tactics to improve email deliverability

Newsletter Fest: 3 Key Steps to Improve Email Deliverability

Brian Minick of ZeroBounce was a guest on Newsletter Fest by Curated and talked about the “3 key steps to landing more emails in the inbox.” Here are some of the most interesting things he said to help you improve email deliverability.

Newsletters are all the rage with marketers, and one of the worthiest goals seems oh so simple: getting in the inbox.

In the email industry, it’s called deliverability and it’s what everyone is after – the holy grail!

If you’re new to email marketing or you’ve been at it a while and don’t seem to be getting the results you wished for, by all means check this webinar out.

Brian answered so many questions that may be in your mind. You will also find this rundown a most helpful guide to improve email deliverability rates.

There’s a lot at stake.

Maybe you’re struggling to land in the inbox or struggling to get back in it.

“Anyone who has ever sent emails knows how difficult, troubling, disturbing it is to not reach the inbox. You’re putting all of this effort, all of this time into it.  Energy, emotion. Resources. People. Testing. Software. Everything is going into this!”

Especially with the pandemic, email marketing is the number one piece in the marketing puzzle. There’s a lot of competition for that place in the inbox, and there are plenty of reasons for this competition.

“Email marketing is booming. Open rates have increased by 31% in the past year.” (Omnisend report)

Engagement is up 200%. (Mediapost)

Related: Read more email marketing stats

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Email challenges: how to improve email deliverability

Is it as simple as creating your email and then sending it out? Not quite. There are a lot of obstacles.

One is data decay. B2B email lists are churning faster due to millions of job losses. The lockdowns caused many employees to be furloughed and some companies closed for good.

Billions of emails bounce and 16% land in spam.

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Your sending reputation suffers

Some lists start out with a bang and then start to fizzle out quickly.

“We have seen campaigns start so high, open rates are through the roof. You’re firing on all cylinders. Next week you go to repeat it and everything is cut in half. You wonder what just happened? 

What’s happening is you’re getting blacklisted or you’re landing in the spam folder.”

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Delivery vs. deliverability

In order to improve email deliverability, you have to understand the challenge.

Delivered does NOT mean in the inbox. Delivered only means that it has reached a mailbox. That could be the inbox or spam. Deliverability means that it has successfully reached the inbox.

How do you keep a good list?

Of utmost importance is your list of subscribers.

Keep your list in shape. That also means it has to start out healthy. It should be an organic list that people signed up for out of a real desire to hear from you. Buying an email list is a terrible idea and usually a waste of time.

But what about double opt-in? That’s where someone who signs up must click a link to verify that they are in fact interested. Isn’t double opt-in an extra step? Brian says he’s constantly asked about this. 

“One of the things we have learned is to focus on quality and not quantity. The size of the list is not the ultimate end game.”

So yes, double opt-in could mean some people won’t follow through with that last step. But do you really want those half-hearted people? 

“Those people aren’t likely to engage, and you want engagement. Keeping your list in shape is really important.”

Related: The benefits of email validation

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Pay attention to bounces

“The industry standard for bounces is no more than 2%. If you’re at 2% or have had that in the past, and haven’t done anything to fix that, you still may be in a bad spot.”

But how do you keep a low bounce rate?

“You need to be checking on your list. You need to remove the contacts that are no longer there.”

But isn’t that going to chop the size of your list? A lot of people wonder that and worry about how that will feel.

Brian explains it’s important to keep in mind that some of those email addresses simply don’t exist.

Think of it like this: if your friend who lives down the street moved away four years ago, would you mail a birthday card to their old address?

Invalid contacts have no benefit. They only hurt you. One of the most important actions to boosting email deliverability is to eliminate those invalid contacts regularly. 

Find out about known complainers

Spam complaints come from those who mark your emails as spam. It’s bound to happen that you will get careless or malicious people, right?

Well, Brian points out that it’s something to pay attention to. 

“More than one spam complaint for every 1,000 emails sabotages your deliverability.”

