A Dozen Dos and Don’ts to Optimize Email Deliverability

This week, one of my clients asked me if I had any tips on how to prevent her email newsletter from landing in Gmail’s Promotions tab. I did have a short list of dos and don’ts, but it was a little outdated. I wondered what the best advice was for 2021, and this curiosity led me to the encompassing topic of email deliverability, not just for your Gmail subscribers, but for all your subscribers.  

After just 45 minutes of research I found lots of updated tips. It sounded like a great series to cover here, and especially relevant in the wake of Apple’s privacy update. (Along with other changes, we’ll be getting less reliable data on Apple device open rates.)

How will we gauge list health moving forward? How will we know who’s seeing our email, and who’s motivated enough to open it? We won’t be able to rely on those open rates like we used to. (These were always approximations anyway…)

We’ve got some new challenges. It’s time to up our game!

I can’t think of a better place to start than making sure our emails are actually reaching subscribers. After all, they can’t open mail they don’t receive.

What Email Deliverability Means

The internet is like a highway, and email inboxes are similar to the mailboxes that line neighborhood streets. If you’re picturing a pristine mail truck freely traveling on a sunny day, happily depositing each recipient’s mail in their mailbox correctly, don’t.

Don’t picture that. Email isn’t like that. 

Your email newsletter has to travel quite a distance through (sometimes) cobbled together, outdated systems, applications, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that don’t adhere to best practices. Or (sometimes) through cutting-edge systems and software with shiny new technology and increased security and the latest protocols, with an aversion to old and outdated practices. Or sometimes it has to travel through mail applications and services that are intuitive, embracing AI, determining in advance which emails your subscribers really want to open, and which ones are more, well, meh

I could go on and on because there are different hurdles along the email journey and so many different mail applications – so many possible scenarios. Each piece of technology treats email a bit differently. It’s hard to find a silver bullet, but we’re gonna do our best. Because we’re not mailmen. We’re mail warriors. So, put on your face paint, roll up your sleeves, and give me a roar. 

Let’s tackle email deliverability. 

Today, we’ll cover a dozen dos and don’ts to optimize email deliverability, laying the groundwork for a series. We’ll address each of these individually (and more in-depth) over the following twelve weeks. Along the way, I’ll be doing some A/B testing on these tips to see how they impact different email lists I manage. I’ll share some takeaways with you as the series unfolds.

Ready to dive in?

One last word to encourage you. Some of these may be painful to hear. Tweaking any of these will help.

A Dozen Dos and Don’ts for Better Email Deliverability

  1. Reduce the number of links. (Ouch!)
    Spammers notoriously jam their emails with links, so any time your email resembles anything spammy, you may get dinged for it. 
  2. Reduce the number of images. (Double ouch!)
    Have a good text-to-image ratio. Again, spammy marketing emails are more apt to include images. (When was the last time you got a personal email with images embedded?)
  3. Shorten footer content.
    Limit your legalese language to what’s necessary and don’t make this a last-ditch effort to snag a click from your reader.
  4. Send from your domain email.
    Instead of using your Gmail, Yahoo, etc. address, use an authenticated domain email. I touched on domain email here.
  5. Use a double opt-in.
    A more engaged readership builds your reputation as a valued and legitimate sender. Make sure you’re only sending to people who signed up for your email. Always get permission before adding people to your list.  
  6. Avoid using URL shorteners.
    Again, this is because it’s a common practice for scammers and spammers. They use link shorteners to hide their real URLs. This is one of those tips that may be painful. I want to do more research on this to see if the pros of using shorteners outweigh the cons. Stay tuned for that. 
  7. Keep a healthy list.
    Disengaged subscribers have a negative impact on your reputation as a sender. You want a better percentage of your emails to be opened, read, and valued. 
  8. Write better subject lines.
    Well-crafted subject lines increase open rates. Some words may flag you as spam. 
  9. Make your emails more personal and less markety.
    Write as a friend, not a marketer. Sure, there’s a balance here. We’ll explore it. 
  10. Ask for engagement.
    A great way to do this is by encouraging replies. This may be harder if your list is larger. We’ll look at different ways to handle this. 
  11. Ask people to move you from Gmail Promotions to their Primary tab.
    Hey, sometimes the direct approach scores direct results. 
  12. Use less code.
    This is a caveat for those click-and-drag templates we love to use. A leaner code is more inbox friendly.  

Okay, foundation laid. We’ll discover what all this means for our email lists step by step. Stay tuned! And if you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns on these, please drop a comment here or in the AuthorCompany Facebook group

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