Top 3 Email Deliverability Issues

Email deliverability ties in closely with email authentication and more often than not the two are written about simultaneously. While email authentication focuses on validating your email and making sure that it comes from where it says it comes from, email deliverability focuses on what allows or prevents your email from landing in your recipient’s inbox.

In this article we’re going to look at the top 3 issues that face email deliverability, these being bounces (hard and soft), spam traps and spam complaints. According to an article on SmashingMagazine, studies have shown that your reputation determines your email delivery more than your content, so by meeting the expectation of your subscribers and providing valuable content they can use, you improve the delivery rates of your emails.

So, let’s look at those three deliverability issues in more detail.

1. Bounces

A bounce is when an email is returned to the sender when for one reason or another it can’t get through to the recipient’s inbox. There are two types of bounces, soft bounces and hard bounces, the latter often being more of a concern for marketers.

More often than not a bounce message is promptly sent to the sender informing them that this has happened. Usually, two things cause the email to bounce, one of them is a temporary problem (a.k.a. soft bounce), and the other is permanent (a.k.a. hard bounce).

A soft bounce could simply be the result of a full inbox or a technical problem whereby the connection is down or lost over the time your email was sent. Internet service provider’s (ISP) generally take this into consideration, however, if your message soft bounces the same email address more than say 5 times in a row, you should consider removing it from your active subscribers list. Many email marketing solutions will do this for you automatically.

A hard bounce is when an email is sent to an invalid or non-existent address. ISP’s are less tolerant with these because lists should all be opt-in, so why would you have an incorrect email address on your list, right? Fact is people change jobs, change their email addresses and the last thing on their mind is to update their details with companies that send them regular email campaigns. Of course, these hard bounces are also expected from any large list, which is why list hygiene is so important. ISP’s automatically block access when a message is sent to an invalid email address and will continue to block you until it’s removed from the list, so it’s much easier to simply comply and delete the offending email address.

As far as spam is concerned, spam complaints and spam traps are also a major issue when it comes to email deliverability, perhaps more so than bounces, because you rarely, if ever, receive any kind of feedback unless you participate in that particular ISP’s feedback loops. Learn how to sidestep these pitfalls and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble. Let’s first look at the lesser of the two evils, spam complaints.

2. Spam Complaints

These happen when a reader reports your message as spam, which tells your ISP’s that your email is not wanted and unsolicited. This can happen for a number of reasons, some of them not necessarily your fault. Your reader might find it easier to mark you as spam rather than go through the process of unsubscribing, or you might just be unfortunate to get them on a bad day. The general consensus is that 1 complaint per 1000 emails sent raises a red flag with the ISP’s. What happens is a temporary block is put in place banning you from the inbox for up to 72 hours, if the complaints continue it’s likely to become permanent.

3. Spam Traps

Also known as ‘honey pots’, spam traps are email addresses that are used by ISP’s to identify spammers. Often these are inactive email addresses that are recycled. The theory behind it is that spammers often use old, rented or paid subscriber lists with scores of invalid emails. With spam traps there is no temporary blocking access to an email address, you will inevitably be permanently blocked until the offending address is removed. There are a couple of common ways that you can avoid spam traps and blacklists.

Don’t buy email lists, ever. They are bound to be full of invalid, non-existent addresses and people who have no idea about your company and are not interested in what you have to offer, so really what’s the point?

Grow your email list organically using a double opt-in approach. Although this will inevitably take time to reach the numbers of a list that can easily be bought, at least everyone on your opt-in list actually wants to hear from you and is genuinely interested in what you have to offer.

Practice list hygiene regularly. Clean your list of any inactive subscribers, those who haven’t shown any response to your emails in the past 6 months, and continue to update this regularly. You don’t have to delete your unsubscribes entirely, just put them to one side for now and aim to target them with a reactivation campaign.

Check the spam score of your email campaign before it gets sent. This is worth doing and you can quickly adjust your campaign if the score is too high before sending it out to your contact list.

As we mentioned before, a good online and sender reputation influences your email deliverability and is associated with the IP address of the mail server you are using to send your emails from. Basically, a good reputation with them means that you can be trusted, and as far as getting on the right side of the ISP’s, this is a huge benefit.


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