Urban Myths of Email

It’s quite scary what strange and mistaken beliefs some people have about email marketing. Even spookier is the havoc these misconceptions can cause!  

To clear up some common email marketing myths—and protect your email marketing program—we put together the top 10 Urban Myths of Email and explain the truth behind them.

 

My delivered rate shows how many emails were delivered into the inbox.

Fiction. Your inbox placement rate shows how many emails were delivered to the inbox. The delivered rate, one of the most misunderstood measurements in email marketing, does not mean delivered to the inbox. Rather, having your email “delivered” simply means that it passed the initial filters and wasn’t bounced or rejected by the mailbox provider. Your delivered rate is essentially your non-bounce rate and does not indicate if your messages were delivered to the inbox or spam folder. If you want to accurately measure your inbox deliverability, look to your inbox placement rate.


 

It’s my email service provider’s (ESP) job to fix my deliverability.

Generally not true. You, the sender, are absolutely in charge of your own email deliverability and reputation. Your reputation is determined by the quality of your lists—meaning low unknown users and no spam traps—spam complaints, message quality, and sending history, all which is controlled by the sender and not your ESP.  Sure, your ESP might be responsible for some delivery issues if their infrastructure isn’t properly set up, or maybe they assigned you a shared IP address that has poor delivery. But those scenarios are the exception, and not the rule. Unless you address the root cause of your poor reputation, no ESP can get you delivered to the inbox.


 

If I ever have poor deliverability due to a bad reputation, the simplest way to get back into the inbox is to switch to a new IP address and domain.

Fiction. Don’t do it! You will find yourself worse off. Hopping from one IP address to another is a common tactic of spammers. To combat this, mailbox providers evaluate the sending reputation incoming mail before deciding whether or not to let email in. Your sending reputation includes things like your complaint rate, unknown user rate, send volume, spam traps, and sending permanence.

IP addresses with no sending history or reputation are likely to experience poor deliverability. Mailbox providers will typically block or limit volume from new IP addresses until they can learn what type of sender the mail is coming from—hence our consistent advice to warm up a new IP address. If left unaddressed, your sending practices resulting in reputation issues will follow you to your new IP address and domain.It’s better to address and fix the reasons for your poor reputation than switch to a new IP address or sending domain.


 

Authenticating with SPF, DKIM, and DMARC will give me high deliverability rates.

Fiction. Mailbox providers do not and will not place your emails in the inbox just because they are authenticated. Email authentication doesn’t prove you are not a spammer—spammers can just as easily authenticate their mail, so this would be a poor practice. Rather, authentication allows an organization to claim their email sending identity, so mailbox providers can identify spoofed domains used in phishing emails, as well accurately determine a sender’s reputation.

Some webmail providers, like Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo, require senders to authenticate their mail with SPF and DKIM to take advantage of useful services. Yahoo requires you sign your emails with DKIM in order to receive feedback loop complaints and Gmail requires you to have authenticated your domain to use their Postmaster tools. Additionally, lack of authentication, or failing authentication, may result in a warning that your emails could be considered phishing and dangerous.


 

If the content of your message has spammy keywords, you’ll have inbox placement problems.

Not necessarily true. Spam filtering algorithms rely heavily on your sending reputation and subscriber engagement when it comes to making inbox and spam folder placement decisions. Content plays a very small role in filtering decisions today, because content based spam filters return too many false negatives, aren’t reliable, and are easy for spammers to work around.

More often than not, a good sender reputation will override any content filter. But that doesn’t mean content is never a factor. If you’re sending third party content or templates used by others, your content might have a bad reputation by association. Keep in mind, too, that spammy content could very well trigger spam complaints from your subscribers—which will also cause inbox placement problems over time. If you’re unsure whether if your content is triggering spam filters, use a tool like Inbox Preview to test against the major spam filters that will by flagging certain keywords, URLs, and or HTML issues in your content.


 

I have a low complaint rate, so my mail should be delivered to the inbox.