Pay attention to those spam complaints, but could you possibly be causing some of those complaints?

It’s your responsibility to get the known spam complainers off of your list, but you also have to make it easy for people to unsubscribe. If people don’t know how to get off of your list, they may have no choice. They will mark you as spam out of desperation. 

So, make it easy for anyone to get off of your list.

Beware of risky emails

Is it possible that a competitor could actually try to hurt your list?

Brian points out that it does happen! Sometimes a competitor will put spam traps on your list to hurt you. If you ever needed proof that paying attention to your list health is important, just consider this has been detected.

But, are you completely at the mercy of unethical people? You have protections. Using email verification, you’ll be able to identify many spam traps and remove them.

Want to see how ZeroBounce works? Give it a try!

Beware of disposable or temporary email addresses

Not all of the risky emails are there out of malicious intent. Some people are very reluctant to give out their email address for privacy reasons. 

“Because they want to get your gated content, they use a disposable or burner email address. They get past your gate. Then they vanish. You want to be able to identify those addresses.”

The answer to getting rid of these problematic addresses? It all goes back to email validation. It’s how you identify these emails that have a negative impact on your deliverability.

Validating your list: how do you do it?

If you’ve made it this far, you understand how important it is to validate your list. Now, how do you do that? There’s really two ways.

Cleaning your list in bulk

“This is where you have a list, you pull it out of Mailchimp or whatever service you’re using, and upload it into a service. They’ll scan it and give you back the results.”

Validating emails in real time (with an API)

“This is validation in a real time environment, which I highly recommend.

An example of this could be on a sign-up form. Right on the newsletter sign-up, you have a validation that will take place with an API. As they’re typing and hit submit, it can reject a risky address. Or maybe there’s a typo, which is very common. Especially when people enter their address on a mobile device.” 

Using bulk and real time API validation gives the best results

Do you have to pick one or the other?  

Brian explains that they’re even better if used together. Validating in real time keeps bad addresses off of the list to begin with. Ongoing maintenance through regular bulk verification keeps the list in good shape. 

Validate 100 emails for free, every month – Start an account

Would it make sense to bulk verify your list to get rid of the bad addresses and then not verify the new data you add on?


You wouldn’t clean your swimming pool and then add dirty water.

Keeping a clean list is one of the best things you can do to improve email deliverability. Ignoring list quality is one of the quickest ways to allow your email campaigns to deteriorate.

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Email content is equally important

Once you’re validating, you’ve got it made, right? Well, it also matters what you send.

“I don’t care how good your list is, if you start throwing terrible content at people, it can cause a lot of issues for you. There are a few things to pay attention to.”

Brian was able to point out some of the key criteria for sending emails that succeed.

Image-to-text ratio

Make sure your images are supported by enough text. Also, avoid link-shorteners – spammers use them often and you don’t want to come across as spammy.

Words that trigger spam filters

Cut out any spammy words. Inbox providers may believe you are a spammer and categorize you accordingly.

“Avoid things like using the word for free, all caps or exclamation points. Email filters are really smart.”

Content quality

It comes down to giving people what they want.

“Make sure you are sending content that performs best for your audience. Make the content engaging. Ask them a question. Send them a survey. Thus you create engagement that builds momentum.”

Related: How to create great content, with tips from marketing pros

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Send consistently

If you’ve got a great list, you send great content and get good engagement, does it matter how often you send emails?

You bet it does. It not only matters how often, but when. Why? It keeps your IP warm. Sending emails on the same day supports your deliverability.  

“Send consistently. So what does that mean? If you are sending at 10 am on Monday, 2 pm on a Tuesday, 4 am on Wednesday, this is your pattern. Take a step back and put together a cadence that has been working for your audience. Send consistently, but send around the same time—all the time.” 

Why does it matter? 

As Brian explains:

“When mail servers see mail coming in, they make decisions about it. Should I deliver it? Should I bounce it? What’s the content? How does this look? Their job is for the customer. It’s not for you. They don’t work for you!”

