email deliverability and retail relevance


Why Does Email Deliverability Matter? A Primer for Retail Marketers

By Kellye Snodgrass

When someone says “email performance,” what comes to mind?

For most of us, it’s email engagement metrics like revenue per email, click-through rate and open rate. After all, these metrics indicate whether or not the timing, subject line and content of the email was relevant enough to recipients to spur them into action. As a result, regularly monitoring these engagement metrics and taking steps to improve them is critical to maintaining a robust email marketing program.

But there’s another important email performance metric that you must satisfy before any engagement can even take place: Deliverability. And — spoiler alert — all of this performance comes full circle because those email engagement metrics you already track play a crucial role in improving deliverability.

What is Email Deliverability?

Email deliverability is a measure of how many email subscribers actually receive your outreach and is an essential metric for measuring the success of your overall email marketing strategy

At the most basic level, successful email deliverability means your message arrives in your customers’ inboxes as intended. Email deliverability fails when your message gets blocked by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or routed to a spam, junk or bulk folder. No matter which way you slice it, this has one unfortunate outcome: The subscriber is unlikely to open or even see your email.

Email Delivery vs. Email Deliverability

While email delivery and email deliverability are only six letters apart, they are some key differences between the two. Namely, “email delivery” describes when an email is delivered to the email service provider’s server, while “email deliverability” describes when an email arrives in a customer’s inbox.

In the chart below, “email delivery” would take place in the first tier, while “email deliverability” takes place in the second tier.

email deliverability funnel

This distinction is important. Poor email delivery often suggests an issue on the ESP side, or that the customer’s email inbox has filled – you can always resend the message later. Poor email deliverability, on the other hand, means your message is either being blocked or filtered. If this happens, you need to take steps to produce better quality outreach.

If your email marketing outreach isn’t arriving in a customer’s inbox, you’re severely limiting your overall reach. For that reason, retail marketers need to ensure their deliverability rates are as high as possible.

Why is Email Deliverability Important?

Deliverability is one of the most important email marketing metrics. After all, when email continues to reign supreme for retail marketers, success and growth all starts with email deliverability. That’s because no one can open, let alone click or make a purchase from, your emails if those messages never get to them in the first place.

Think of it this way: Your team invests a sizable chunk of your budget into segmenting audiences, crafting relevant messaging, and even purchasing cutting-edge retail marketing technology to execute your campaigns. If a significant number of your emails aren’t even appearing in the customer’s inbox, that’s a huge – and expensive – missed opportunity. 

Thankfully, you can improve email deliverability. By taking a closer look at the factors that influence deliverability and pivoting your strategy to focus on relevance and reputation, your team can reach more customers.

What Factors Affect Email Delivery?

While the outcomes for email deliverability are fairly black and white, the factors that impact whether not emails get delivered are far more complex. Those factors include:

  • Reputation: How reputable is the email? Email providers will take into account the sender reputation (which includes past email engagement), the reputation of the IP from which the email was sent and the domain reputation of any links included in the email. Complaint rates, bounce rates, spam traps, blacklist appearances and compliance with data privacy and outreach regulations like CAN-SPAM, CASL and GDPR guidelines all impact reputation.
  • Engagement: How much are recipients engaging with your emails? Most customers on retailers’ email lists use Gmail or Microsoft, and both of those ISPs now focus heavily on how recipients engage with email to determine whether or not emails make it to the inbox (or, in the case of Gmail, the folder in which it gets filed). As a result, subscriber engagement with emails can cause inbox placement rate to fluctuate as ISPs use these metrics to determine how to filter emails.
  • Content: Is your email content “spammy?” The content quality of your emails also matters when it comes to deliverability. Specifically, email providers will evaluate everything from language used, HTML formatting and the relevance of content (per the above note on engagement) to the types of links included, the image to text ratio and the presence of an unsubscribe link.
  • Authentication: Is the email coming from where it says it’s coming from? Modern spammers are savvy, and they often spoof senders to make a spam email look like it’s coming from a reputable domain. But modern email providers are savvy too, and they verify IP addresses to authenticate emails in search of spoofers.
  • Infrastructure: Is the sender equipped to send emails at scale? The more emails you send, the more important the infrastructure you use to send them becomes. For example, if you’re a high-volume sender, you need to ensure you and your email service provider have conducted the appropriate IP warming to be able to send emails at scale without getting flagged as spam. You also need to use feedback loops to monitor for email complaints, such as when recipients mark an email as spam, and for hard and soft bounces.

