Thursday, April 2, 2020

19 SEO Agency Owners Share Their Best Email Deliverability Tips [Featured]

This article was originally written by Julia G. and featured on GlockApps.

A lot of digital marketing agencies use cold emailing to get new clients and email marketing to nurture them. It is evident how important email and email deliverability is to these people. I reached out to 19 digital marketing agency owners to get their best email deliverability tips. Responses range from the correct technical setup to what words to avoid in your email to a lot more. Without wasting any more time, let’s jump right in:

Dustin Thompson, Founder, Konnected Interactive:

Although open rates are a good measure of your email deliverability, they are not completely accurate. The most accurate way to measure your emails deliverability is to use a tool like Glockapps to test how many of your emails are getting delivered and to which email client.

You should setup automatic email deliverability checks so that when your deliverability rate drops, you can see what the issue is (Glockapps does a great job of outlining the issue) and then you can take corrective action. For example, my own emails were not getting delivered to Gmail as reported by Glockapps so I emailed a bunch of people on their Gmails and asked them to mark my email not as spam. This got me out of the Spam folder.

Paul Leary, Founder, Are You On Page 1:

You should always validate the emails you are sending emails to. There are tons of tools on the markets to help you do this. I use Neverbounce personally. It cost $1 to get 80 Emails validated. The tool categorizes emails in the following 3 categories: Valid, Invalid and Catchall.

Now you want to avoid sending emails to the ones which are invalid and Catchall. Why? Well Invalid ones are invalid, duh, and will cause a bounce for sure. The catchall ones are those which might be invalid or might not be (the tool is not sure) but to be on the safe side, you should avoid emailing them too to keep your email bounce free.

Elliott Davidson, Founder, Contrast Digital:

Email deliverability is a big issue we face in our agency in these two areas which are outreach for sales and Digital PR campaigns. What we have found through our own testing to increase our chances of hitting the inbox is to first of all validate the email using a service like Hunter, you can quickly import a .csv file with a list of all of the emails to check so you don’t have to do this one by one.

From here on our first interaction over email, we like to keep the email quite bare just text so don’t do any attachments like PDFs, images and if we can help it links but this can be tough. The main goal we are aiming for is to get a reply, to achieve this you need to be adding value if you aren’t then I’d question whether reaching out to them is worthwhile as the ods of them becoming a paying client or give you a link back to your site. All of this helps to mean that our email address don’t get blacklisted or penalized.

Kevin Hilton, Director, Multi-Layer Marketing:

Take note of email addresses that bounce and don’t email them again. Bounce rates are taken into account by your internet service provider when determining your sender reputation, so if you get too many email bounces it can affect how many of your emails end up in people’s inboxes.

If you are using a tool like BuzzStream for outreach, you can set up sequences, send the initial email, and then leave it to run until you get a reply from the recipient. However, if the email bounces you need to go back into BuzzStream to cancel the rest of the sequence, else it will continue to send the remaining emails. This isn’t great news for your sender reputation if every email in the sequence bounces, especially if you are doing mass outreach.

If you use a tool like BuzzStream, make sure to check if your sequence emails are bouncing to minimise damage to your sender reputation.

Joe Robinson, Founder, Green Flag Digital:

Make sure you’re sending to small lists with tightly defined groups to better ensure open rates over time, and train email servers to trust your domain and help deliver your emails to the inbox. Instead of mass-emailing a list of hundreds of thousands of people, break these lists up into groups of 1,000 people up to 50,000 or so. When I was director of marketing at a travel tour operator, we worked with massive lists and always had the best success when the messages were tightly themed and sent to responsive recipients. I try to take the same approach when sending emails with current projects.

When we sent out email blasts to lists close to 100,000 people we had the worst open rates and inbox deliveries. We failed to really weed out a lot of the junk emails or dead email addresses. After rounds of list cleaning and segmenting contacts into different groups, we saw much better performance across all metrics.

Chris Sloane, President, Heaviside Group:

One thing we run into a lot when clients are having email delivery issues is bad web form setup. Many folks will set up basic forms on a WordPress site and leave it at that. This assumes the hosting server is properly configured to work with the PHP mail function, which may not be the case. You can also run into issues with your email provider if the sending domain does not match.

