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I Can Have 100% Email Deliverability?

Thomas Senne
Senior Director of Global Deliverability

It’s 2016 and we’re still having this conversation. I don’t want to do it, but unfortunately, it is still necessary. It’s necessary because some of us out there in the industry resort to these tactics in order to trick unknowing senders into thinking it is possible. The danger here is that it gives marketers an unrealistic expectation of what success in email marketing really means.

I’ve heard from multiple senders in the last couple of weeks who have been hit with a pitch just like this one: "Switch to our technology and you can have 100% deliverability."

Here’s a snippet that one of our customers received:

“Our ************* program will increase your inbox placement to 100% with every campaign. If you guys send a high volume, this could have a big effect on clicks/read rates and conversions. 

I've attached a document on ************* but it is very brief. I can organize a quick phone call where a product specialist can take you through it in a little more detail in terms of ROI. 

Let me know a good time for you in the next couple of weeks and I'll put it in the calendar.”

I don’t even know where to start other than here. 100% Deliverability does not exist, and anyone who tells you otherwise is someone you should not be working with, end of story.

Let’s look at why this is true (or not true, depending on how you look at things).

"Insert Name Here” has great Deliverability." "I am with Random ESP and they have the best Deliverability." "I was with Random ESP and they had terrible Deliverability, but now I switched to Random ESP, and my Deliverability is great." We see things like this on Twitter (and from customers) still in 2016.

I also see similar claims on some of our fine competitor’s Web sites and collateral.  "We have 100% Deliverability." This one may be the mother of all email myths. I understand why some make the claim; I just wish you guys didn’t always fall for it.  I have to resist the urge to call out every one of these claims when I see them, because that battle would probably cause my head to explode.

So how does the provider tell you they have this great Deliverability percentage?  We’ll need to go back to some basic numbers first before we answer this question. There are a few ways to measure Deliverability -- but there is only one way that truly counts. Some of the less demanding bean counters say that an email sent that does not bounce back can be counted as delivered. Beware of this one, as it is way off base and not only gives you bad information, but this claim is meant to trick you or simply shows they know nothing about Deliverability.

Let’s look at the scenarios where an email would not bounce back, but not show up in my inbox. 

  • Scenario One, the email went to the Spam folder. Technically delivered, but what kind of engagement rate will you have in the Yahoo Spam Folder with 12,000 other messages from the year 2038? I don’t know many marketers who are happy about messages in the Spam folder. If I told you I could guarantee you 100% delivery and all those messages would be in the bulk folder, would you consider that 100% delivered?
  • Scenario Two, sometimes ISP’s will black hole the messages. This means they don’t deliver them and they don’t return them to the sender. The messages are deleted without any trace. Again, these messages didn’t come back to me, but they are certainly not delivered. The messages were not delivered even though we didn’t get back any kind of a failure.

Here are some of the best ways to determine your delivery rate. The first is tracking metrics over time. Monitoring open, bounce, click, and complaint rates over time should give you a baseline for deliverability. Changes in those numbers can be one indication of a potential deliverability issues. Sending email to a seedlist is another way to measure the outcome of message Deliverability. In the seedlist scenario, email is delivered to a set of monitored addresses at usually the top 20 or so ISP’s.

This certainly provides a more accurate reading, but let’s dig a little deeper. The best seedlists measure about 200 emails, and give an accurate reading for the email sent to those 200 addresses, but what about the rest of the campaign? We don’t own those addresses, so how do we monitor them? We don’t and can’t monitor them, and there is no 100% way to know what happens to those emails.

The trick some of our friends use to show fantastic delivery numbers is to send a single campaign to their seedlist and report the results from that campaign as their Deliverability percentage. "Random Sender" has a 100% Deliverability rate." Sorry, but a single campaign sent to a few dozen addresses in a perfect setup (and why wouldn’t everything be setup perfectly) does not a Deliverability percentage make.

What should you look for when Deliverability shopping? I believe you should look for someone who tells you the truth. If you buy a list of addresses from a CD that’s been floating around the Internet for seven years, you are going to have crummy Deliverability. If you have engaged customers who look forward to receiving the mail they signed up for, you will most likely have good Deliverability. 

Is there information you need along the way? You bet there is, and that’s where experienced Deliverability teams can help. We see it all, and we’ve seen it for tons of senders and billions of messages. We can tell you when things change in the industry and what you need to do to adjust. You are looking for a virtual Sherpa, not an empty promise. You need tools to help you monitor your reputation and to benchmark your deliverability over time.

This brings us back to where we started. When you see a claim that someone can give you great "Deliverability," that’s not exactly a claim they can make in good faith. If you are a good responsible sender, chances are you will have good Deliverability regardless of your ESP or choice of tools.

You should be looking for tools that allow you easy access to monitor Deliverability and be proactive to avoid potential issues. There is no substitute for experience, and smoke and mirrors does not equal experience. Don’t fall for the numbers game without asking for an explanation of those numbers.

Deliverability is a sender’s responsibility; no Deliverability person in the world can wave the magic wand. Hard work and a commitment to respecting the wishes of the people who entrust you with their contact information is the only path to success.

To learn more about Deliverability that delivers, download Email Deliverability: Guide for Modern Marketers.

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Comments ( 2 )
  • Julia Gulevich Monday, April 11, 2016
    Very informative article, Kevin! It reveals the most common myth about deliverability a lot of email marketers believe. I agree that there is no tool or email service provider that could guarantee the 100% deliverability simply because some factors such as recipient engagement that has a great impact on deliverability are out of their control. And marketers are often misled about their actual deliverability when their email service providers report them the 100% delivery rate.

    I've recently written a blog post about 5 common email deliverability myths and metrics that are evaluated by mailbox providers to decide whether or not the email should be sent to the Inbox.

    I think it might be useful to the readers of this post: https://glockapps.com/blog/understanding-deliverability-metrics/
  • miahmed Monday, April 11, 2016
    Email delivery and email engagement are two different things. 100% email delivery is possible but there are lots of factors depend on it. Say for example if you are sending American Express credit card statement, most likely they are going to have 100% delivery and fairly good click and open rates Vs if a customer is sending All State marketing mail with offers. If a subscriber is waiting for a piece of mail then they will look into spam folder too. If someone is trying to just sent bulk mail without knowing your subscribers, of course they are not going to check spam folder. It also depends on static vs shared IPs and other multiple factors.
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