Email Deliverability Checklist

How to Improve Email Deliverability in 17 Steps

Want to improve email deliverability and get even more out of your campaigns? Or maybe you’re experiencing deliverability problems and would like to make sure your offer finally reaches your customers’ inboxes? Whatever the situation you’re in, this article will come in handy.

Below, you’ll find 17 tactics to help you improve email deliverability, sender reputation, and email engagement.

Before we
dive in, if you’d like to catch up on some of the topics we’ll cover here, start
with these three articles:

Let’s begin.

Table Of Contents

1. Evaluate your situation

Before you
do anything else, it’s best to start by analyzing the situation you’re in.
Based on this analysis, you’ll get to decide what you want to do next.

Begin by checking your deliverability, and evaluating your list quality
and the results of your last few campaigns.

reviewing these areas, you should know:

  • If you’re listed on any of the major
  • If your authentication (SPF, DKIM,
    DMARC) is set up properly
  • How engaged your contacts are
  • What percentage of your contacts are
  • What percentage of your contacts
    unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam
  • How your results compare to the email industry benchmarks

We’ll refer
to these areas later on in this article, so make a note of your answers.

Deliverability Checklist

Download this quick checklist to improve your email deliverability and start sending email campaigns that make the cash register ring.

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2. Get your IP removed from email blacklists

If you’ve
found your IP or mailing domain listed on any of the major blacklists (you can
check that using reputation management tools like MxToolbox), you
can contact the list admin. Ask them for help and advice on how you can improve
your mailing practices, and often they’ll be glad to provide you with additional

the outcome, there’s usually a reason why you’ve been blacklisted. If you don’t
change your processes and how you run your email campaigns, you may end up on
that list again. So, keep reading this post and treat this step as a short-term

Example of IP blacklist check report created with MxToolbox.
Example of IP blacklist check report created with MxToolbox.

3. Create a unique brand identity

Having a strong and unique brand identity can help you increase your recipients’ engagement with your emails. And since engagement is an important element of email deliverability, let’s look at ways how you can improve your brand identity:

  • Use your own custom domain to send
    your email campaigns (as opposed to free email domains like Gmail)
  • Use consistent Email fields (From,
    Name, and Address) across all your campaigns
  • Use the same design across all your
    marketing channels (color scheme, fonts, graphics)
  • Use Brand Indicators for Message
    Identification (BIMI) and add your brand’s logo to your emails
By implementing BIMI, your brand logo could be shown next to your emails. Source: Agari
By implementing BIMI, your brand logo could be shown next to your emails. Source: Agari

4. Make sure your emails are authenticated properly

Another thing that often causes email deliverability issues – and can be easily fixed – is related to authentication.

Service Providers (ISPs) like Gmail our Outlook may filter out or reject your
emails if they seem suspicious.

This is
related to who you are, how you’re sending your emails and what’s inside them.
For now, we’ll only look at the first two factors.

Here’s what
you can do, if you want to be seen as a trustworthy sender:

  • Send your emails using a company
    domain instead of a publicly available freemail domain (like Gmail or Comcast)
  • Use proper authentication protocols
    like Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM), Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain-based
    Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC), and Indicators for
    Message Identification (BIMI)

By sending
email campaigns using a custom domain, you’ll build its reputation. If you
follow email marketing best practices, this reputation should good leading to
high deliverability.

By setting
up the authentication protocols correctly, you’ll show the ISPs that you’re the
rightful sender and that your messages haven’t been hijacked along the way.

The latter is especially useful if you’re using email marketing software to send email campaigns on your behalf. Authentication can further improve email deliverability and build your reputation for ISPs.

Editor’s note:
If you’re using GetResponse, here’s how you can set up the DKIM and here are GetResponse IP addresses for you to include
in your SPF record.

Example of a DMARC lookup test created with MxToolbox.
Example of a DMARC lookup test created with MxToolbox

5. Reengage the less-active contacts

In the process
of evaluating your recipient engagement (step #1), you might have identified
subscribers who’ve only recently become inactive. For example, people who
haven’t opened or clicked in any of your emails in the last three months.

Since this
group can still have business potential, you should try winning them back. The
most popular way of doing this is to run a win-back campaign. This can be done
manually or automatically.

