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Achieving high deliverability and engagement rates is one of the biggest email marketing challenges you face. It doesn’t matter how great your campaigns are if nobody gets to see them or engage with them. If you want to maximise your email marketing returns, you need to start by maximising deliverability and engagement.

In this article, we’re going to look at why both of these performance indicators are so important and step-by-step strategies to get the best out of them.

What do deliverability & engagement mean in email marketing?

Let’s start by quickly explaining what deliverability and engagement are in email marketing and why they’re both important.

What is email deliverability & why is it important?

Email deliverability refers to the percentage of your emails that arrive in your recipients’ inboxes. There are many reasons why your emails might not end up where you intend them to:

  • Your email ends up in their spam folder
  • Their email address is no longer in use
  • Users mistyped their email address while signing up
  • Users deliberately gave an incorrect email address

Obviously, low deliverability rates mean a large chunk of your email recipients aren’t getting to see your emails. People can’t open emails they never see and they certainly can’t complete the next conversion goal you’re targeting – none of which is good for performance.

The biggest deliverability problem is ending up in users’ spam folders because this happens when internet service providers (ISPs) consider yo or your email untrustworthy.

If this is happening a lot, you’ve got yourself a deliverability problem that’s going to require a bit of work to fix.

What is email engagement & why is it important?

Email engagement refers to how/if recipients interact with the emails you send them. Assuming your emails actually land in users’ inboxes, open rates are the first indication of email engagement and then you’re going to start looking at click-through rates as an indicator that people are interacting with your email content.

Ultimately, the most important engagement metric is conversion rates (after the initial click through to your site) but you’ll learn a lot about email engagement by using heatmaps to see what users are doing after they open your mails – a crucial tactic for optimising your way to increased engagement.

Why are we looking at deliverability and engagement in this article?

It’s important to understand that ISPs look at engagement factors when they’re assessing the trustworthiness of your emails. Essentially, if you’ve got a history of low email engagement, this means your future emails are more likely to end up in the spam folder, reducing deliverability even further.

This results in a boomerang negative effect because reduced deliverability then means fewer recipients are able to engage with your emails, which goes on to cause even more damage to deliverability – and so on.

This is why it’s important to optimise for both deliverability and engagement.

How to maximise email deliverability

Deliverability is all about getting your email into users’ inboxes, not their spam folders. Hopefully, it goes without saying that you should avoid email spam tactics, such as cold emailing and buying email lists. But there’s a lot more you can do to maximise email deliverability.

Optimise your subject lines for deliverability

The first thing you want to master is creating email subject lines that avoid spam filters and convince people to open your emails. Here are some key things to avoid:

  • Using spam trigger words
  • Using all caps
  • Overusing exclamation points
  • Deceptive subject lines
  • Using “Re:” or “Fwd:”
  • Overly long subject lines
  • Keyword stuffing

HubSpot has this useful list of spam trigger words to avoid in your subject lines, which is a handy resource to get familiar with. Aside from that, make sure your subject lines are honest, relevant to the content in your emails and avoid the common spam triggers.

Avoid spam triggers in your email content

There are also a number of spam triggers you want to avoid in the main body of your email content as well:

  • Content doesn’t match your subject line
  • Using attachments
  • High image-to-text ratio
  • Excessive use of font, font styles and colour variations
  • Lack of business/contact details (business name, address, phone number, etc.)
  • No unsubscribe link
  • Poor HTML markup

Thankfully, with so many email design tools available these days, you have access to all kinds of email templates that offer practical examples of what your own emails should look like.

Above all, avoiding deceptive tactics and following email design best practices should have you covered. However, it’s a good idea to create an in-house style guide of dos and don’ts for everyone involved in your email marketing strategy.

Use quality email marketing software

Quality email marketing software will help you create emails and campaigns that land in users’ inboxes. You want a platform that comes with plenty of email templates, a solid email builder and a good set of email automation features will help you achieve the highest deliverability and other KPIs.

It’s also important to go with a reputable email marketing platform because ISPs pick up on this, which can trigger those pesky spam filters. We use ActiveCampaign for its excellent email automation features and you can find out more about the top 10 email marketing platforms in our guide.

On a related note, you may experience a drop in deliverability if you change to a new email marketing provider, so it’s worth trying to choose the right tool from day one.

Build up your IP reputation

Internet service providers (ISPs) look at the IP of every incoming email to assess how trustworthy they are. This process considers your historical performance as an email sender, which means you can be published for past mistakes. It also means you can build up your IP reputation over time and gradually increase deliverability by following best practices.

Start by checking your sending reputation by using tools like Google’s Postmaster Tools, TrustedSource.org or Sender Score and follow the other steps we’re looking at in this article to improve your reputation.

Use a double opt-in system

A double opt-in system sends an email to subscribers, asking them to confirm their email address and this can help deliverability in a number of ways. First of all, it confirms you’ve got a real email address from users, rather than a fake or deceptive address that would otherwise hurt your deliverability efforts.

Double opt-in also increase your engagement prospects (which, in turn, boosts deliverability) because it requires people to confirm their interest and desire to engage with your brand. Your email lists will be shorter than they could be by using a single opt-in system but they’ll be filled with more valuable leads.