Retail marketing teams should ensure they’re acknowledging these factors when putting together a strategy for better email deliverability. As you build your strategy, keep a close eye on metrics like inbox placement rate, which will measure what percent of your emails actually make it to customers’ inboxes.

How to Build a Strong Reputation and Improve Your Deliverability

Once you set your goals for email deliverability, what steps can you take to meet and exceed those standards?

At the most basic level, you need to adhere to CAN-SPAM, CASL and GDPR guidelines, keep your list clean, maintain consistent send volumes (and conduct proper IP warming for any significant increases in sends), ensure proper HTML formatting and avoid using spammy language in your subject lines.

Taking those steps are a must to achieve an acceptable level of email deliverability. But there are some additional efforts you can make to raise the bar and realize industry-leading inbox placement rates. Two efforts, in particular, can make an enormous difference:

1) Focus on Relevance

Relevance is the name of the game for modern retail marketing when it comes to attracting and engaging consumers, so this should already be top of mind. That makes it a win-win that relevance also helps improve inbox placement.

In terms of deliverability, focusing on making every email you send relevant to recipients — even your batch emails — can make a big difference when it comes to everything from email deliverability to email engagement to brand reputation.

Personalizing your emails to create more relevant content for each recipient not only improves bottom of the funnel performance metrics like opens, clicks, conversions and revenue per email, but it can also impact email deliverability. ISPs monitor these email engagement metrics for every sender to determine sender reputation, so if your customers don’t open your emails or move them to spam, ISPs read those behaviors as signs that those emails aren’t good and ding your sender reputation accordingly.

The key to success here is to find opportunities to make personalization at scale possible, for example by thinking thoughtfully about your audience segmentation for batch emails, using predictive audiences to proactively personalize your email marketing and tapping automated marketing emails to react to customer behaviors and changes in your product catalog.

2) Seek Forward-Thinking Email Technology Partners

Many traditional email service providers charge based on the number of emails delivered to ISPs — regardless of whether those emails actually land in customers’ inboxes or end up in their spam folders.

But what if you could partner with a platform that only charged based on email engagement? Every time you send an email, your ultimate goal is to get recipients to click on a link in that email and influence a purchase, and the only way that can ever happen is if the email lands in those customers’ inboxes. Imagine the difference in performance if both you and your email marketing platform were equally as focused on getting that engagement, not just making it past the first line of defense provided by ISPs.

Provide More Value, Get Better Deliverability

At the end of the day, the biggest factor influencing deliverability is the value of your outreach – and relevant outreach is valuable outreach. If a customer knows that opening an email from you will give them important information or helpful recommendations, your outreach won’t get sifted into a spam folder. Instead, your email strategy will do exactly what it needs to do: Drive your customer toward their next purchase.

But what does it take to create a truly relevant experience? Check out our Bluecore Marketing Lookbook to see a variety of ways you can engage your customers to create a relevant shopping experience and to get inspiration from leading retailers.

kellye headshot

Kellye Snodgrass

Kellye is a member of the Product Marketing and Operations team and is one of Bluecore's first Product Marketing hires. She's spent most of her career in marketing technology with a special focus in the eCommerce space. When she's not online shopping on one of our customers' stores, she loves to write about data-driven retail marketing strategies that not only drive performance, but are easy to implement

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