Navigate the byzantine world of email deliverability and ensure you get the most out of your emails.

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Email is a core channel for almost anyone selling anything online, largely because it offers businesses multiple opportunities to communicate with the person on the other end to build rapport, trust, engagement and hopefully, a sale. All the benefits of communicating with your audience via email go out the window, however, if a damaged deliverability stops your campaigns from ending up in the inbox.

Related: 5 Ways Email Marketing Can Help Boost Ranking In a Hurry

This is an issue that I and my team at WellPath know all too well. We are a company with an email list of over a million people and a digital marketing strategy that largely revolves around email as one of our core competencies. Thus it was detrimental when, in late 2016, we managed to screw up our deliverability so badly that we were seeing only between 20 and 30 percent of our emails ending up in our subscribers’ inboxes.

This was the sort of existential threat that could shut us down, and fast. It prompted our undertaking a deep dive into the byzantine world of email deliverability. And while we were fortunate enough to come out on the other side even better off than we were before, the process of getting over that massive roadblock was grueling, and could have been made immensely easier had we known then what we know now.

The question of deliverability is unfortunately one that many marketers don’t consider until it’s too late, but failing to address deliverability until you need to can spell disaster for your business and sabotage your momentum. To help you stay on the right track, here are a few of the key considerations I’ve come to find essential in keeping your deliverability — and your email marketing strategy — healthy.

Undestand how deliverability works.

The first thing to understand is that ending up in the inbox versus spam is a virtuous or vicious cycle. The more your emails end up in inboxes and are engaged with, the more the large inbox providers will ensure your emails continue reaching others’ inboxes. This in turn usually leads to higher engagement, which means continued improvements to deliverability, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well: Once you start ending up in spam folders it can be increasingly difficult to reverse course.

Related: How Email Marketing Can Help Build Your Brand

Understand the goals.

If you were about to undertake a journey, you would not do so without a map and a clear sense of a destination. When it comes to your email, figuring out what that destination is requires a firm grasp of the benchmarks for email deliverability and the knowledge that your goals for maintaining strong deliverability need to be performing above these industry benchmarks. According to ReturnPath’s 2017 Deliverability Benchmark Report, Global Inbox Placement only measures about 80 percent (with almost 20 percent either in spam or missing) while according to MailChimp’s Email Marketing Benchmarks average open rates are between 15 percent to 20 percent with click rates between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent.

Know the difference between shared and dedicated IP addresses.

Many of the most popular email service providers (ESPs) like Mailchimp will place new clients on shared, well-established IP addresses and rotate clients through those addresses. Meanwhile, there are some ESPs that provide clients with a dedicated IP address that is all their own. If you are an exceptional sender, you have the ability to own and protect your IP reputation so you can outperform the average.

Related: 6 Keys to Email Marketing Success

As a business owner, one way to decide between a dedicated and a shared IP address is to ask yourself whether you’re at a point where you can afford to dedicate a significant amount of resources to mastering deliverability. If so, consider a dedicated IP address with the understanding that it is going to require a lot of time and energy to manage.

If not — and for most early stage businesses, this is most likely the case — then opt for a shared IP, which does much of the heavy lifting for you. It won’t be totally risk-free (ESPs take extreme caution to make sure no business hurts their shared IP addresses, so you’ll still have to employ best practices) but your job will be made somewhat easier. Further, the inbox providers who determine your deliverability measure your business also based on your domain reputation, which is tied to your sending domain, and that persists regardless of your ESP.

Chart your course.

It has become de rigueur within the entrepreneurial community to measure the effectiveness of business initiatives with data. Despite that, email deliverability has largely remained a black box. We see our open and click rates, but have little understanding as to why they are what they are. This is in part because the four large inbox providers — Gmail, Outlook, AOL and Yahoo — purposefully avoid disclosing too much about deliverability to prevent bad actors from gaming the system. While that leads to a lot of educated guesswork on optimizing deliverability, there are several tools you can utilize to gain more insight into your deliverability performance. Come up with a game plan for utilizing such tools and tracking your deliverability goals. Here are a few of the steps you should take:

Setting up Google Postmaster and monitoring performance

What little insight Google does provide regarding why emails end up in spam or other buckets in your inbox can be found in Google Postmaster, a tool provided by Google that provides a deliverability rating (red, yellow or green). Given that Gmail is by far the largest of the big four inbox providers, having this set up from the outset is critical in understanding where you stand.

Related: Hitting the Marketing Email Sweet Spot With Millennials (Infographic)

Monitoring IP and domain health through online tools

There are a host of third party tools that enable you to measure your reputation across the major inbox providers. My favorite among these is Delivery Index, a free tool provided by eDataSource, which provides a deliverability breakdown across the four major inbox providers. Other tools worth looking into are Reputation Authority and Talos, which provide data to understand the health of your sending domain and IP address.

Monitoring your presence on blacklists

Multiple blacklists exist which can have a significantly adverse impact your reputation. Some of these lists are ones that you need to proactively request to be removed from (like SORBS), whereas others (like Truncate) will remove you provided that you have no future infractions. Be aware of which is which and actively monitor all of them. MX Toolbox is a great tool that allows you to see which blacklists you are on and provides information about how to remove any infringing IP addresses.

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