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The normal human’s guide to email deliverability

For normal humans, email deliverability can be a confusing and complicated concept.

Those who truly understand its many varied intricacies are a rare breed indeed. They often carry themselves with a special sort of arrogance; an arrogance befitting one who is privy to intricate knowledge the rest of us either lack or find mind-numbingly boring. *** Note: This arrogance can also be observed in conspiracy theorists, Magic the Gathering experts, and experts in the field of Estonian farming practices from 1892-1910 ***

Sadly, unlike the finer points of flat earth theory, Magic The Gathering, or the socio-agrarian precursors of Russian imperial expansion, understanding deliverability is actually important. Well, for email marketers, anyway.

This is why we here at Phrasee, who as a team abhors information asymmetry in all its forms, have decided to even the playing field a bit. In this post, we explain email deliverability as simply as we can, in plain language that anyone can understand (even us!).

Will reading this post make you a deliverability expert? Nope. But who wants to be one of those, anyway?

If you do want to become a deliverability expert (or you already are one) you can stop reading now, and go back to making out with your calculator (or whatever it is you people do).


This post is for normal humans only.

The normal human’s guide to email deliverability

So, what is “email deliverability”?

In its simplest form, deliverability is the rate at which sent marketing emails will wind up in the inboxes of the people they were sent t

Where else would those emails end up, if not in the recipient’s inbox?

Well, a couple of places, actually.

  • The email could be flagged as “spam”- meaning that it has been identified as unsolicited or unwanted correspondence and filtered accordingly (in which case it will be relegated to the much-maligned “spam folder”)
  • Your sending infrastructure could be blacklisted – meaning some bearded IT nerd clicks a button and ensures all of your future emails to a given domain will wind up like Meryl Streep at a Trump rally (not allowed in)

That doesn’t sound very appealing at all! Is there anything I can do to prevent it?

First of all, you need to ensure your list isn’t dirty. Because a dirty list is gross, and is cold, hard proof that you’re a bad person.

The main culprits of a dirty list is an over-abundance of old data. This is often signified by both soft and hard bounces.

In the case of soft bounces, there’s not much you can do. But the good news is that since soft bounces are only a temporary issue, they are highly unlikely to persist for long, and the email marketing dialogue can continue as soon as it gets sorted out!

As for hard bounces, the only solution is to permanently remove the offending email address from your mailing list so that it never impacts your deliverability rate again.


But wait, what about if my emails have been getting flagged as spam?

In this case, things get a bit trickier.

When emails get sent to the spam folder it is generally because of one (or more) of three things:

  1. Bad sender reputation
  2. Failing to obtain (and confirm) consent from recipients
  3. Poorly constructed emails

Let’s look at each one individually, because this is really important.
Image result for good idea gif

1. Bad sender reputation:

Your “sender reputation” is based on a number of factors. Chief among these factors is how often recipients of your emails click on the “junk” or “report spam” buttons when they see your email in their inbox. If this happens too often, your sender reputation will suffer and you will find your emails being flagged as spam with increasing frequency. Recovering from this can be exceedingly difficult.

How to prevent this:

Managing your sender reputation is a complex process involving keeping your send frequency (how often you send marketing emails to each recipient) at a reasonable level, making sure your emails are relevant for your audience, and ensuring that your email subject lines and subheaders do not appear “spammy” (most emails identified as “spam” or “junk” by recipients are identified as such by the subject line alone).

2. Failing to obtain (and confirm) consent from recipients:

For the purposes of email marketing, obtaining “consent” means having the recipient confirm in some way that they give you permission to send them email correspondence in the future. This consent can be obtained through having people sign themselves up manually for a newsletter, checking an “I would like to receive emails about future offers” box when filling out an online form, signing up for a discount or points card at a retail store, or one of the many other methods (too numerous to list here) that companies use obtain consent from consumers. If recipients find their inboxes inundated with emails from a company that they do not feel they agreed to correspond with, they will probably report such emails as “spam”, because that is what they are.

How to prevent this:

The easiest way to avoid this issue is to use a process called a “double opt-in”. A double opt-in occurs when a recipient gives consent to a company through one of the processes mentioned above, then receives an email from said company asking them to confirm that they do in fact give their consent to receive marketing emails. Once a recipient has given consent a second time, any ambiguity falls by the wayside and the deal is sealed. “Spam” and “junk” reports become far less likely, and sender reputation is protected. It is also important to regularly review your mailing list to remove recipients who are no longer engaging with your emails to avoid them becoming annoyed and reporting your emails as spam.

3. Poorly constructed emails:

When building a marketing email, there are many things to keep in mind. Poorly designed and constructed emails can land you in the spam box and affect your sender reputation in several ways: Using misleading or unclear subject lines can frustrate and annoy recipients, as can making it difficult to unsubscribe (opt-out of future emails) from your mailing list. Using a “from name” (the sender name at the beginning of an email) that does not clearly identify that the email is, in fact, commercial correspondence from your company. Or including shortened, spammy or broken URLs (links to websites) in your emails can also cause emails to be flagged as spam.

How to prevent this: 

Take time and care to design and construct your marketing emails properly. If necessary, get some help with this. Only use on-brand, clear, and optimised subject lines for your emails (again, investing in a little bit of help with this early on can save you big problems down the road). Be honest with your recipients when writing sender names and subject lines for your emails. Finally, use calls to action instead of including URLs in your body copy. It looks better, produces more clicks, and helps avoid the spam box.

Image credit: 20th Century Fox


Okay, I think I get it now! Thanks!

No problem! And if you need any more help, come talk to Phrasee, we’re here for you any time.

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