Social media updates, email newsletters, promotions and vouchers for subscribers’ favourite shops and services and other requested marketing emails are increasingly being pegged as spam by ISPs and consumers because email marketers are not following best practice.


Return Path’s Email Deliverability Benchmark Report found one in eight emails requested by consumers from companies goes missing completely – not delivered to subscribers’ spam folders or inboxes, but blocked by ISPs before reaching their subscribers – compared to one in nine in December 2009.

A key issue for any email marketer is how many of their emails are reaching consumers’ inboxes and being read. However, too many are still focusing on how many didn’t bounce, which gives the marketer a completely false perception of the success of their email campaigns.

Marketers first need to accurately measure their email campaign performance or demand accurate metrics from their email broadcast providers to show how many emails are actually reaching the inbox, rather than how many didn’t bounce. Only then can they begin fixing their email reputation, which governs whether an email is routed to the inbox, the spam folder or to oblivion by ISPs.

The good news for marketers is that achieving improved inbox deliverability is completely within their own control. Here are four tips to avoid spam filters and ultimately get emails read by consumers:

  • Target customers with relevant emails. Batch and blast email programs that send the same thing to everyone don’t cut it today, especially with the introduction of user-level filtering at Hotmail and Gmail. Showing value to subscribers is absolutely necessary and that requires a clear-cut strategy for doing so, rather than a make-it-up-as-you-go approach.
  • Give consumers an opt-out. Allowing subscribers the opportunity to unsubscribe naturally and easily limits the chances of subscribers complaining to their ISP about the emails they receive and reporting the message as spam, one of the main reasons ISPs will block senders’ future emails.
  • Use win-back campaigns. This is a cheap and easy way of bringing consumers back to the brand, re-engaging with them and extending the value from their subscription lifespan.
  • Clean-up sender lists. This includes bad email addresses in the form of unknown users and spam traps, accounts that no longer exist or have been blacklisted by ISPs forcing emails to bounce back to the sender.
  • Unclean data must be regularly removed from marketers’ databases. Senders who generate high volumes of bounce backs – or just one spam trap – risk having their messages blocked by ISPs, thus damaging their email reputation.

Best practice exists for a reason: to differentiate between legitimate marketing emails that should be routed to subscribers’ inboxes and the barrage of illegal spam that ISPs must fight to protect their customers from on a daily basis.

Until marketers comply and continuously monitor their deliverability rates, tidy up their email address lists, start to implement win-back campaigns and act upon their consumers’ unsubscribe requests, many of their sent emails will continue to go undelivered meaning consumers will be increasingly unable to deliver revenue to their business.

Margaret Farmakis

Published 19 October, 2010 by Margaret Farmakis

Margaret Farmakis is Senior Director of Strategy Consulting at Return Path and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (2)



A lot of the problem is spam though, if in boxes didn't get filled with real spam then genuine marketing emails wont get through, i love my Ebuyer marketing emails, but i don't want the 100 emails from a hollywood acting agency filling my inbox.

I always look for an un subscribe button when i get what i see as spam but it that isnt an obvious button at the bottom of the page, then the spam button is being hit!

over 7 years ago


Andrew Abram, Strategy Consultant at Adestra

This report highlights the sad fact that many organisations are not covering the fundamentals in email marketing – with the focus on deliverability and data quality being at the top. It concurs with our independent research conducted by Adestra and Econsultancy, the Email Marketing Industry Census 2010, which found the proportion of companies having problems reaching recipients’ inboxes has increased from 51% last year to 54%.

Where does your email really go?

The ability to report, track and respond to your recipients actions makes email a phenomenal and incredibly powerful marketing tool. Technology and reporting are continuing to improve, yet many people still rely on the “delivered” figure in their ESP to tell them how many people received their email. As important and fairly accurate as this is, what if your email is going into the junk folder, or the server is not sending a bounceback?

ReturnPath’s Mailbox Monitor tool is extremely powerful in telling you exactly what is going on with your email send. Simply by seeding your emails to Mailbox Monitor we at Adestra can monitor “inbox placement” for our clients so we know when their email is going to junk or going missing. From there, your ESP should work with you to find out why emails are not being delivered and advise on improving deliverability.

over 7 years ago

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