The Dark Side Of Email Deliverability

The Dark Side Of Email Deliverability

In this guest post, Kevin Senne, head of  global deliverability for Oracle, says there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of false promises around email deliverability. But, he argues, it shouldn’t be the ‘dark art’ it’s often promoted…

One of the most interesting aspects the evolution of email marketing concerns the practice of deliverability and how it has changed over time.

The changes in metrics and the extent to which ISPs have led the charge to improve their own customers’ experiences are of critical importance to modern marketers.

There is a darker part of our discipline, and that is the way certain people and companies have tried to portray deliverability as a secret art that you couldn’t dare hope to understand on your own.

The better approach is to think of deliverability as a practice dictated by facts and metrics. Even though the ISPs don’t always disclose to us (or anyone else) the exact metrics that are needed to trigger filters or divert messages to the spam folder, that’s ok, because we’ve taken advantage of the billions of emails sent through our system monthly to know those limits.

We do our best to use these experiences to put together a picture of what each ISP expects these days and what senders need to do to establish and maintain great deliverability. This approach allows us to have conversations with our customers and prospects that come from a place of truth and allow us to all have the proper expectations about what is and is not possible.


That’s why it is especially frustrating when others in the industry, who should know better, decide to take a different road. You still hear about people promising 100 per cent  deliverability, promoting statistics that are easily debunked, and promising secret backdoors to the inbox. The worst part of this is that it sets senders up with unrealistic expectations. There’s a little bit of “training” involved in showing our customers the correct ways to interpret deliverability metrics.

We encountered one of these situations last week when we were contacted by one of our customers. This sender does a great job with deliverability. Looking at hundreds of their actual users through our Oracle Marketing Cloud Deliverability Plus Panel Tool, they have consistently inboxed at about 92 per cent. They have a very low bounce rate (less than one per cent), a unique open rate of about 20 per cent, and a spam complaint rate of less than .01 per cent. These are successful metrics by any stretch of the deliverability imagination. This client was contacted by a prominent deliverability company and this was their pitch:

  • They claimed that our email deliverability to our subscribers was only 20 per cent;
  • In some campaigns there were over 80 per cent of subscribers that never knew the message sent to them ever existed, as it went straight to the spam folder;
  • They claimed to have the tools and platform to completely clean everything up, resulting in an inbox placement of 100 per cent with every campaign.

Where do we even start? Let’s start with the numbers. Historically, these “deliverability companies” are at a huge disadvantage to ESPs because they don’t have a view of the actual delivery numbers. They can only view a small snapshot of the data. In this case, we see that their snapshot couldn’t be more wrong. Is that just bad data or is this a deliberate attempt to just throw something out there? I tend to think it is the latter, hoping to take advantage of a perceived lack of deliverability knowledge. It still seems as if the way to sell deliverability tools is to make a sender panic when they learn of supposed massive bad news. The reality for actual legitimate marketers is that deliverability should be pretty good unless they’ve made major (generally list acquisition related) mistakes. The potential gain for most marketers comes from small improvements and identifying new trends.

In general, you should be wary of small sample sizes such as seed lists. You should especially disregard a seed list as a measure of overall deliverability. There is a place for seed lists, but it is on a much smaller scale sent for a specific purpose. The value that’s left in seed lists almost always comes from the smaller domains. Using a traditional seedlist at a sophisticated ISP such as Gmail just doesn’t give you any relevant information.

If you are using one of the certification programs out there, they most likely are not giving you a deliverability lift. The only senders that consistently benefit from these are the more challenging verticals such as publishers. These senders are starting from a deliverability disadvantage, generally because of their acquisition practices. If you are in a traditional vertical, certification is almost certainly giving you nothing but a psychological boost. There’s much more to come on this topic in future blogs.

I wouldn’t doubt that many of you have experienced this for yourselves. You get a call or an email that goes against everything that you know about your program. Is it possible all of your messages are going to the spam folder? You’ve been promised 100 per cent deliverability, if you just pay the certification toll. How do you investigate these claims? What is the right way to look at deliverability in 2016?

Download the Email Deliverability Guide for Modern Marketers and sign up to see Kevin Senne (that’s me) and Pradeep Mangalapalli. We will be speaking on this topic at Modern Marketing Experience in Las Vegas. We are hosting a session entitled Deliverability: Industry Benchmarks and Competitive Insights. We will be talking about all of these challenges and showing you how to access real data, and how you can use this to increase ROI as well as deliverability.

This article originally appeared on B&T’s sister business site

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