One way to fix this is to use SMTP to send email from your website instead of the PHP mailer. There are several plugins that will accomplish this for you, such as WP Mail SMTP. We recommend going one step past this and using an email delivery provider, such as SendGrid or Mailgun. This is a more secure solution as you do not need to store your email credentials in your WordPress dashboard. This also helps solve other potential delivery issues.

Tom De Spiegelaere, Director, Mango Matter Media:

Our team has quite a few tricks, but the factors we really pay attention to are links, images, emails sent per address, and template uniqueness.

Ideally, you should have no links and no images in your emails, the only exception to this is your avatar/bio image and the unsubscribe link.

Then when you’re prepping the campaigns, we sometimes use content spinners to make our email templates “unique” every day,  while still making sure the personalization stays in place of course.

As for email addresses, we try and limit emails sent per address. So rather than going with 800 emails per day from a single email, create a bunch of addresses, and send 30 daily from each. Then once the replies start coming in, or bounced emails, we try and deal with them asap (remove the bounced ones), keeping our primary inboxes clean seems to be working quite well.

If you can combine all 3 methods above, you should see a decent impact on your email deliverability!

Karl Kangur, Director of Marketing, Smash Digital:

I’ve seen even the best and cleanest domains struggle with email deliverability, even with important things like client emails. There are two main things that have helped us tackle this issue. One of them was disabling any kind of link tracking, open tracking, and other scripts. The other was always using unique subject lines.

For example, when you get contact form inquiries with a specific title, instead of replying to them automatically, change up the title a little bit. Not only does this help with deliverability in the long-term, it helps you personalize it for your potential clients.

Jason Berkowitz, SEO Director, Break the Web:

Statistics show that 21% of emails never make it to the recipient’s mailbox, so taking steps to ensure deliverability is a must for any successful email campaign. You’ve got to keep your subscriber list clean. Avoiding spammy subject lines, clickbait, and poorly formatted emails is also key. But those aren’t the only things that will leave your carefully crafted emails floating out in cyberspace.

First, if you’re going to embed images or videos into your emails, make sure they’re coming from reputable sources, like Google Drive or Dropbox. Using weird or unverified HTML will also get your email flagged, ensuring that your readers never see it.

Another common mistake many marketers make is forgetting to make sure their tags are set up correctly.

A great way to do this is to send out a few test emails to seed email accounts in different domains before you start sending them to your subscribers. This will help you verify that your tags are set up correctly and ensure that there aren’t any other issues preventing the email from getting delivered.

And finally, warm-up your outbox by sending a lower quantity of emails at first, and then increasing the number of recipients over the next few days as you send them out. This tactic will help you avoid getting triggered by spam filters.

Brandyn Morelli, CEO, Tilt Metrics:

Improving your email deliverability can be tricky. Luckily there are well-documented guides on how to increase your chance of getting your email in the inbox of your recipient. One tip to immediately help your chances is focusing on your subject line. Before you start writing a catchy subject line, stop and take a step back. Go ahead and open up your inbox. Skim through the top 20 emails in your inbox, flagging the emails sent from friends, co-workers, or clients.

Take a look at how those email subjects look compared to newsletters & cold emails you receive. You’ll usually find two things to be true. The first being the emails from people you know are usually short & punch. The second being they Don’t Use Unnecessary Capitalization. If you think about it, which email are you most likely to open, “loved your post on personal finance!” or “Quick Question For You To Consider For a Potential Partnership?

Try testing it on your next email campaign and watch your open rates skyrocket.

Michael Costin, Director, Local Digital:

If we’re running an outbound email campaign, whether it’s for ourselves or a client, we often start with a brand new domain name, for example the .net version of our regular .com domain. We then start small with the campaign, only sending a maximum of 20 odd emails per day. This allows us to “warm the domain  up” slowly over the course of a month or two.

The reason we do this is because when you’re sending a high volume of outbound emails, for example, for link building or sales purposes, it’s very easy to damage the reputation of your domain thanks to recipients lodging spam reports. To protect the main domain that everyone in the company uses for business email, it’s best to have this new domain set-up.

You can’t go hell for leather with a huge number of emails sent right away though as this is a recipe for disaster with a new domain. Take the time to warm it up by sending a small amount each day, then slowly ramp it up over time – it’s worth it in the long run.