Irek Rybinski, suggests the following approach:

Reengagement campaigns should be treated as a hail Mary pass, the last attempt to get your recipients back, and if it fails – they’re gone.

There are 3 key factors that you need to take into account here – timing, form, and incentive.

Timing depends mostly on your sending schedule. Basically, the more often you send, the shorter you should wait with your reengagement. For example, if you send once a week you should not wait longer than 3 months, if you send once a month you can wait as long as an entire year.

The ideal option here is a triggered personal email. Using the same example as above, the day your inactive contact reaches three months, without action, they automatically get a reengagement email. If you can’t set that up, then you should go for a reengagement campaign every three months for all inactive contacts at once. Of course, if they still fail to engage, you should remove them from your list.

As for the form, there’s a number of different approaches. One thing I would advise here is: make a big change in the content. This is the one message that should stand out from the rest. It should be unique to the point that your contact automatically sees they received something different than your usual send out.

Here are some ideas:

1. go with a different email template and ask “were you waiting for a change?”
2. adapt your existing template but send it as a personal email from your staff member
3. send a message titled “Is this a goodbye?” and give your contacts a chance to change their mind

I noticed one more thing when helping our customers with their reengagement campaign. Inactive contacts usually need some kind of an incentive that will help them decide to stay. A discount, a freebie, a gift basket. Something that shows that you appreciate them as your customers and are willing to fight for them, so if they still decide not to engage you can pat yourself on the back and say “I tried my best”.

Example of an email reengagement campaign sent by MVMT.
Example of an email reengagement campaign sent by MVMT.
How to find contacts based on their engagement score in GetResponse.
How to find contacts based on their engagement score in GetResponse.

6. Prune your email list

List hygiene is an important part of email deliverability.

For your
list to be considered hygienic, you need to continuously remove the deadweight
and engage those who are active.

Since we
talked about reengaging contacts who still hold business potential in step #5, we’ll
now look at those who you should consider removing from your lists.

Here are
two segments we have in mind when we say deadweight.

The first
one consists of people who specifically said they no longer want to receive emails
from you, or their email addresses generated a bounce. They should be removed
from your list immediately, no matter how big that segment is.

The second
group consists of people who haven’t engaged with your communication in a long
time (e.g., a year or so). Most often, these contacts have no business
potential. But they do pose a huge risk to your deliverability.

One reason
is that these addresses may have been turned into spam traps or honey pots as they’re often
called. The second reason is that they may be harming your results.

Here’s how GetResponse
Deliverability Engineer, Irek Rybinski, explains this:

“The bottom line is there is a great chance here that the email, even though delivered to an email address, doesn’t reach a living person. Keeping those addresses on your list becomes pointless as they only increase your list size without contributing to any potential gain.

Quite the opposite, by artificially increasing your list size they generate additional costs to maintain and send to your list. A simple action of just removing those addresses can increase your income by decreasing the cost your list generates without influencing the revenue you get from your sends.

This action is also smart from the email deliverability point of view. For the last few years I’ve seen ISPs pay more and more attention to the engagement metrics, so even if you have low negative factors (like complaints or invalid emails), but your engagement is very low too, they will still see you as a spammer.”

How to find contacts based on their engagement score in GetResponse.
How to find contacts who haven’t opened any of the emails you’ve sent them inside GetResponse

7. Partner up with a reliable email service provider (ESP)

templates, features, and UX aren’t the only things that distinguish a good email
service provider. A reliable ESP will also help you maintain strong email deliverability.

If you’re not
sure whether your current email marketing platform is the right one, check if

  • Has relationships with all the major Internet Service Providers
  • Has set up feedback loops with all the key mailbox providers
  • Automatically handles bounces, unsubscribes, and spam complaints
  • Does not allow its users to upload purchased or scraped lists
  • Participates in all major ISP industry initiatives to prevent spam, like MAAWG, EEC, and ESPC
  • Is compliant with all the major regulations such as CanSPAM, CASL, GDPR, and CCPA
  • Lets you authenticate your custom mailing domain
  • Authenticates your emails with SPF and DKIM
  • Has robust Deliverability and Compliance Teams onboard
  • Uses IPs with high reputation
  • Uses AI to identify potential email deliverability issues
  • Provides you with the Data Processing Agreement
  • Has servers in the country you’re most interested in
  • Ensures all your data is safe and secure
  • Regularly updates its tools to adapt to the latest industry standards
  • Has a good and established reputation on the market

If you’re looking
for help with your deliverability and your current ESP doesn’t live up to your expectations,
here you can learn more about GetResponse email marketing

Case Study: How Submission Technology’s agile email marketing team runs A/B tests to maintain top performance and email deliverability.

