Best Practices for Getting Your Emails in the Inbox

Apr 24, 2013 12:29 AM  By

For online retailers, sales and email marketing are closely aligned, with email messages acting as the sales channel to build relationships, announce new products and offers, and even help customers make purchase decisions.  And it works. The DMA estimates that $67.8 billion in revenue came directly through email campaigns last year, translating to $40.56 for every dollar spent.

Another great thing about email for ecommerce retailers is that you can see results almost instantly. Just send a campaign, and sales start coming in within minutes. Analytics vary from one email service provider to another, but Listrak merchants, for example, are able to monitor which users are opening and clicking on messages; measure conversions, average order values and total sales generated; and build reports to record and share results.

But while those analytics are exciting to watch, they definitely aren’t the only that you need to monitor closely.  It’s easy and tempting to focus only on revenue and open and click-through rates, however, it is imperative that you look at your bounce rate, too.

A certain number of emails are bound to bounce – an average of 2-5% per send to be more exact. But it is crucial to understand that deliverability failures cost a lot of money. Obviously lost revenue is the immediate issue, but your reputation and inbox placement for future sends are also at risk.

Here are some stats illustrating why your email reputation matters:

  • 80% of all deliverability problems are directly attributable to poor sender reputation (DMA, Email Deliverability Review 2012)
  • The majority of blocked emails, 77%, are due to poor sender reputation (DMA, Take Outs from the Email Deliverability Masterclass)
  • North American Inbox Placement Rate is 82% – 5% of messages are labeled as spam and 13% simply go missing (Return Path, Email Intelligence Report)
  • Commercial emails make up to 70% of all spam complaints and 60% of spam trap hits (Return Path, Email Intelligence Report)

Some scary numbers. Spammers are actually doing a better job reaching the inbox than some legitimate email marketers who are sending to people who opted-in to their emails. Monitoring your reputation remains the cornerstone of deliverability.

With 1.5 trillion spam messages being sent daily, ISPs have shifted away from labeling bad emails as spam and instead have started rewarding good emails. While this does help to reduce the number of legitimate messages that get delivered to the junk mail folder, it’s difficult for ISPs to know good senders from bad. It’s up to the sender to ensure that the right factors are in place.

ISPs look for a number of factors in determining a sender’s reputation, including invalid addresses, user complaints, domain, frequency, volume, size, content, third party reputation services, engagement, spam trap hits and sending infrastructure. It’s important to note that reputation isn’t strictly IP address specific, as some metrics are managed at the domain level. Other factors, such as infrastructure and bounce handling, reside with the ESP, while still others, such as frequency, engagement and list quality, are the responsibility of the sender.

So, what is your email service provider’s role in deliverability? The truth is, inbox placement and deliverability aren’t controlled by your ESP, so the glory of reaching the inbox doesn’t belong to them, nor does the blame when an email lands in a junk mail folder.

That being said, many ESPs can help your messages reach the inbox and help you fix any issues that may arise, even though the ultimate responsibility still belongs to the sender.  Make sure your ESP does the following:

  • Has  strong relationships with ISPs, and  actively participates in industry groups such as MAAWG and  ESPC
    • Offers assistance through the Return Path certification process
    • Offers dedicated IP addresses, multi-part emails, throttling, and authenticates senders through SPF, DKIM, and DMARC
    • Offers account managers and deliverability specialists who offer advice on best practices for acquisition, schedules, content, regulations, etc., who can help test campaigns before deployments and then monitor results
    • Provides ISP-specific deliverability reporting, abuse reporting with feedback loops, and automatically removes addresses who hard bounce or complain
    • Closely monitors subscriber engagement and can help you re-engage inactive subscribers and suppress inactive subscribers from specific campaigns

If you’re not already monitoring your reputation, begin now by visiting or  You can also learn more in the whitepaper Don’t be Left Out of the Inbox: Email Deliverability Tips for Every Stage of the Customer Lifecycle.

James Koons is Chief Privacy Officer at Listrak.