How to improve email deliverability and avoid the spam folder
If you’re a creative who loves ideating email messaging, dabbling in design and crafting the perfect verbiage to fit, then the words “email deliverability” probably make your eyes glaze over.
Understandable. The technical stuff around email marketing can confuse and overwhelm the person who’d rather frolic in the brain’s right side.
But grasping email deliverability basics is necessary if you use email marketing for your Shopify store. Otherwise, you could cause severe damage.
(Not to mention, waste your creative talents for nothing. We’ll get to that soon).
Email deliverability has its share of areas of gray. And it’s complicated when you dig into the specifics.
So we’ve put together a non-techie guide with the need-to-know information and tips for keeping yourself out of the spam box. We’re sidestepping the anomalies and ignoring jargon as much as possible.
What is email deliverability?
Email deliverability is the ability to send newsletters to your subscribers’ inboxes.
How well do you avoid the junk folder? In other words, are your subscribers seeing your email messages without having to hunt for them?
"Delivery" is related but different. It refers to the email box provider (Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) accepting your email. So if delivery is blocked, the email doesn’t even make it to spam, much less have a chance at inbox placement.
Zero delivery = zero email deliverability.
Getting back to email deliverability, we can’t emphasize its importance enough.
Labor all you want over designing a beautiful email. You’ve wasted your effort if the email lands somewhere your subscribers don’t frequent (i.e., junk). It’s that simple.
What affects email deliverability?
Inbox placement is directly related to your email sender reputation.
Think about reputations in the real world. Would you buy from a company known for manufacturing cheap products? Some people might not care, while others will completely tune out the company.
Email deliverability works similarly. Most newsletters will go to the inbox or Gmail promotional tab with a good sender reputation. Poor reputations steer most to the spam/junk folder or bar them from reaching recipients altogether.
Whether an email sender reputation is good or bad depends on your subscribers’ responses to newsletters. Each email box provider has its parameters.
A solid technical setup is vital in all cases. Most email marketing providers — Seguno included — take care of it.
Merchants need to be diligent about avoiding the following offenses:
- High complaint rate: subscribers mark your newsletter as spam
- High bounce volume: high rate of emails rejected by receiving email servers
- Low engagement: poor email open rate
(See the email deliverability FAQs below for further details.)
How do you check your sender reputation? Aside from using Google’s Postmaster Tools to decipher your standing on Gmail, it’s a matter of inference.
“If you’re getting a 50% open rate consistently and it suddenly drops to 5%, then something has changed and you’re going to spam,” explains Brandon Leverenz, Seguno’s compliance and deliverability analyst. “We call that a deliverability problem.”
It’s a problem you need to solve right away. In fact, you should monitor each sent email and compare its engagement metrics to previous emails. Abrupt, large changes merit immediate attention.
Switching email marketing providers isn’t the answer. A bad sending reputation will follow you until you take steps to correct it. (And that’s a job you ask your email marketing provider to tackle.)
6 best practices for stellar email deliverability
As Leverenz likes to say, email marketers must be good internet citizens.
“Essentially, you’re not taking advantage of the tool you have. You don’t want to be bothering people with your spam. You want to enhance your contacts’ lives with what you’re sending,” he says. “It’s all going to come down to ‘don’t spam.’”
No one wants their emails to be ignored or not seen. Following is Leverenz’s list for staying out of the spam folder.
#1 Get permission
Hands down, gaining consent is the foundation of email deliverability.
Permission means that the person is:
- Aware that they’re handing over their email address
- Expecting to receive emails from you
- Join our email list to stay on top of news and offers
- Sign up for our email newsletter and snag 10% off your first purchase
- Subscribe to move to the front of the line for new products
Fulfill expectations straightaway. Ensure your subscriber receives at least one welcome email automation upon signup, if not a series of messages.
Never, ever buy a subscriber list or take leads from a partner. And if you run more than one Shopify store, don’t cross-pollinate. Permission for one shop doesn’t transfer to another.
Nothing drives someone to hit the spam button quite like an unexpected email.
#2 Stay on-brand
Your contacts should easily recognize you each time a message arrives, from the sending address to the message inside.
The “from” name needs to be identifiable with your shop. Don’t change your sending address, either, as a swap might appear suspicious to receiving email boxes and cause inboxing issues.
Staying consistent also applies to your content. Sell hockey cards? Then stick to what’s relevant. Email marketing is not the channel to meander into crypto.
Consistency goes for design as well. It’s OK to experiment, but don’t stray too far from what your subscribers regularly see.
Contact Seguno support if you’re rebranding or want to promote another shop. There are ways to do this safely (and successfully)!
#3 Send judiciously and predictably
Merchants regularly ask how often they should send emails. Our response goes something like, “It depends on your shop.”
Some Shopify stores with ample resources and a variety of content find daily emails successful, but it’s rare and not a practice we recommend. Repercussions can run the gamut from being ignored to racking up spam complaints.
Others manage better with a twice-weekly or weekly send. A bi-monthly schedule works for a lot of shops, too.
Whichever your choice, make it a predictable email cadence and constantly reevaluate.
Inconsistency can cause harm. The example below is a case in point. It’s from a real Seguno customer; we’ve blurred information to protect the shop’s identity.
The sporadic nature is extreme. But it helps explain the alarming complaint and unsubscribe rates in response to a brand that last emailed 14 months prior. Even when the shop sent emails — albeit very irregularly — the rates were on shaky ground.
The lesson: it’s possible to send too little. So take caution, “seasonal” senders. You’d be wise to follow cyclical sending advice.
