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The Difference Between Deliverability and Delivery Rate


“How’s our deliverability doing? Oh, it’s really strong—we’ve seen a delivery rate of 98% for the last few email campaigns, with only a small handful of bounces.” If you ever heard someone say this sentence, you’ve witnessed someone fall for the most common misconception about deliverability.

Deliverability is not the same as delivery rate. Even if the latter is healthy, you can still have issues with the former.

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The biggest mix-up we see when we talk to customers is that deliverability is discussed in terms of delivery rate. This simply isn’t true. Delivery rate is a valuable metric to consider, but it is not the same as deliverability. Let’s set the record straight:

  • Delivery tells you whether or not your emails were received by the servers of your subscribers’ inbox providers. An email counts as delivered if it did not bounce. So your delivery rate is the percentage of the number of emails delivered divided by the number of emails sent.
  • Deliverability is where your message lands if your subscriber does receive your email. It’s based on your domain’s setup, authentication, and reputation—so if something goes wrong, the burden is on your shoulders.

So what does this mean? Even if your delivery rate looks healthy—you see few bounces and most of your emails are being delivered—it’s still possible that your emails never make it to the inbox. Mailbox providers might have received your message but then decide to place your email into the spam folder. Even with a stellar delivery rate you can still have deliverability issues.

But how do you know how you’re performing in terms of deliverability then? Your email service provider (ESP) typically doesn’t have insight into deliverability, and individual internet service providers (ISPs) can be almost impossible to get in contact with. To reduce the stress of deliverability and spam complaints as much as possible, it’s important to focus on both pre- and post-send deliverability. Think of them as the yin and yang of spam prevention: they do different things but work together to create a complete picture of your email’s deliverability.

Preventing Issues with Pre-Send Deliverability Checks

Deliverability can be really difficult to understand and because of that, it’s intimidating to a lot of email marketers. According to our research, 78% of marketers monitor their email deliverability, but only 28% of them use third-party tools to do so.

With a lack of insight from ESPs, most marketers simply don’t have insight into their email’s deliverability and, as a result, really have no idea whether or not their emails are going to spam. Too often, marketers only learn about a deliverability issue when they start to see a drop in campaign performance. Litmus customer GasBuddy had this happen to them, and only noticed because a test email went to everyone’s spam folder. But what exactly went wrong?

“The domain we use to send email through had expired. Imagine that? It’s probably the last thing I would’ve considered at the start of this whirlwind.”

Melanie Kinney, Email Marketing Manager at GasBuddy

Their expired domain caused GasBuddy to end up on a blocklist and, understandably, they were at a loss for how to fix the problem quickly. From blocklistings to issues with your infrastructure—like an expired domain—to content, there are a lot of things that can cause your email to be delivered to the spam folder, but it can be difficult to keep up with. Plus, many of the resources online can leave you even more confused. If you wait until after a problem arises, you might not have the ability or tools internally to handle the issue, and outsourcing to a contractor or other service might be a huge financial investment.

Make it to the inbox—not the spam folder—with Litmus Spam Testing

Using a tool like Litmus Spam Testing can help flag these issues and give you actionable advice to fix them before you hit send. Even if you aren’t a deliverability expert, pre-send deliverability tools can help you take control of your deliverability and take the necessary steps to improve it if you find yourself in trouble.

“It took us less than 48 hours to identify and fix our issue, and to get removed from the blocklists. Without Litmus, we wouldn’t have known where to start.”

Melanie Kinney, Email Marketing Manager at GasBuddy

Take control and own your emails’ deliverability health. Identify issues that may prevent emails from being delivered—discover if you’ve been blocklisted, validate your email authentication, and get actionable advice on how to fix issues before you send.

Improve your email’s deliverability →

Karina Sanchez Gudino

Karina Sanchez Gudino

Karina Sanchez Gudino is a Senior Manager, Account Management at Litmus