Six email deliverability lessons learned from SEO

Search engine optimisation and email marketing are two completely different parts of online marketing mix.

One might say that email marketing is the last resort of the online domain where SEO has no role.

But the two aren’t totally unrelated, so what can you learn from SEO to improve your deliverability?

Six email deliverability lessons learned from SEOWeb versions aside, emails obviously can’t be publicly indexed by Google. So you don’t have to heavily optimise your emailings for search engines. And when it comes to email deliverability you can just ignore SEO.

Or can you? While it may be true that search engines don’t index emails (yet), that doesn’t mean there aren’t any lessons email marketers can learn from SEO.

Here’s six techniques borrowed from SEO that’ll help you improve your email deliverability:

1. Keep your coding simple

Search engines are not able to crawl flash content, and often have trouble with other types of coding like JavaScript. Email clients work in the same way, most of them don’t accept any form of scripting.

The majority of the clients aren’t able to load emails that are composed with scripts. Scripts can also result in email delivery issues.

That’s why you have to keep it simple. When building an email template, steer away from JavaScript and stick to HTML. If you have to use CSS, make sure you do it the right way.

If you personalise emails, make sure that once the email is sent, it is fully rendered in HTML, for instance by using an email friendly mail merge language like Smarty.

Also, always include a text version of your newsletter for email clients that aren’t even able to read HTML.

2. Use pre headers

Any smart content producer or webmaster will create meta descriptions for their web pages, allowing search engines to give their users a sneak peek of the content in their search results. Although meta descriptions might not directly influence a website’s page ranking anymore, they do play an important role in increasing the click through rate from the search engine to your pages.

In email there is the pre header or email snippet, it’s like the meta description of your email. This is the text someone sees in the inbox, underneath or next to the subject line. When left blank, the pre header will show something like:

  • Can’t read this email? Open the web version.
  • You are receiving this email because you signed up for...  

This of course will not help improve your email open rate. But when set up correctly, an appealing pre header can invite the recipient to open your email, increasing your open rate and thus improving your email send reputation.

3. Find a good balance between images and text

In SEO text is more effective better than images because search engines are unable to recognise the content of an image. But if you use the right images, it can add a lot to your content. The same goes for email, images and visual stimuli can add a lot of emotion to your emails.

Using too many images and too little text in an email can however lead to email delivery issues, because email clients aren’t able to recognise the content in your email and are more likely to filter it.

Keep the text versus images ratio balanced. And if you use images, don’t forget to add alt and title tags to your HTML source.

4. Choose your keywords wisely

Choosing the right keywords is one of the most important factors in SEO. The same goes for email deliverability, as many email clients use these words to determine whether you might be a potential spammer.

Avoid profanities at all cost, and although this is a discussion point in email deliverability land, it is advised to monitor deliverability closely when using words like ‘free’ or ‘special offer’ in your email’s subject line.  

5. Be recognisable

Authorship mark-up is one of the SEO new kids on the block that’s making a name for itself pretty fast. Content producers are claiming authorship to their content in increasing numbers, claiming articles in Google for their articles. Recognised authorship is expected to be one of the key SEO drivers in the near future, and author portraits in the search results are already boosting click through rates.

When it comes to email marketing, being recognisable is even more important. In email, reputation is everything and for a receiving party to be able to check your identity, you should always set up your authentication data correctly.

6. Be relevant

Last but certainly not least. All techniques aside, the best way to get a good page ranking is to produce relevant content. Google and other search engines are always improving their algorithms to be able to serve their users the right search results. So as long as your main focus is adding value, in the long run that is the best SEO strategy possible.

The same goes for email marketing. Relevancy is the most valuable asset you have to improve your email deliverability. When you send relevant content, recipients won’t hit the ‘Mark as spam’ button.

Relevant content also ensures that people will open your emails, improving your email reputation and in the end, your conversions.

Michael Linthorst

Published 25 March, 2013 by Michael Linthorst

Michael Linthorst is CEO at Copernica Marketing Software and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Michael on Twitter or Google Plus

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Comments (6)

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Intersting spotso nic egreat!

over 5 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

Relevancy is indeed the name of the game. You need to give people a real reason to open your emails, just like there needs to be a real reason for your site to do well in the SERPs for a particular search query. Who are you trying to reach and what exactly do you want them to do?

over 5 years ago

Gemma Holloway

Gemma Holloway, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

It's quite interesting that such small changes can make such large impacts in conversion rate. Just goes to show the importance of checking.

It would be quite interesting to know if these rules are transferable across the majority of industries. For example, my guesses are conversion rate would be much less if your target audience was digital marketers.

Great Post Michael!

over 5 years ago

Dan Brotzel

Dan Brotzel, managing editor at Sticky Content

Should we also factor in inbox search? Subscribers looking to retrieve an email days or weeks after sending may do so using keywords via the search function of their email client. Such people tend to have high intent to purchase/engage.

over 5 years ago

Michael Linthorst

Michael Linthorst, CEO at Copernica Marketing Software

@ Nick: Relevancy is indeed the most important asset to get recipients to open your emails and to boost your conversion.

@ Gemma: Thanks! I believe that, as long as your content is relevant, these tips are transferable across industries.

@ Dan: Good point! Using relevant keywords can indeed help with that. Also, in the future Google wil probably include Gmail inboxes in their search results:

over 5 years ago


Emily Norgaard, Personal at Lorman Education

Nice tips. With Gmail rolling out their new unsubscribe button, deliverability is becoming more and more difficult. If you want to learn more, consider attending this webinar.

over 4 years ago

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