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June 26, 2012

The True Measure of Deliverability

Many email marketers today define and measure “deliverability” or “email deliverability” in different ways.

Some measure deliverability by determining the number of messages that were accepted by ISPs, regardless of whether the messages were placed in the Inbox or the Bulk folder. In practice, this is the percentage of emails that did not bounce. You may have seen claims of a “deliverability rate of over 90%.” These are usually based on this kind of statistic, which is what the Email Experience Council (EEC), in standardizing email metrics, defines as the “Accepted Rate,” not the deliverability rate.

Others, when referring to “deliverability” mean the percentage of emails placed into the Inbox, often measured by a seed-list based deliverability monitoring system. The EEC defines the “Inbox Placement Rate” as “The ratio of emails that are delivered specifically to the recipient’s inbox divided by the total emails sent.” This is what is meant when referring to Deliverability or the Deliverability Rate – the emails that actually reach the inbox.

(The EEC’s terms can be found here:

Delivery into the Inbox is the key to getting your email read and acted upon. Simply tracking the Accepted Rate does not effectively measure that. Just because an email was accepted by an ISP and not bounced back, does not mean it was delivered to the Inbox. The wise email marketer will also measure the Inbox Placement Rate as a key email metric.

Deliverability is determined by an examination of multiple factors, collected over time, as to whether an email sent will end up in a recipient’s Inbox. And with more recent filtering techniques and methods used by Hotmail and Gmail, as an example, there are even sub -levels of Inbox delivery that will place a message in the “Important” area, categorized based on engagement factors or whether an email appears to be a newsletter.

Even though email marketing has been around for a long time now, many marketers, especially at the executive level, seem to still believe that what works in print mail marketing will also work in email. They believe that sending out a “blast” of email to a list of addresses accumulated over many months or even years, or purchased from a “reputable” source will result in the best ROI. But that mindset does not focus on email deliverability.

With print mail, you send a piece through the Post Office or other physical method and are mostly guaranteed that that piece will be delivered to the intended recipient, unless the recipient does not reside at that address, in which case your mail is returned.

This method is still frequently used by marketers in the email world, assuming the success seen in print mail will also be seen via email. The difference is that the Post Office does not penalize you on future delivery attempts if your print mail is undeliverable, or is thrown away, torn up in anger, not read or even if the recipient complains. Their job is to deliver the mail and they don’t
care if the recipient reads it or even wants it at all.

Now imagine your local postal carrier getting a batch of mail put in his truck and then going through each piece of your mail about to be put in your mailbox and determining, based on experience, which is junk mail and which is legitimate, discarding the junk mail and only putting the good mail into your mailbox. As a customer you might like this. As a marketer you would not, and you would likely change how you went about sending your marketing materials. That analogy better describes the process that happens to an email marketing piece you send.

Continuing with this analogy, with email the ISPs are the final mail carrier with the task of delivering your email to the designated address. With millions of emails received each hour for delivery at the largest ISPs, their job is to do their best to keep unwanted email (Spam) from reaching their subscribers. Over the years they have become much better and more efficient at doing this. There are many factors that an ISP will use to determine what they deem worthy of being delivered to the inbox or whether it is relegated to the lowly junk/bulk folder or bounced back as “blocked due to spam.”

Ultimately, deliverability is whether your email reaches the inbox of your subscriber, giving your message its best opportunity to be read and acted upon. Because the rules are different in email than postal mail, your approach must be different to ensure deliverability and the best response.

One way to help you determine whether your email has been delivered to the Inbox is by utilizing a deliverability monitoring tool like GreenArrow Monitor. It gives you a clear picture of what percentage of your campaign was delivered to the Inbox, Junk/Bulk folder or Missing (i.e. blocked).

As mentioned above, there are many factors that go into determining what reaches the Inbox. A deliverability consultant can discuss these factors with you to determine what works best. Stay tuned for future articles about reaching the Inbox. Until then, best of deliverability to you.

DRH Internet provides the Email Delivery product suite GreenArrow, which is enterprise level and high volume email sending software capable of sending up to 1 million messages per hour from a single server. GreenArrow Monitor is the Deliverability Monitoring product that maximizes the ability for your transactional and marketing emails to reach the inbox. Visit them today at