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Burnt Hand Deliverability Practices: An Email Remediation Plan

Brands tend not to spend much time thinking about their deliverability until it’s an inferno and many of their emails are being blocked. Faced with huge losses of revenue and engagement, brands then race to assemble an email remediation plan and try to do the right things to get back in the good graces of inbox providers and blocklist operators.

Don’t wait until you have deliverability problems to do the right things. Instead, learn from your peers who neglected their email lists and infrastructure and watched them go up in flames.

In the course of doing our 2017 State of Email Deliverability research, we noticed an interesting pattern: Many of the technologies and behaviors that are known to improve deliverability are actually used at higher rates by brands that have been blocklisted in the past 12 months than by brands that haven’t been. These behaviors include:

  • Using an email address verification service
  • Using SPF authentication
  • Using DKIM authentication
  • Using DMARC authentication
  • Using encryption
  • Using spam filter testing
  • Sending reengagement campaigns
  • Sending win-back campaigns
  • Removing chronically inactive subscribers
  • Using deliverability monitoring
  • Using third-party deliverability monitoring tools or services

This makes sense, as those are all potential parts of a good deliverability remediation plan that you’d use to recover from a blocklisting.

But this is more than a remediation plan checklist. It’s a checklist for deliverability success and the safeguarding of future email marketing revenue. That’s because marketers who describe their email programs as successful are more likely than less successful programs to use each of those tools and tactics.

So don’t wait until you’ve had your hand burnt by a deliverability meltdown. Set your email program up for success by learning from those who have been through that unpleasant and costly experience, and from those who have built successful email programs on a foundation of solid deliverability practices.

How to Avoid Getting Burned

Here’s a closer look at each of the behaviors and tools that are part of a good remediation plan and help ensure deliverability success:

Email Address Verification

On average, 28.8% of brands use an email address verification service to check that the new addresses that they’re adding to their list are formatted properly, don’t contain any common domain name typos, and more. Having bad email addresses on your list results in high hard bounce rates, which can get you flagged as a spammer by inbox providers.

However, brands that have been blocklisted recently are 41% more likely than companies that haven’t been to use email address verification services (35.3% vs. 25.1%). Moreover, marketers who describe their email programs as successful are 45% more likely than less successful programs to use these services (34.7% vs. 23.9%).

Email Address Verification Usage


Brands should use all three authentication methods available to them—Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC)—as they each do something different. The first two help identify the sender and the domains that can send email on behalf of that sender, and the third tells inbox providers what to do with mail that fails SPF and DKIM checks.

Among brands that have been blocklisted in the past year, 78.2% use SPF authentication (vs. 69.2% of brands that haven’t been blocklisted recently); 75.6% use DKIM authentication (vs. 66.0%); and 53.9% use DMARC authentication (vs. 46.1%).

Email Authentication Adoption


In-transit encryption doesn’t have a direct effect on deliverability (yet), but unencrypted emails are flagged with a red unlocked padlock in Gmail, so it’s a trust factor. That, along with its alignment with authentication, is surely why encryption is popular among brands that have been blocklisted recently.

Recently blocklisted brands are 67.2% more likely than other brands to encrypt their emails (29.0% vs. 17.3%). And successful email programs are nearly twice as likely to use encryption (24.6% vs. 12.9%).

Email Encryption Adoption

Spam Filter Testing

These tools, like Litmus Spam Testing, let marketers see how spam filters will react to their emails before they send them to their list. This allows them to make adjustments and address any warnings or red flags that are raised.

More than 61% of brands that have been blocklisted in the past 12 months use spam filter testing, compared to 58.8% of brands that haven’t been blocklisted recently. Plus, successful email programs are 24% more likely to use spam filter testing (61.0% vs. 49.3%).

Spam Filter Testing Usage

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Inactivity Management

In the Third Age of Deliverability, subscribers have to not only tolerate a brand’s emails, they have to at least occasionally engage with them. This is particularly true at Gmail, which pioneered engagement-based filtering.

As a result, it is an absolute necessity to manage your inactive email subscribers. Brands can indirectly address the problem with win-back campaigns that target inactive customers. Nearly 45% of brands that have been blocklisted in the past 12 months send win-back campaigns to customers who haven’t made a purchase in a long time, compared to 41.1% of brands that haven’t been blocklisted recently.

However, a much more direct way to address inactive subscribers is to send reengagement campaigns to subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked an email in a long while, with the goal of getting them to simply open or click an email. Since reengagement emails are a better remedy than win-back emails for inactive subscribers, brands that have been recently blocklisted are more likely to send reengagement campaigns (54.5% vs. 46.9%).

If reengagement efforts fail, then eventually chronically inactive subscribers have to be removed from a brand’s active mailing list. This is a psychologically painful act, as no marketer likes to see their list shrink. This is why less than half of brands cut chronically inactive subscribers.

However, this tends to be a financially painless act, as these subscribers aren’t generating revenue via email since they’re not opening or clicking. In fact, the improvements in deliverability and slightly lower sending costs generally increase email revenue. That’s why brands that have been blocklisted recently are 17.3% more likely to cut inactives (63.2% vs. 53.9%), and why successful email programs are 24% more likely to do so (59.0% vs. 47.6%).

Removing Chronically Inactive Subscribers

Deliverability Monitoring

Lastly, brands that have experienced a blocklisting recently are more likely than those that haven’t to monitor their deliverability (84.2% vs. 79.6%). It makes sense that if you’ve had problems with your deliverability, you’d monitor it more closely.

There’s an even more marked difference when it comes to the monitoring tools used. While the deliverability monitoring provided by email service providers dominates, brands that have been blocklisted in the past 12 months are 85% more likely to use third-party deliverability monitoring tools or services (60.1% vs. 32.4%).

Deliverability Monitoring

Learn from Others’ Mistakes

Getting blocked and blocklisted is painful and costly. Don’t wait until your brand suffers serious problems before adopting a deliverability remediation plan. Proactively adopt the behaviors and tools that can help you avoid trouble. Learn from those who have already been burned by a blocklisting and be sure to…

  • Use email address verification
  • Authenticate and encrypt your emails
  • Do spam filter testing
  • Manage your inactive subscribers
  • Monitor your deliverability rate

In addition, as part of any email remediation plan, be sure to examine how you build your email list, as our research also found that some subscriber acquisition sources are highly problematic and are closely associated with deliverability problems.

2017 State of Email Deliverability

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