8. Give your recipients a choice

Here’s another way you can decrease your email list churn and improve email deliverability – give your subscribers a choice!

have long known they should be personalizing their customer experience. But they
rarely do that when it comes to the frequency and content of their email campaigns.

If you want
to offer a better experience than most email marketers, consider creating a
preference center or including extra checkboxes in your web forms that’ll let
your contacts express their mailing preferences.

You could
also include it on your unsubscribe page so that your customers get a chance to
opt-down rather than opt-out from your email subscription.

This step
may seem difficult to implement and maintain, but it gives you the chance to
keep your customers engaged for longer. Plus, it gives them the sense that
they’re in charge, which can in turn improve how they perceive your brand.

Example of an email preference center by Uncommon Goods
Example of an email preference center by Uncommon Goods

9. Make unsubscribing from your list easier

This may
sound counterintuitive, but the fact that people are unsubscribing from your
list isn’t a big problem. Why? Because that means they’re actually receiving
your emails – they’re just not into them.

The problem
starts when they’re not unsubscribing but a) filtering out your messages, or
worse b) reporting them as spam. Both of them are a big challenge, but if
you’ve followed the advice we gave in #5, you should have already dealt with
those who stopped reading your emails.

When it
comes to managing spam complaints, the situation is slightly harder because it
requires changes in multiple places.

First of all, you should review your subscription process and make sure that everything’s transparent and clear. Your contacts need to fully understand what they’re signing up for and what content you’ll be sending them. Add this information to your landing pages, web forms, thank you pages, and in your email footers.

Secondly, you’ll
need to make unsubscribing from your list easier. In most cases, it’s enough if
the unsubscribe process doesn’t require additional steps, like logging into your
platform, and that the removal link can be easily found in your emails. In
extreme cases, bring your unsubscribe link to the above the fold section –
maybe even into the preheader.

This may
not seem ideal from a marketer’s perspective. But if you take into consideration
that each spam report affects your deliverability – for that specific campaign
and in the future – having more unsubscribes doesn’t sound like such a bad

By adding a list-unsubscribe header you can add an unsubscribe link like this in Gmail.
By adding a list-unsubscribe header you can add an unsubscribe link like this in Gmail

10. Implement double opt-in

The debate
around double opt-in vs single opt-in has been going on for years.

It comes
down to this:

  • If you use double opt-in, you’ll get
    a higher quality list, but it’ll be smaller. From what we’ve seen, you may see
    roughly 30% fewer subscriptions.
  • While single opt-in leaves you with
    more contacts to reach out to, the chances are that people who end up signing
    up won’t be as engaged.

So, how
should you go about this?

Do the math. But keep this in mind:

  • Based on the results we publish in
    the Email Marketing Benchmarks report, industries where double opt-in is the
    most popular get the highest email engagement rates.
  • Using double opt-in is recommended
    if you’re experiencing deliverability issues or you’re seeing a big number of
    bots signing up through your web forms.
  • If anyone ever asks about how you
    collect email consents, double opt-in gives you additional proof that your
    contacts have made a deliberate decision to join your list.
Really Good Emails newsletter subscription confirmation email.
Really Good Emails newsletter subscription confirmation email.

See more
examples of great confirmation
email templates.

11. Adjust your email frequency

frequency plays a big role in building high customer engagement and email
deliverability. Here’s why.

If you
haven’t contacted your subscribers for a long time and then suddenly send them
an email blast, they may take your message as irrelevant or even unsolicited.
And that can lead to high spam complaint rates.

If, on the
other hand, you’re sending too many emails, your recipients may feel
overwhelmed and annoyed. If you’re lucky – they’ll unsubscribe. If you’re not –
they’ll filter out your messages or report them as spam.

