Dodge the spam folder – 6 steps to understanding email deliverability

I want your email
I want your email

Like it or not, email is still key for your business. When your recipients don’t get an email, you might lose a client or overload your support. This is why “deliverability” has become a key concept – though not without its problems, as Mailjet’s Elie Chevignard explains…

I want your email

The term “deliverability” has become a buzz word in the email business and it’s something that Mailjet is constantly working to improve for its senders. Is it a whole lot of hot air about nothing? The statistics suggest this is unlikely: 25 per cent of all legitimate emails don’t end up in their receiver’s inbox.

But, if someone boasts about 99 per cent deliverability, you should dig around to find out what exactly this means – when choosing an email service provider, deliverability plays a central role and is therefore too important to be vaguely defined.

That’s easier said than done as there still isn’t a proper definition for the term. Here are a few suggestions for where to start:

1) The first step: defining standards

Email-related definitions must be bound to standards – think, for example, about key metrics. Right now, the analysis of your campaigns changes depending on the email service provider. It can be very painful to change providers if that means changing the calculation of KPIs.

You might have dealt with this problem already. If so, you’re likely to have already encountered the SAME project, which is is an initiative from the Email Experience Council (EEC). A subsidiary from the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the EEC has set itself the goal of creating “uniform standards for basic email metrics such as delivered emails, open rates and click-through rate.” In June 2010 it published a document that proposes uniform standards for the email industry – but, sadly, no definition for deliverability.

2) Everyone wants more deliverability

Despite a lack of a clear definition, marketing managers tend not to be asked by their bosses about opening rates but – more often – the question “What is our deliverability?” Although the main metrics for emails are clearly defined, marketing managers in this situation are in an awkward predicament in which their superiors, fuelled by providers’ promises such as “25 per cent more deliverability”, are after something that the managers themselves don’t understand.

3) Deliverability ≠ delivery rate

Often, when someone talks about the deliverability rate, they actually mean the delivery rate – that corresponds to the proportion of “accepted” emails. An email is considered delivered if it does not bounce – as in, it does not get sent back by the mail server with a message that it can’t be delivered. The number of “accepted” (or notified) emails can be calculated as follows: accepted = sent – bounced.

If someone talks about “over 25 per cent more deliverability”, they mean that 25 per cent more emails are accepted and not sent back as undeliverable. The term deliverability is used here because it sounds sexy but that’s really just marketing, no more and no less.

4) Calculating the IPR

The next important metric to consider is the “Inbox Placement Rate” (IPR). At the moment, there’s no way to find out if an accepted message has actually ended up in the recipient’s spam folder. Internet service providers (ISPs) do give you feedback loops triggered by recipients who report an email they’ve received as spam. But, if the email is directly filtered by the ISP as spam, it remains hidden to the sender.

How is the IPR measured, then? It’s actually very easy: Return Path (an email intelligence company) uses inbox seeding and maintains a fairly large number of test email accounts. Users can find out if  their outgoing emails are classified as spam by looking at the test email accounts. It comes at a price though – using IPR is usually too expensive for senders of small to average amounts of content.

However, IPR should not be considered a synonym for deliverability but, rather, a measurement for it

5) Deliverability is a goal

One can only understand the concept of deliverability when it is made clear that it is focused on a goal rather than a specific measurement. As a definition, I would suggest the following: Deliverability refers to the ability of an email to successfully land in the inbox of the recipient. Deliverability can be examined with the help of indicators such as the IPR and the delivery rate, which is a measurement of accepted or delivered emails. The following always applies: none of these indicators is equivalent to the deliverability.

To put it very clearly, if you want to improve traffic safety, you measure the number of accidents. But the number of accidents is not the same as road safety. Just as deliverability is not the same as the delivery rate or the IPR. One should therefore refrain from replacing the goal (deliverability) with the measurements that are used to value them.

6) Deliverability as a mission

Our company, Mailjet, for example, sees improving deliverability as our mission. Once you’ve understood that deliverability is not a value that can be read, you can start working to improve it. The delivery rate, IPR, “open rate” and “click rate” provide important indicators that can be used to detect deliverability problems. There’s no magic formula but there is plenty that can be done to improve it.

This article is a sponsored post. For more on email deliverability, check out Elie’s workshop for VentureVillage in Berlin on 25 October 2013 – more information is available at VentureVillage Workshops. Tickets are available there or in this post below: 

Date: 25th October, 4pm to 8pm
Place: Vertical Media, Wallstrasse 27, 10179 Berlin
Duration: 4 hours (approx three hours talk and one hour Q&A session)
Price: €149 (regular), €129 (students)
Questions? Feel free to contact us: 

Image credit: Flickr user  ntr23