Email Deliverability Is Like Going On Holiday

As an email marketing consultant I’ve lost count of the number of times I’m asked why an email marketing message ends up in the junk folder. The questioner usually wants to know whether we can guarantee that emails are not seen as spam.

There is, unfortunately, never a straightforward answer.

There are countless things that will play a part in deciding whether the messages you send will end up in a particular recipient’s junk folder but principally, there are three main areas we need to consider: reputation, authentication and content.

We’re all going on a summer holiday…

In my efforts to answer these questions, I often use the simple analogy of booking a flight and checking in at an airport, so I thought I’d try it out here on the blog too:


In today’s modern world, airport security is incredibly tight. When you buy your ticket online, the airline will ask you a wide variety of questions about who you are and what you have done in the past. It will also search its own databases to see where you have travelled in the past and using all these answers, it will help to determine whether the airline should sell you a ticket or not and even whether they should reward you for your loyalty.

These questions are not dissimilar from what an ISP is going to ask you as a sender. They’ll look at your sending history, how many spam complaints you have had, how users have treated your emails in the past and whether you have clean recipient lists. The ISP in question will use all the answers it can find to these questions to decide what it should do with your emails.


Some email service providers will simply allow you to enter the email address you want to send from and you can then start sending right away. The problem is that you aren’t really sending from this address. The ESP is actually just sending your email normally from one of their domains and is ‘masking’ the address so that to the recipient it looks as though the email has come from you.

However, ISPs can see right through this and to them it looks suspicious. They can do a quick DNS look-up to see that the email address is not authorised to send from the ESP’s server.

It’s a bit like turning up to the airport with your name on the ticket, but with someone else’s passport!

Much like at passport control, an ISP will see this discrepancy between the sending address and the actual sender and will treat the email with caution and therefore may put the message into the junk folder or even just delete it.

Not only does this affect your deliverability, it can also lead to your domain being blacklisted. If this happens, it could cause all email sent from this domain (e.g. transactional or day-to-day staff emails, not just marketing messages) to have deliverability problems which could be a disaster for your company.

Here at dotMailer, we will never mask your email address but will fully authenticate any address you wish to send from.

We’ll create a new email address for you that has all the relevant encryptions (SPF records, Domain Keys and Sender ID) – a bit like having a valid, up-to-date passport or visa. Also, by using a domain name that is different from your company domain – e.g., you are protecting all the other emails marketing messages that your company sends in case something ever goes wrong.


Perhaps the most frustrating part of travelling by air is going through airport security. You have your ticket, your passport and visa is up-to-date, but you now need to make sure that all the luggage you have meets the strict guidance laid down by the airport authorities. Is your bag the right size, have you remembered to remove any sharp objects, are your liquids all 100ml or less?

The content of your email will be subjected to similar checks by ISPs. Are you using spammy language, how is your image to text ratio, what is your subject line like, is your template in the correct format? You will only be allowed into the inbox (or onto the plane) if you pass with flying colours.

Jumping the queues

For frequent flyers, there are often premiere flying clubs you can join to bypass long check-in lines or security checks. Wouldn’t it be great if the same was true with email and there was an express check-in tool that took you straight to the inbox? Well, you might be interested to hear that it does exist, and it’s called email certification.


There are a number of companies out there that can help you bypass any issues you might encounter. Two such companies are Returnpath and Goodmail. These companies can help you bypass the checks above and take you straight to the inbox with additional fringe benefits.

To take advantage of these benefits you will need to meet certain criteria, just like you would if you wanted frequent flyer perks. The criterion includes frequency of send, quality of data and also number of complaints. If you can satisfy these, then certification is for you and no longer will you have to wait in the dreaded queues. If you think this could be useful for you, then let us know and we can tell you more about it.

Up, up and away

So there you have it! We all hate traipsing through airports and many email marketers find deliverability to be equally problematic, but if you stick to the rules and check everything before you send, your messages will hit the inbox and give you the best opportunity to get impressive returns.

picture credits

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