In other
words, both too quiet and too busy communication schedules are bad.

So how
often should you email your subscribers? Sadly, there’s no golden rule for

There are a
few ways you can find the right email frequency. Some are more scientific and focus on maximizing
the number of conversions. Others involve asking your customers for feedback or
giving them the option to manage their mailing preferences, like we discussed
in #6.

12. Get a dedicated IP address

If you’re sending
your email campaigns using email marketing software, you’re probably using a
shared IP solution. While for most marketers that’s the right approach, there
are some downsides to it, too.

marketers with smaller email lists, a shared IP solution gives more flexibility
and more stable deliverability. For example, they don’t need to be as careful
about their email schedule or engagement rates. That’s because the IP
reputation is built by all marketers who use these IPs to send their emails.

At the same
time, if these IPs are also used by some inconsiderate marketers, their
behavior may affect the deliverability of everyone else using the same IPs to
send their emails.

the platform Compliance and Deliverability Teams are there to prevent and fix
things like that. But there’s always a risk and you need to be aware of.

alternative approach is to use a dedicated IP address. This is usually reserved
for bigger senders, with substantial email lists (i.e., 100,000+ records) and a
regular communication schedule. The main difference is that when you’re using a
dedicated IP address, you’re the only one who’s building its reputation.

There are
also some other differences between shared and dedicated IPs.

The bottom line is that if you’re a solid sender and you know that your email deliverability could improve if you used a dedicated IP solution, then you should look into it.

Editor’s note:
At GetResponse, we offer both shared and dedicated IPs. If you think the
dedicated solution is right for you, go ahead and check out GetResponse

Case study: How Only In Your State gets an average 50.55% unique open rate and up to 2500 new subscribers every day.

13. Improve your content

At the beginning of this article, we talked about how subscriber engagement affects your reputation and email deliverability.

suggested reengaging and removing inactive contacts from your lists. But we
didn’t talk about how to prevent your audience – or at least a percentage of it
– from becoming inactive.

One way to
do this is to keep improving your email content. Your emails should be interesting,
engaging, and valuable – every time.

it’s easier said than done, here are a few ways how you can make sure your
email content continues to engage:

  • A/B test frequently to pick the
    most-engaging subject lines, headlines, products, and articles in your messages
  • Ask your audience to provide
    feedback and suggest topics for future communication
  • Analyze the click-through data in
    your emails to select the best-performing calls to action (CTAs) and topics
  • Analyze the pageview data and time
    on page in your website’s Google Analytics reports to drive people to the
    best-performing pages

Keep in
mind that the best way to A/B test your emails is to 1) test one thing at a
time, 2) run tests continuously and not ad-hoc, and 3) think of them as
evolution not a revolution.

This way you’ll
know what elements of your message made the impact and you’ll give your
recipients enough time to get used to the changes. The last thing you want to
do is to confuse those who are actively engaging with your communication.

Subject line AB test in GetResponse.
Subject line AB test in GetResponse
Example of AB test configuration in GetResponse.
Example of AB test configuration in GetResponse

14. Balance the text-to-link ratio

You might never
run into this problem, but it’s worth mentioning it in this guide. One of the
things ISPs look at when evaluating email quality is the balance between the
amount of text and the number of links.

Here’s how
Irek Rybinski explains it:

“The text to link ratio needs to be reliable and relatable – providing good content value to your contacts. Sending them only clickable links is usually not one of them.”

He also points out that the link quality plays a role:

ISPs will allow fewer links from a domain with poor reputation that was already associated with abuse mailing, than they would for a domain with good reputation. What’s more there seems to be a limit even to the good ones!

The rules seem to be quite simple. Stick to a single link for a short message (a few lines of text), or one per paragraph. As I was working out the filters, I noticed that usually they had no issue in recognizing blog or site updates (e.g., first paragraph of an article, or just the title with a link to full article). ISPs seem to be rarely punishing senders for these types of links (if they do, it’s usually a domain reputation issue), so if that’s your business, then you don’t really have to worry!

If you do advertise products to your list, you should take it easy on the calls to action. I would say that two well placed links will do the job just fine.

15. Balance the image-to-text ratio

creating emails, you should also pay attention to how much of your message is
images and text. The more text, the better your deliverability.