Fiction. A low complaint rate can be misleading. Complaint rates are calculated based on total number of complaints and total messages delivered to the inbox. So if your mail is getting delivered to the spam folder, you’ll have a low complaint rate because it’s not possible to mark a message as spam when it’s already in the spam folder.

Your complaint rate can help you measure how subscribers are reacting to your content and your program and act as an early warning for potential delivery problems. However, it should be analyzed in conjunction with other performance metrics, not as a standalone indicator of your email program’s health.  


 

Having an unsubscribe link in the footer of my email is all I need to do.

Fiction. CAN-SPAM requires senders to include an easily viewable unsubscribe link in all email messages. But that alone is often not enough to mitigate customer complaints. Adding a list-unsubscribe header is a great way to improve your deliverability by reducing complaints. Think of it this way: it’s better to lose a single customer that is uninterested in your program than to cultivate spam complaints that will damage deliverability and prevent email from reaching your active subscribers.

Gmail and Outlook.com in particular are adopters of this method and recommend implementing the list-unsubscribe header as a best practice. At mailbox providers that look for the list-unsubscribe header, an unsubscribe link will appear at the top of the email message and clicking on it won’t take the user out of the mailbox provider’s user interface.

A new list-unsubscribe standard was approved in 2017:
RFC 8058 – Signaling One-Click Functionality for List Email Headers. Gmail recommends senders use this method. Microsoft’s Outlook.com relies on the standard approved in RFC 2369 and only honors the “mailto:” option, but is expected to adopt the new standard in the near future.


 

Sending relevant messages to people who asked to receive them is the way to the inbox.

Not the full truth. Sending relevant content to subscribers who have granted you permission is a cornerstone of email marketing. But as described above, there’s more to deliverability than just permission. The advice to “just send relevant content” sounds good, but isn’t helpful when trying to solve deliverability issues.

Just because you have been given permission to use an email, doesn’t mean you can take it for granted. Instead, it’s important to keep track of how your subscribers are engaging with your messages. A lack of engagement at the beginning of your relationship with a subscriber could be a sign that your content was not what they expected—meaning you may need to make your program offering more clear at sign up. On the other hand, if you find that longtime subscribers are no longer interacting with your email, a winback campaign may be in order.

Content is often at the core of engagement issues. You may think you’ve created the perfect email content, but if subscribers don’t agree, they’re unlikely to engage with your email. Rather than sending an email and hoping for the best, find out what customers really want by testing various aspects of each email campaign.


 

Because of engagement-based filtering, deliverability doesn’t really matter anymore.

Fiction. Although engagement metrics like opens are great, they don’t tell the whole story. The bottom line is that different metrics measure different aspects of your email program. Engagement metrics do exactly what their name implies: they look at how your customers are engaging with your mail—not whether they received it.

Deliverability metrics look at where your mail gets delivered (inbox, spam, or missing) and serve as the foundation of evaluating the effectiveness of your email program. Think about it this way—if your email fails to reach the inbox in the first place, subscribers won’t even have the opportunity to engage. Looking at both deliverability metrics and engagement metrics is the only way to gain a holistic view of your email program, understand how it’s performing, and identify any potential problems.


 

Neither Gmail or Outlook.com would stop delivering email to a highly engaged audience.

Fiction. There are a number of reasons that Gmail or Outlook.com would stop delivering email, even if the audience is highly engaged. Here are just a few examples:

No sending history: Sending from a new IP address or domain is likely to get your mail blocked or sent to spam, regardless of audience engagement—this is especially true at Gmail and Outlook.com. With no sending history, mailbox providers don’t know who you are hesitant to let your email into their inboxes.

Spam traps: Spam traps often land on your email list if you fail to follow best practices for list acquisition and list hygiene—for example, by renting or buying a list, or failing to remove subscribers after receiving a hard bounce. If you send mail to spam traps, Gmail and Outlook.com will stop delivering mail from your IP address, despite high engagement, to prevent further abuse.

High complaint rate: Even if your content has a high open rate, if it also generating a lot of complaints, Gmail and Outlook.com will begin send your email to the spam folder.


Featured Resources

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2017 Deliverability Benchmark Report

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Email University

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Marketer’s Field Guide to Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo

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