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Why the One Key Email Metric You’re Ignoring is Derailing Your Campaigns

September 7, 2016
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When it comes to email marketing, it seems like open rate and click through rate get all the attention. Everyone is concerned with how these two metrics stack up against the industry average – so much so that many email service providers ensure that these two metrics are front and center within their analytics dashboard. However, while these two metrics have been taking center stage the past few years, there is one important metric that has remained in the dark: delivery rate.

…and NOT for good reason might I add. The reason is simple: Many marketers regard open and click-through rate as “sexier” than delivery rate. After all, they communicate how many people actually opened and read the email you took hours to craft. Well here’s a wake up call: those “sexier” metrics wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the delivery rate. Think about it – how many people would be able to open and click through your emails if they never landed in their inbox in the first place? Zilch!

As you can see, delivery rate is not an email metric to be ignored. As a collective of email marketers, let’s work together to give delivery rate the attention it deserves! But first, let’s learn a little bit more about it:

Delivery Rate: How It Works & Why It Matters

The delivery rate of an email is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the percentage of emails sent that actually landed in the recipient’s inbox. Simple enough right?

To calculate the delivery rate of an email, you subtract the number of hard and soft bounces from the total number of emails sent, then divide that number by the total number of emails sent. Little bit tricker, I know, but I’ll explain in a bit.

So why does delivery rate matter? To put it simply, your delivery rate sets the stage for the success (or failure. Eek!) of the entire email campaign. In order to engage a customer or prospect with an email, it first needs to land in their inbox. If it doesn’t make it to their inbox, then all the time, love, and care you put into crafting that email is useless.

And with approximately 20% of permission-based, commercial emails not being delivered to their intended inboxes, this is happening to thousands of marketers all over the world, whether they are aware of it or not (Return Path). So what determines whether your emails are delivered or not?

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Factors Affecting Email Deliverability

The answer to the previous question has multiple parts to it. There are numerous reasons why your emails are being diverted to spam folders or completely blocked, undelivered, or dropped. However, the most common reasons include sending emails to stale or deleted addresses, extremely high spam complaint rates, and your reputation among email service providers.

Stale or Deleted Email Addresses

Chances are, you’ve changed or deleted one of your email addresses at least once in your life. Whether it’s because you had an embarrassing name such as ohwutaqt23@email.com and realized that nobody is going to take you seriously or because you left a job, we’ve all been there. And naturally, when we delete or change our email address we don’t rush to notify every company we subscribe to that we changed our address. This results in an email ‘bouncing’.

Related: 5 Inexpensive Marketing Tools to Get Your Business Off the Ground

The bounce rate of an email campaign is the percentage of sent messages that were not delivered. Bounce rates can be either ‘hard’ or ‘soft’. A hard bounce occurs when delivery is attempted to an invalid email address while a soft bounce occurs when the email server encounters an issue such as when an inbox has reached capacity.

As you might assume, a high bounce rate is not sought after in the email world. However, because people change or delete their email address from time to time, it is expected. However, there are a few ways to prevent high bounce rates, and they all revolve around keeping a well managed list. These include:

  • Mailing more frequently: If you don’t email frequently, there is a higher chance that more of your list will have email addresses that have changed, leading to higher bounce rates
  • How quickly you remove bounced email addresses: If you keep sending emails to email addresses that have bounced, then your delivery rate as well as your reputation with your email service providers will suffer.

Based on these factors, one thing is clear: keeping your list squeaky clean of stale email addresses and maintaining frequent communication are important if you want to keep those bounce rates down.

Spam Complaint Rates

Spam can mean a lot of different things to different people. However, for our purposes we can think of spam as unsolicited, unnecessary email sent to a large amount of people. For example, you may have purchased an email list full of prospects who you can’t wait to get in touch with. Exciting! But, since you didn’t get their permission to contact them, any email you send them would be considered spam.

Each time someone clicks the “Mark as Spam” button on your email, an alert is sent to internet service providers, which may affect your deliverability rate.

Related: Essential Tools You Need for Each Stage of Content Marketing

However, sometimes your emails don’t even reach the prospect before they have the chance to mark it as spam. In order to limit the amount of spammy emails sent, internet service providers set up spam filters. These filters consider an extensive list of criteria when judging how spammy an email is. Each email is given a score based on these criteria and if a score surpasses a certain threshold, your email will be considered spam and land in your prospect’s spam folder.


Perhaps the most surprising factor that affects delivery rate is the reputation of your IP address among email and internet service providers. Here’s how it works:

Email service providers like MailChimp (the king of all ESPs if we’re being honest) are legally required to enforce spam laws. So, if you are sending spammy email, they take note of it, not only because it is their legal responsibility but because it affects deliverability rate to their other customers. When you send an email campaign through MailChimp, your email is delivered through your servers so when one person sends a spammy email, it affects all other users. Talk about a party foul.

Related: Digital Marketing for Dummies

As a result, if you send too many spammy emails, you will be punished with a low deliverability rate or even a suspension of your account.

What Can I Do To Keep My Delivery Rate Low?

Repeat after me: scrub your list. Regularly. Remove all those bounced addresses and inactive subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails in the past few months. This means that they are no longer interested (and more likely to mark your emails as spam) or the email address no longer exists. I recommend giving your lists a good scrub every few months.

How Good Does It Really Get?

And by this I mean, what is the ideal delivery rate that you should be aiming for? Shoot for a delivery rate above 95%. If you see anything lower than this, you know what to do… get scrubbing!

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