This doesn’t
mean your emails shouldn’t contain images. That’s not feasible and no ecommerce
business would allow that. But your message shouldn’t consist of just one big
image and a footer.

Think about
this practice both from the ISPs and the recipients’ perspective.

Many people
use mailbox providers that block images by default. People pay attention to
their first impression, and if all they see is a message with all its content
blocked – they’re not exactly encouraged to open up that message.

That’s why
having text in your emails (and ALT text for images) can help you improve your engagement
and deliverability rates.

Here’s what
Irek Rybinski suggests:

The same way the link ratio matters, ISPs also look at the ratio between images and text. This seems to be more of a space-ratio kind of thing. The recommended dimensions are usually given in the 60%-40% or 70%-30% ratio (in favor of text).

Nevertheless, I’ve seen emails going for 50-50 doing quite well, so I would not swear by just one value here. This is something that you need to test yourself

Example of an email from Proof Bread that is still legible even without the images being loaded. Note: It’d look even better if the images had ALT text filled in.
Example of an email from Proof Bread that is still legible even without the images being loaded. Note: It’d work even better if the images had ALT text filled in.

16. Identify yourself and your content

It all
boils down to this.

People open
emails that seem interesting, valuable, and entertaining. They also look at who
the sender is – whether they’re trustworthy, reputable, and knowledgeable.

You need focus
on all those things throughout the entire customer journey.

You don’t
want your subscribers to feel disconnected when they’re jumping from your
Facebook page to your website, and then to your email subscription.

Here are a
few best practices for you to keep in mind:

  • Don’t change the from name and
    address used to send your emails too often
  • Have a consistent brand identity
    across all your marketing channels
  • Keep your email layout changes
    subtle so that people recognize it’s you

If you’re a
solopreneur, there’s also one more thing you could try – send emails using your
own name instead of the brand name. The hypothesis here is that people are more
likely to build a bond with a person rather than a fictional brand. But this
can only work if you follow through with this strategy and don’t just use it on

If you
succeed with this step, your audience will engage with your communication more and
this will improve your deliverability.

Ooni Pizza Ovens email design - brand identity.
Matching email and website design by Ooni Pizza Ovens.
Matching email and website design by Ooni

17. Run a reconfirmation campaign

If all else
fails, there’s one more solution called reconfirmation.

campaigns are similar to reengagement programs, with one major exception.

After you’ve
run a reengagement campaign, you still get to decide what to do about those who
haven’t responded to your emails. Although we suggest that you remove them from
your lists entirely, you may choose to try reengaging them through remarketing
ads or even calling them on the phone, if you’ve got this kind of data.

reconfirmation campaigns, there’s no going back.

Here’s how they work:

You first
identify the inactive contacts then send them a single email asking if they’d
like to opt in to your list.

You’re not
asking them whether they’d like to stay on your list, but instead,
you’re asking them if they’d like to re-subscribe.

sending this message, anyone who doesn’t respond should be automatically
removed from your database.

As for
those who respond, move them to your active contact list and reach out to them
to figure out what caused them to become inactive for such a long time.

This is by
far the best solution for making sure your list is clean. Naturally, it’s also
risky, which is why so many marketers keep it as their last resort.

Pro tip:
In your
reconfirmation email, add information about how people can re-subscribe to your
list after the link in the message expires. This way, if someone ends up
opening your message after some time, they’ll know what to do to keep getting
your email updates.

Pro tip
reconfirmation campaigns can be used for inactive contacts, they’re also good
for the contacts whom you haven’t contacted with for a long period of time (e.g.,
more than one year). They can also be used at times where you know that your
opt-in process wasn’t working properly and there may be people on your list who
shouldn’t have been added to it.

Example of a reconfirmation email campaign that was sent when GDPR rolled out.
Example of a reconfirmation email campaign that was sent when GDPR rolled out

Start improving your email deliverability today

As you can see, there are many ways to improve email deliverability.

The good news is that you, the marketer, control most of them. Plus, they’re often not that hard to implement.

If, however, you decide that you’d like some extra help from those who manage deliverability full-time – we’d be happy to help!

Reach out to us or just go ahead and test out GetResponse for free for 30 days.

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