explaining what you do with your email list for those who might be hesitant to join, your email subscribers will likely be much higher quality than those in a single opt-in list. 

Use short yet personalized subject lines and openers

If you had to pick between reading an essay and a text from a friend, what would you do? Consider these subject lines:

Option 1:

Option 2:

For me, the second one wins hands-down.

Email subject lines are the first thing subscribers see. Try lowercase letters and non-generic phrases to make them stand out in crowded inboxes. Before sending your email, test how the subject line displays across different devices. You can use subject-line testers to help me compare options. 

If you can connect them to your opener, that’s even better. For example, an email on productivity tips can start with an anecdote. 

“I sent my team home early this Friday. There was nothing left for them to do.” 

If story-telling isn’t your thing and you’re struggling with how to start your email, use a 2-step format:

  1. Greeting
  2. Personalized compliment or question (preferably about a recent event).

Or… you can always get inspired with our Free AI subject line generator.

Write a personalized email copy

Personalized email copy has the power to make readers sit up and pay attention. It’s the difference between someone nodding in your direction vs. them shaking your hand while looking you in the eye. 

Personalization extends beyond the first name merge tags. Remember: 

  1. People are tired of talking to machines, so treat them like real people. Even if you’re in B2B, write the way you would talk if they were sitting across from you in a coffee shop.
  2. Not everyone is the same, so segment them into groups based on their behavior and demographics and only send them emails relevant to their interest.
  3. Set up email triggers for the usual stuff, like signing up and downloading a guide. Then use that data to create a drip campaign that leads them further down the funnel.
  4. When they want to talk to you, listen. No-reply emails are terrible for relationship-building, so minimize their use.
  5. Know where to draw the line. For example, it’s okay for you to know their alma mater, but not that they like their steak medium-rare. 

Avoid spam words in your email copy

Everyone’s a word snob these days, and spam filters lead the pack. If you have a solid deliverability rate, one spam word won’t get you flagged. But when you don’t, filters can be pretty judgemental about the words in your copy. 

If you’ve been feeling cornered by the lengthy spam trigger word lists out there, as a rule of thumb, try not to: 

  • Sound manipulative.
  • Use far-fetched words or superlatives.
  • Be too pushy.

Here are some examples:

Spam WordsReplacement Ideas
FreeComplimentary

Present

A little something
Click hereStart browsing now

check them out here

Take a look
#1Industry-leading

Tried-and-trusted
$$$$/Dollars/Any mention of moneyDrive conversions create value

[ X ] returns/revenue/sales 
Exclusive/Once-in-a-lifetime dealThe last time we ran this promotion was…never.

[Produc] is available at 20% off for the first (and probably the last) time ever, until [date].

The idea is to sound sincere and believable. If your copy sounds phony even to you, your customers won’t fall for it either.

If you want to learn more on this topic, check out our list of damaging words you should look out for when writing emails.

Avoid URL shorteners, attachments, and large images

No one wants a clunky three-line URL wasting precious email real estate, but using generic shortened URLs puts you in the dubious company of spammers and might get your email flagged by ESPs and spam filters. 

Instead, use a branded URL shortener like Rebrandly that shows the business’s name in the link to establish authenticity. 

Rebrandly app screen

Email attachments, too, keep your email word count lean, but they can trigger spam filters when used in mass email campaigns. Email attachments are also impossible to track, so consider switching to a link-based file-sharing system. If it’s a file many of your subscribers will want to access, you can host it directly on your website or Google Drive.

Try to keep your actual email as clutter-free as possible. This includes avoiding complex HTML layouts (anything over 102kB) and too many images. Visual-heavy emails look great, but they’re not search-friendly, have slow download time, diminish user experience, and most importantly, can get you mistaken for a spammer. 

Replace PNGs with JPEGs and GIFs to control email size. And always keep enough text in your copy to provide context even when a recipient has images turned off. Some marketing automation tools like Encharge allow you to add alternative text to your images — that way, users can understand the context of the image even when images are turned off.

Add a visible unsubscribe button to your emails

Every email address on your list was hard-earned. So, it’s tempting to make leaving your list as hard as possible for subscribers. But here are three convincing reasons not to:

  1. You’re in the business of sending marketing emails, not holding people hostage.
  2. It’s illegal.
  3. A recipient that can’t unsubscribe will mark emails as spam, making a dent in your deliverability.

Most senders use a discreet button at the bottom of the email.

Unsubscribe button example for improved deliverability

Or use Encharge’s double opt-out feature, redirecting the person to a confirmation page, to ensure a subscriber hasn’t accidentally unsubscribed.

Encharge unsubscription confirmation screen

People sign up to receive emails from you when they’re interested in what you offer. If they lose that interest, it’s usually because:

  1. Their preferences changed,
  2. Your content quality dropped, or
  3. You emailed them too much.

You don’t have to stay up all night wondering why. Just ask them and offer to fix it, like BetaList. 

Unsubscribe feedback from BetaList

Then use Encharge’s communication management center to allow recipients to reduce the frequency or change their preferences, thus reducing unsubscribed.

Conclusion

Deliverability is a complex email metric, and improving it is a long project. Instead of plunging in headfirst, incorporate these tips in your inbound marketing campaign one or two at a time. That’ll give you time to identify and understand your problem areas. Keep tracking and monitoring the data you generate, and use A/B testing to tweak your emails for the best results.

Or sign up for Encharge and let them handle all of your deliverability with their managed email deliverability service. They implement the best deliverability practices to ensure your emails land up in the inbox of your subscribers, and they do that at no extra charge. Sign up for a free trial today and check out the tool.

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