Deliverability misconceptions: The insider break-down

It has always amazed me that, despite the vast amount of information available on the subject, email professionals and marketing experts alike still have many questions around deliverability. Moreover, many misconceptions have been floating around the topic of deliverability for years, without the record ever being set straight. In response to these observations, I am dedicating this post to discussing and (hopefully) clearing up a few of the misguided notions people tend to have about deliverability.

Four common misconceptions:

1. “Deliverability is all about who you know—if you have the right contacts at the right ISPs, you can get all of your clients’ mail through to the inbox”

This is a very common misconception in the industry and one that I have encountered many times. “Don’t you have someone you can call to take care of this?” “Isn’t there a special friend over at ISP XX that can help you out with these issues? I thought you had relationships with all of the ISPs.”

 While it is true that many ESPs have built relationships with various folks at different ISPs, most ISPs have replaced the staff they employ to handle email filtering with automated systems. As a result of these automated filtering systems, there is less overhead, adjustments are made more quickly based on the type of spam attacks they are seeing and all senders are treated more equally.

2. “I can’t use certain words in my emails, especially not in my subject lines”

While this may have been true 5-7 years ago, most ISPs filtering systems now rely more on overall sender reputation than the content or wording. Sure, if you consistently use words in your subject lines that your users don’t find engaging, it could have a detrimental effect on your delivery, but that is less of an issue than the overall relevancy of your messages.

3. “Deliverability is a black art that only a couple of people really understand, and those people want to keep it that way.”

I have found that most people that work in the deliverability field are more than happy to share information and educate anyone that will listen. I, as well as a number of my colleagues, have said in the past that we would be more than happy to work ourselves out of a job—we just don’t see that happening any time soon.

If you take the time to listen and learn from experts, you will find that deliverability is a far less convoluted and esoteric subject than many are led to believe.  As I have explained in previous posts, marketers seeing inbox delivery issues need to first and foremost understand that deliverability (on a high-level) is made up of 4 components, and then proceed to figure out which one of these four areas need to be adjusted.

  1. Complaint rates
  2. Unknown Users
  3. Spam traps
  4. User Engagement

4. “Deliverability folks are always working for the ‘other team’ “

This one takes the cake, and I say this metaphorically because, as a person working in the field of deliverability, this situation rarely ever pans out as a happy, win-win — as they say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. For example, when I talk with ISPs or anti-spam organizations, they seem to have an initial belief that any information they share with me will be used to get around their systems and allow the marketers to send more spam. On the other hand, when I am speaking with marketers, they often feel as though I don’t understand what they are trying to accomplish because I am just “bowing down to the ISPs.” Neither perception is correct. 

As a deliverability-focused person, it is my job to be a liaison between the two entities, ISPs and marketers. It is my responsibility to help each side understand what the other is doing, while also consulting the marketers on best practices and helping them obtain the right delivery method based on their business model and goals.

While these are just a few common myths within the deliverability world, I believe it is important for all parties involved to both realize and accept that not all interpretations of certain situations (especially those I have discussed in this post) are as concrete as they may initially seem.  From the marketers and deliverability experts, to the ISPs and ESPs, we all have a role in keeping email a viable marketing channel, and it is important that misconceptions are continuously exposed and dispelled to enable better cooperation and inevitably smoother deliverability.

Until next time—good luck and good sending.

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