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Be on the Guest List, Not the Block-list: Improving Your Email Deliverability

Associations, Communications Strategy // How can you get your emails past the spam filter and into your subscribers' inboxes? Getting in is the precursor to winning your subscriber’s attention.

Jennifer Hockford
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Getting into your subscribers’ inbox is a bit like getting into a swanky, invite-only party. There’s a bouncer, and his name is Spam Filter (he’s about 6’10” and 350 pounds). If your contact already left the party, if you seem a little suspicious, if you’re not dressed to the nines…you’re not getting in.

No one wants this to happen to them. Email is such a dynamic, easy, simple way to communicate. But it can also be complex. You’re focusing on your content, optimizing your send time, getting your drafts approved by your team, creating a catchy subject line, all in the hopes that your message is opened and read. The spam filter might be the least of your worries.

But in reality? It should probably be top of your list – if you don’t make it into the recipient’s inbox, your other efforts won’t mean a thing. That inbox is coveted real estate and getting in is the precursor to winning your subscriber’s attention.

When you send that email, it must get though the recipient’s spam filter before they ever see it in their inbox. If you don’t meet the criteria, you’ll be rejected and blocked at the door.

Avoiding Spam 101

Your party bouncer (AKA the spam filter) is there in place to make sure the right emails are getting in, and the wrong emails are staying out.

There are a few questions we can ask ourselves to help us get past the spam filter.

1. Is your contact still at the party?

Going back to my analogy, what does it mean for email if your contact has left the party? It means your contact’s email address is inactive at the domain. For example, if I’m emailing [email protected], and the domain, “jennifersemployer.com” tells the email server that her account is no longer active, you’d receive a hard bounce. If Jennifer is on vacation or has a full mailbox (still at the domain but not able to accept emails), you’d receive a soft bounce.

Why do you want to avoid bounces? It’s about keeping your guest list accurate and up to date. If you don’t, and your email has outdated lists with a high bounce rate, it affects your sender reputation. And if you want to be invited to more “parties,” you need to protect that reputation!

So if you want to avoid getting bounced, keep your lists clean. Check your lists periodically to ensure that you’re cleaning hard bounces up. Soft bounces are okay for a time, but don’t leave them too long, or they’ll start to affect your credibility too.

A good rule of them is to check over a 90-day period of time.

If someone hard bounces four times or soft bounces seven times, suppress that email address automatically and change their status to a “repeat bouncer,” so you can protect your IP address.

2. Will you make it past security?

Spam filters like Barracuda, Mimecast, and Proofpoint are tough, as you may have guessed from the names. These filters watch for suspicious signals and add up points against you, based on your content. They search your subject line and your content, checking for suspicious word combinations. This might include using the dollar sign, all caps, “free giveaway,” “winner winner chicken dinner” (you get the idea). If you reach a certain point limit, then they consider and flag you spam. So watch out for those suspicious word combinations and keep your points low.

3. Are you dressed appropriately?

If you want your email in that inbox, it needs to be looking good. Some elements of an appropriate outfit could include:

  • The 70/30 rule: Your text (70) and images (30) should follow this ratio. Images help make your emails engaging, but avoid overpowering your text with images.
  • No naked URLs: Yes, you need to be wearing at least something to get into this party. Your URLs should be covered either by text or images.

Getting through the spam filter is a big factor in improving your email deliverability. As an email marketer, deliverability is foundational. You don’t want your hard work going to waste because you didn’t wear the right clothes.

So let’s keep it clean, dressed to the nines, and you too can have an invite to the VIP party – your subscriber’s inbox.

We put together the Ultimate Guide to Marketing Automation, filled with more tips you can use to perfect your email strategy.

Jennifer Hockford

Former Community Manager, Higher Logic

Jen has a passion for all things creative! In her day job, she’s searching for creative solutions to complicated problems for her technology clients. By night, Jen is embracing creativity with her work as a not-so-starving artist. Authoring a children’s book series, teaching community members to paint, and sharing her time and talent with various charitable organizations.

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