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Improving Email Delivery

The following article is based on content from Campus Management’s webinar "How to Improve Email Delivery" with systems engineer and email delivery expert Trung Nguyen.

Today, around 20 percent of commercial emails never make it to the inbox. That's one out of five emails that never reach the intended recipient. Why is that? It’s because each ISP (e.g., Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo) all have different types of filtering, and they never reveal how they filter, so people can’t game the system. The three main areas we can look at to improve results regardless of what filtering systems our emails encounter are data hygiene and segmentation, content/creative execution, and authentication.

Data Hygiene and Segmentation

What is data hygiene as it relates to email? To ISPs, good hygiene means that there is a history of sender and recipient engagement. "Is this conversation happening?" And if it's not happening, the ISP does one of two things: they either mark it as spam or block it totally.

Break Down Your List

You should break down your email list to clickers and openers (these are good engagements), as well as people you’ve never emailed, and those who don’t respond. Then segment this list based on 30/60/90 days and prioritize. For example, anyone who has engaged with you in the last 30 days should receive more emails from you because they've shown interest. As you move to 60 days since the last engagement, then 90, the less you should email those on the lists. This way you aren’t seen by ISPs as sending a lot of unwanted emails.

Content/Creative Execution

When you’re engaging with a prospect, it’s safe to assume that they are engaging with many other colleges that the same time. But if you can do it in a way that resonates with them, that talks to them about their unique needs and interests, they're more likely to click, open, and take action. Poor design, style and user experience can also be an issue, especially when you consider that everyone has a smartphone. Imagine prospects opening an email on their phone and seeing the picture misaligned and encountering misspelled words, poor functionality, and broken links.

There are tools that creative teams can use that help bypass certain ISP filters (anti-spam checkers). For example, certain tools can ensure that your HTML code is correct, suggest words that should be combined, and identify any broken links.

Apache SpamAssassin is one example. It will give your content a score and indicate what you need to fix inside your template. There is also Spark Post Signals, a paid service that can look at your content, crunch the data, and offer advice like: "You may want to change X, Y, Z to help better your chances to reach inboxes."

Then there's making sure that all the HTML coding is correct. If the code is off, ISPs normally will categorize it as spam. Litmus and Email on Acid are companies that check the quality of your HTML code.


The ISP doesn’t know you. Authentication to validate that you are who you say you are is very important to them. Let’s start with Sender Policy Framework (SPF) authentication. What can you do to prevent people from spoofing, impersonating someone else’s or another domain’s identity? SPF authentication prevents spammers from sending messages on behalf of your domain.

DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail) is a way of giving the email a digital signature. In essence, this means there is a public key and a private key, and they must match. That’s harder for someone to impersonate.

DMARC (Domain-based Messaging Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) takes one extra step. DMARC not only makes sure you pass SPF and DKIM, it will tell you who has been sending off of your domain and who's been trying to spoof your domain by DKIM. It gives you a report every day. You can look at it and say, "okay, this is mine," or "this is isn't mine," and then try to figure out who's trying to impersonate you. And that happens more often than we would like.

Know Your Audience

In the end, there is no one silver bullet that will enable your email program to go from spam to the inbox. It's a multitude of things working together to help improve your inbox deliverability percentage and rate. Again, listen to your audience. Gauge how they are responding or not responding and manage your email lists and campaigns accordingly. If you can target your audience more accurately, you will keep the ISPs from blocking your communications and boost the success of your engagement strategy.

View the On-Demand Webinar "How to Improve Email Delivery"

View Webinar

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