Our rule of thumb is one email per month at minimum.
For more advice on what to send and when, check out our free course.
#4 Keep a clean email list
You work hard to collect email addresses, tweaking email popups and signup forms to configure the right formula. So removing a portion — no matter the amount — can hit like a gut punch.
The thing is, your shop is better without some of them.
Email hygiene recognizes that some contacts eventually lose interest over time. People who stop interacting with your newsletters can drag down your reputation. It’s up to you to weed them out.
Think of email list maintenance as a periodic intervention. Your job is to unsubscribe the contacts that have gone silent for too long.
You could remove anyone who hasn’t opened an email in six months. Or you could give them a chance to stick around by sending a re-engagement campaign that asks, “Are you still interested?”
We recommend a quarterly audit and email list cleaning. Once a month is ideal if you can swing it.
Email hygiene also includes providing an opt-out. Give an unsubscribe link that’s easy to locate — the top or bottom of the email are prime spots — and honor all unsubscribe requests.
As Leverenz hyperbolically says, “You want 5,000 unsubscribes over one spam complaint.”
#5 Grow your email list
If you’re regularly removing unengaged contacts, replacing them with new ones is imperative. You always want to rev your list growth engine.
Your shop’s website grants the most control over lead capture. There are three primary avenues for collecting emails:
- Email popups
- Traditional web placements (headers, footers, banners, blogs)
- Interactive content, such as a quiz
Use all channels possible — social media, digital display ads, etc. — to further aid your on-site list growth efforts.
Learn the ins and outs of building a high-quality subscriber list with our free course, “How to grow your email marketing list.”
#6 Create engaging content
Remember how we said engagement impacts deliverability? Enter the crucial role of quality.
It’s tempting to slap together an email newsletter and send it off, especially if the process has become routine and time is ticking on your to-do list.
We challenge you to take a pause and examine what you’ve crafted. Ask yourself the following:
- Is my subject line enticing without being misleading? Is it relevant to what’s inside?
- Does the email include clear calls to action prompting subscribers to take the next step?
- Is the content valuable to my subscribers? Is the message focused?
- Is the email visually appealing with a balanced image-text ratio? Or, if it’s plain text, is the message concise? (A wall of rambling text can be overwhelming and straight-up ignored.)
The answer to all of the above should be “yes.” Consistently producing good content that features variety encourages subscribers to open your newsletters and click through.
If you want to design emails that convert, start with understanding the anatomy of a solid newsletter and best email design practices.
The most important lesson: don’t spam
Email deliverability has the power to support your brand and stimulate sales conversions — or be the dismissing factor that relegates you to the sidelines.
As Leverenz says, email deliverability boils down to:
- Not spamming
- Caring about subscriber list quality and email sender reputation
So get permission, stay on-brand with your newsletters and send wisely. Regularly clean up your mailing list while working toward list growth. Generate email content that will keep your subscribers interested in what you have to share.
Do all of that, and you get an A+ in internet citizenship.
Email deliverability FAQs
Is the Gmail promo tab considered spam?
The Gmail promo tab is not the spam box. Landing in it isn’t a bad thing.
It’s quite the opposite. Your Shopify store is sending promotional emails — the whole reason the promotional tab exists. People hop over to the promo tab to window shop and make purchases.
There’s no consistent way to get around the promotional tab. Subscriber engagement may push them to the regular inbox eventually. Either way, we say embrace Gmail’s promo folder.
Bonus: With Seguno, our automatically applied annotations can give an extra boost to any email that features a Shopify discount code, and viewed with the Gmail app. The example below shows the visual lift applied to the preview text area.
The deal and code are highlighted, plus the email receives special treatment location-wise. Annotated email placement isn’t guaranteed. But we’ve observed they show up under “Top Picks” — at least upon arrival — more reguarly than “Remaining Promotions.”
What is an email blocklist?
An email blocklist (formerly known as a blacklist) is a list of senders with terrible sender reputations. We liken it to public shaming at best, and a significant email marketing problem at worst.
The blocklist is a separate topic with technical idiosyncrasies. Here’s our “blocklist for dummies” version:
- Numerous companies maintain blocklists. Not all wield influence, though. Getting named to a blocklist only does damage if your subscribers’ email service provider uses the blocklist as a mechanism for blocking senders.
- Spamhaus has the most authoritative blocklist. Land on it and many of your emails are likely blocked.
- Spam traps are usually the culprit behind a blocklist sentencing. Spam traps can be fake addresses you send an email to, an incorrectly entered address, or a dormant email. These traps are all over the internet, waiting to be scraped by an unscrupulous lead merchant. (One more reason to never email a purchased list.)
Blocklist removal is doable but a challenging and often long trek. It requires that you stop spamming and receive approval from the blocklist for delisting. If you find yourself relegated to a blocklist, then we recommend seeking the expert assistance of your email marketing provider.
What is an acceptable complaint rate?
Spam complaints are not necessarily a problem. Anything below 0.3% is acceptable and expected.
You should start to worry if it creeps past 0.3% for more than three consecutive emails. It’s worth poking around your subscriber metrics and asking your email marketing support team for assistance.
And if it escalates above 0.5%, ask for help immediately. That’s troublesome territory that can easily trigger a block.
What is an acceptable unsubscribe rate?
Every company experiences churn, which isn’t always a bad thing. Unengaged contacts don’t help email deliverability.
The average email unsubscribe rate hovers around 0.2%. Don’t freak out if yours is usually a tad higher — you’re probably OK.
But if the unsubscribe rate suddenly spikes, something is awry. Contact the email marketing professionals to help investigate.
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