Beware of ‘averages’ - sometimes they hide more truth than they reveal.

The quarterly National Email Benchmarketing Report is a useful tool for stirring debate but I often think the results hide more than they reveal.

This quarter’s report says that delivery rates have fallen to 68% for customer acquisition and by 80% for retention.

I guess it depends who’s counting: one well known online fashion etailer I know is seeing a 99.5% delivery rate. Other companies with less robust ‘list hygiene’ and permission policies may well be seeing deliverability levels well south of that.

For me this largely illustrates the problem with ‘benchmarks’. The only way to truly benchmark your current deliverability performance is to compare it to your past deliverability record: is that going up or down? Averages of a moveable group of disparate marketers will only serve to obscure the reality

Other research shows that the overall volume of email people get has actually declined slightly, so perhaps it’s the case that while ISPs and consumers have become more savvy about how they filter email, those sending them out aren’t moving at the same pace. 

I work with a large pool of email marketers - this cross section, a group that embraces best practice, tend to maintain much higher deliverability rates.

Yes, there will be blips as one or other ISP or email gatekeeper changes the rules (as they do from time to time), but these should be dealt with as they arise and – assuming best practice – the deliverability rates should return to their previous levels.
Best practice dictates that first of all you should gain permission to send someone an email and this excludes most types of acquisition campaigns.

You should then make sure you’re sending them what they signed up for. You should keep your communications relevant and recipient-focused.

If you also help them to whitelist you then deliverability should not be a problem.

On the other hand, if you’re blasting out emails as a low cost acquisition tool with little knowledge of the person you’re sending it to, you should not be surprised if the number of emails delivered continues to fall. That’s kind of the point.

Michael Weston is the MD of