Amanda Thomas, Partner, Konstruct Digital:

If using an email marketing platform like Mailchimp, make sure you’re fully completing your account setup and properly integrating with your domain. First you’ll need to verify that you need to have access to your domain. Typically this is done by the email provider sending an email to your domain, when you click on the authentication link in that email it proves that you have access to an email address at that domain. This is considered “default” authentication and will allow you to start sending emails.

However, you can go a step further with a custom domain integration and increase your deliverability rate. Update your domain’s DNS records to use DKIM authentication and include Mailchimp (or whomever your email provider is) in your SPF record. ISPs (Inbox service providers) use DKIM and SPF checks as a way to scan for spoofed email addresses. If you haven’t set up DKIM and SPF, it’s likely that the ISPs will flag your emails as being a higher risk for spam.

The specific records you need to add should be provided by your email services and will only take a skilled IT person a few moments to add. It’s great low hanging fruit to ensure your email deliverability gets off to a great start.

Stephen Sumner, Founder, Optimise Agency:

If you have a history of sending a lot of emails and perhaps, once or twice in the distant past you were not following the best practices, it’s possible your domain might be slightly tarnished or even blacklisted, it’s also possible if you are using a shared mail server and you haven’t been doing anything dodgy that someone else might have tarnished the mail server and you are being unfairly blacklisted. The first thing to do is check for blacklisting, there are a number of tools out there that will help with this and failing that, many if not most of the big email service providers have tools to help with this. Also, if you discover your domain has been blacklisted you need to STOP sending mail straight away as you will be making matters worse.

Yuri Burchenya, Cofounder, GetFound XL:

When spinning up a new domain for outreach, we spend up to 6 weeks just to warm up the email address itself.

Here’s the number of emails to send per day:

Week 1: 10
Week 2: 15
Week 3: 20
Week 4: 30
Week 5: 50
Week 6: 75

Spreading the email sendout throughout the day, as opposed to sending in one big batch also appears to be working better for us. From here you can experiment with increasing the number of emails sent even further.

We’ve also found that it’s important to maintain a certain sending velocity. Don’t just warm up the email address, then stop sending one week. You need to keep it consistent. So it’s best to spend the time while email is warming up wisely and have a list of prospects you’re going to reach out to in advance.

Finally, for the first week we’re sending out emails to our seed list. Then marking the conversation as important, adding address to contacts, moving it to Inbox if it’s not there already and also sending replies.

Curt Storring, Founder, Floor500:

It’s tempting to rush into hitting that send button on your first mass email campaign in order to get the links or leads flowing, but when it comes to building a long term domain email asset with sustainable deliverability, nothing beats relationship building.

Think of relationship building like warming up your email on steroids. I usually do this in two steps.

First, I like to email a handful of my ideal contacts and do nothing but deliver value in order to get an email chain going. (Of course, you could just email friends and family, but I like to get some work done while warming up the domain.)

This could be as simple as pointing out something on their site that needs work (like a broken link), or it could be asking them a question about something they’re an expert on. The more of a softball question you can ask them, the better. The point here is to get them interested in a conversation such that you exchange multiple emails.

Second, I’ll put together a couple of small, highly targeted and highly customized campaigns as my first bulk email blasts.

This means being extra certain that you’ve got the right emails, addressing everyone by name, and being hyper-specific as to why doing business with you makes sense for this person. You’ll likely have to read a portion of their blog, or follow them on Twitter, to figure out a highly unique and value-based angle for why you’re getting in touch with them.

In this first blast, I’ll give them a reason to respond, rather than go in for the sale immediately.

Rather than asking for a link right away, you can ask them their thoughts on the topic of the page you’re trying to get a link to. (You can even start the dialogue by asking them to contribute to an expert roundup that you then ask them to link to later.)

Cheeky Bonus Tip: Let the recipient know you’ve attached something for them to look at (this works with infographic link building campaigns, for example) …but intentionally “forget” to attach it. Most people will reply to let you know you forgot to attach it.

Finally, for maximum effect, follow your leads on social media and either tag or DM them, letting them know you sent them an email they might want to check out.