Crucially, double opt-ins are compliant with European anti-spam laws and the CAN-SPAM Act in the US.

Make unsubscribing easy

GDPR requires you to implement an easy unsubscribe option on your emails and ISPs also want to see an unsubscribe link in your mails. Also, for the sake of your users, it’s important to have an accessible unsubscribe button. While it might be tempting to try and hide these buttons or place tiny unsubscribe links at the bottom of your emails, it’s actually beneficial to make them more prominent.

It’s much better to have people unsubscribing from your email lists than them flagging your emails as spam.

The key thing is to determine why people unsubscribe (usually irrelevant or unengaging email content) and improve your campaigns to reduce unsubscribes rates further down the line.

Be consistent with your sender info

This one is relatively simple: be honest, accurate and consistent with your sender information. This not only helps ISPs confirm your ID and verify your trustworthiness, but also builds trust with your recipients.

Create an exclusion list

An exclusion list is a segmented email list where you can place inactive recipients so you don’t keep sending them emails. If you keep sending emails to these people and they continue to ignore them, you’re going to hurt your engage and deliverability performance – a nasty catch-22 to get involved in.

So, create an exclusion list and place inactive users here. You can send a low volume of re-engagement emails to try and get them back on board if you want, but you don’t want to be sending these people emails at the same rate as your engaged recipients.

Maximise email engagement

Although this section is geared towards deliverability, I’ve mentioned engagement a few times and this is because the two intrinsically linked. People can’t engage with emails they never see and ISPs look at email engagement as a warning sign that your emails could be spam.

So low engagement rates hurt deliverability and poor deliverability hurts engagement. Which leads us nicely into our next section of this article.

How to maximise email engagement

With email deliverability covered, it’s time to look at maximising engagement. Not only is this an important factor in deliverability, it’s also crucial if you’re going to get profitable results from your email marketing results.

Optimise for open rates – a crucial KPI

The most important engagement for ISPs is open rates and these are pretty damn important for your campaigns too. People aren’t going to see your messages if they don’t open your email to begin with and low open rates are going to hurt your deliverability prospects.

Low open rates normally mean one of two things: the content in your emails isn’t of interest to recipients or your subject lines aren’t compelling them to open – perhaps both.

There are four things you need to cover here:

  1. Email content: Your email content needs to relevant, useful and valuable enough for recipients to want to open and engage with.
  2. Targeting: Different recipients have different interests and you need to be able to target them with content that captures their unique interests.
  3. Subject lines: Your subject lines need to convince recipients that your emails are worth opening.
  4. Preheader text: This is the snippet of text users see in preview boxes and notifications, which has a major influence on open rates.

Optimising for open rates should naturally cover a lot of the email marketing essentials and things will get easier as time goes by. Once recipients know that you’re a reliable source of quality email content, they’ll continue to open with little resistance – as long as you can maintain your reputation.

Segment your campaigns

In terms of targeting, segmenting your campaigns is vital for maximising open rates and other engagement KPIs – not to mention conversions and everything else that matters in email marketing.

As soon as prospects sign up to your lead generation strategies, they should be placed on a relevant segmented list and moved along as you gain more information about their needs and purchase interests.

Generally speaking, the more relevant you can be with your segmented campaigns, the stringer your engagement metrics will be.

Create automated workflows

Your prospects’ interests change over time and great email marketing strategies react to user actions that indicate these changes in interests. For example, one of your leads might start filling out one of your web forms but fail to complete it, which prevents them from that next conversion goal.

Or, one of your existing customers might start looking at another product page repeatedly and reading blog content associated with it, suggesting they’re interested in making an additional purchase.

By creating automated email workflows, you can send relevant emails to these users when they complete actions that confirm their interest, rather than just sending them out to broad audiences and hoping for the best.

This form of behavioural targeting will really help you maximise engagement and conversions. For more ideas on what kind of email marketing workflow s you could implement, take a look at our list of 30+ automation workflows that you can use right now.

Create highly-engaging emails

We recently published an article looking at 11 secrets of designing emails that convert and all of the principles we covered in that article will help you design highly-engaging emails:

  • Compelling messages
  • Strong layouts
  • High-converting CTAs
  • Deliverability
  • Design and email marketing tools
  • Maximising incentive

Take a look at that article and bookmark it for later reference when creating new email marketing campaigns.

Use personalisation to boost relevance

Personalisation is a powerful tool for maximising both deliverability and engagement. High-end email marketing platforms like ActiveCampaign allow you to personalise subject lines, preheader text, email content and website messages after users click through to your website.

Test out different applications of personalisation to find the right balance between maximum engagement and being too personal.

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Maximising deliverability and engagement makes all the difference

By maximising deliverability and engagement in your email marketing campaigns, you’re giving your content the best chance of encouraging recipients to take the next step along the customer journey. These two KPIs are directly linked but optimising for them will also take care of most of your other email marketing priorities by default – e.g.: segmenting campaigns, optimising your content, etc.

Great email marketing strategies start with maximising deliverability and engagement and getting on top of these two performance essentials will transform the results you get.

Aaron Brooks is a copywriter & digital strategist specialising in helping agencies & software companies find their voice in a crowded space.

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