Why is consistency so important? Because one of the keys to improve email deliverability is that the mail servers need to know you. They come to know who you are in part by when and how consistently you are sending emails.

Engagement counts and helps you improve email deliverability

If someone hasn’t been responsive to your emails, but their address is still active, shouldn’t you keep them? They’re not a known complainer and their inbox is active, so why lose a subscriber?

Again, Brian says that quality is more important than quantity.

“If they haven’t engaged in over a year, remove them or at the very least segment them. Call this list non-engaged and include the other passive subscribers. See what happens, but you want to be strategic.”

The term “spray and pray” is commonly used in marketing. Some think you should just blast your message everywhere and see what happens. It’s similar to the idea of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. It is an idea, but not a good one.  

Successful email campaigns are carefully planned.

Attention to detail: like your list health, sending patterns and having a quality newsletter will give you results that will make you want to keep going. Lack of awareness and hygiene will only leave you frustrated and wasting your time.

The audience asked questions

Newsletter Fest also allowed the audience at home to ask questions and there were some good ones!

Can multimedia elements like audio and video trigger spam filters?

“If you’re consistently doing it and you’re seeing good results from it, I think that’s okay. Maybe video or audio is your business. If it’s your first time emailing this person, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Brian offered up this food for thought, which may reframe the way you think about your email marketing.

“An open is good. A click is great. A forward is amazing. An unsubscribe is okay.” 

Does DMARC play an important role in inbox placement?

DMARC is Domain-based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance. It’s an email authentical protocol. The purpose of DMARC is to protect a domain from those who seek to use it without authorization.

“Yes. We had an example this week where DMARC was the reason why people weren’t getting the emails. Digging through the server log, there was some mismatch with the DMARC. 

All of that stuff that’s in the header, the SPF (Sender Policy Framework) that few pay attention to, those play a role in getting into the inbox.

There are mail server testers out there that you can send an email to. They’ll scan it and evaluate the headers and everything about it, the server you’re sending from and the IP address. Then they’ll give you a report back.”

What about ESPs that have a lot of code? Does that excess code have a role in where or if you land?

“I would say, yes,” Brian says.

“If you have a bloated template, it could hurt deliverability. Instead of copying a template over and over, have a clean template that you use. You’re not copying an old campaign over and over. In the case that you’re not sure, start over.”

What do you consider strong open and click rates? What is the goal you think people should have?

“It’s not a blanket statement. Let’s say we’re starting with cold emails. In the beginning, a 20 or 30% open rate is good. From there, we’ve seen where it grows into the high 30s. 

For clicks? That’s always a tricky one. It depends on what your CTA is and it depends on what your goal is. I would say your goal should be a 20% open rate, and then a 5% click rate. Of course, you always want higher.

With that said, it’s good to have a goal.

“Have a goal and a plan to get there. No two businesses are the same and no two newsletters are the same.” 

So, think about your business and your customers. What do they need and care about? What do they want?

Dare to be different or dramatic

Brian points out that sometimes you should really take another road. Who doesn’t love a puppy photo?  

“Don’t be afraid to try something different. Take a small sample and test it. If it’s Monday morning, try something funny. Who doesn’t want to laugh? Be different! Don’t be like every other newsletter!”

Similar to what conversion copywriter Joanna Wiebe told us in this interview:

“I’m not saying you have to take big risks as an email marketer. I’ve just seen that, when you do what everyone else is doing in email marketing, no big shock: nobody cares.

Try something different, email marketers!”

You know what else you can try? Our email cleaning and deliverability tools. ZeroBounce verifies your list, enriches it with extra data, and scores catch-all emails.

Start a ZeroBounce account today and check 100 email addresses for free

Once you’ve given your list a scrub, move on to our mail server and inbox placement tester! You’ll enjoy the difference they make in helping you improve email deliverability.

Many thanks to the team at Curated for inviting as to Newsletter Fest! We look forward to next year’s event.