Dan Christensen, President, MorningDove Marketing:

Creating the feeling that your email is hand-written always helps our email deliverability. One unconventional way we’ve done this is by not capitalizing the subject line. This is what contacts and friends already do in emails, so the recipient is more likely to assume there was prior contact with you, and are therefore more likely to open and respond to it.

Another way to do this is to make a few (small) grammar or spelling mistakes in the body of the email. You’re trying to come off less like an official representative of some corporation (high pressure) and more like somebody that just wants a small favor from a friend (low pressure).

As we’ve implemented and tweaked different variations of these techniques, we’ve hit higher open rates and responses than we ever have before. This doesn’t mean that your emails can be bland and still perform; you still need to command attention, use humor if possible, and follow best email outreach practices.

Jordan Choo, Managing Partner, Kogneta:

To improve email deliverability, there are a few things that we do on a consistent basis which include:

    • Cleaning out our email list using an email verification service (BriteVerify or Kickbox). This helps make sure we’re not sending emails that no longer exist, are “accept all” or group email addresses. This helps reduce our email boune rate which is something we’ve flagged as being key to getting your email delivered into an inbox rather than a spam folder;
    • Instead of shotgunning our emails out all at once, we’ll slowly send them out throughout the day and week. This helps ease email service providers into recognizing our emails rather than a flood of them all at once which comes off as spam;
  • If we start to see a relatively low open and response rate to our emails, we’ll use a handy tool called GlockApps which allows you to test whether or not your email is being flagged as spam or not and provides you with specific recommendations on how to get out of the spam folder in.

Brad Smith, Founder, Codeless:

We take a 5-part approach when reaching out to new sites:

1) Set up closely-related, branded, domain (think: your,, etc.). Then, set this up with G Suite or another professional deliverability platform that knows what they’re doing.

2) Always use an email verification tool to validate individual emails you’re finding/matching before sending out cold campaigns to new contacts. Yes, this step sucks. But yes, you can use a combination of tools + VAs.

3) Warm up your new outreach emails, first. Start slow with ~10/day before ramping up to hundreds. The first step will help be your fallback to make sure your primary domain (and emails) aren’t flagged as Spam by cold outreach. But it might take a few weeks to get these new domains warmed up.

4) Segment your lists as much as possible. That could be individual topics they’ve previously written about, or it could be certain categories of sites, etc. Sending 10 campaigns of 100 contacts each will almost always perform better than 1 campaign of 1000 contacts. And it will also help you better…

5) Personalize the angle/hook/incentive of each email to each segment. Outreach is a numbers game at the end of the day. But the more you can tailor each pitch, without having to actually write unique emails, the higher your reply, response, and conversion rates ultimately.

Corey Northcutt, CEO, Northcutt:

Back when I managed sender reputation on 128,000+ IP addresses, the most common issue was misconfigured DNS. Always configure A, MX, SPF, DKIM, DMARC, and reverse DNS records. Double-check them with a tool like Gappie, a Slack and telegram bot. It’s very common for people to misconfigure any of these by accident basically any time that they add or remove different servers or cloud apps to their email marketing stack.

If your deliverability rates are still low, ask for email headers.  This messy wall of code output can be overwhelming the first time you see one, but if you CTRL+F for the word “spam”, you’ll often see your actual spam score (on a scale of 1-10) beside a specific list of things that landed your email ina spam folder.

For example, you might see “email too short” or “resembles a known phishing scheme” or “IP address listed in Spamhaus”.  Often its nothing that you could have predicted.

If this tells you that you’re in a blacklist database, you can contact the database via their website and request removal.  Some are a much bigger deal than others. Some are human-driven extortion scams. Others are totally automated. Some will only speak to the owner of the IP address (your host, or if you’re using a service like MailChimp, their host).  You may need to run it up the chain or ask for new IP addresses.

Well there you have it. 19 ways to improve your email deliverability. We hope you found them useful. Share your favorite email deliverability tip in the comments below!

Read:  Copywriting Best Practices for Avoiding the Spam Folder

Author bio: Shaurya Jain is a Digital Marketer and a self-experimenter (not as good as Tim Ferris though). You can check out his latest marketing tactics here. You can connect with him on Twitter here.

Brandyn Morelli

B2B / SaaS Growth Marketer specializing in the technology space. I have an unhealthy obsession with data & analytics.