How To Improve Email Deliverability in 12 Steps

Vladislav Podolyako
Author: Vladislav Podolyako
Updated: 2023-03-14
Reading time: 13 m
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You spend days scrubbing prospects’ email addresses and crafting a beautiful pitch, but it still goes to the spam folder. You could shake your fist at the sky while cursing out all the ISPs on this planet. Or you could try to find a solution for better delivery of your letters. 

At Belkins, we send thousands of cold emails to companies from Fortune 500 lists and get through to our prospects with impressive results — more than half of our emails get opened, and about 15%-18% get clicked on. We’ve had our share of getting crushed by spam filters, but we found the right tools and honed them, and now we boast deliverability rates as high as 100%. 

You can do this too. To get your emails delivered to your prospect’s inbox (and not straight into the trash), we’ve compiled a list of best practices and tips on improving email deliverability and getting your emails read.

What is deliverability, and what exactly determines it?

Delivery and deliverability, though they sound alike, are different things. The term “delivery” refers to the ability of email to reach the recipient’s mailbox without bouncing.

“Deliverability” is what happens next. Namely, it determines whether your email gets to your target audience’s primary inboxes or goes straight to their spam folders.

Email deliverability depends on 3 main factors: 

  • Set the record straight. Authorize your domain so that it is recognized as a legit business account and is deemed safe.
  • Take care of the reputation. The reputation of your domain builds up over time and depends on your authority, sending behavior, and number of complaints. 
  • Craft relevant content. Your email must be personalized, clearly formatted, and promise to bring value to the recipient to get past the filters.

What is a good email deliverability rate?

Deliverability rates vary depending on the industry and region, but the acceptable threshold for cold outreach is above 80%, and for email marketers it is ideally 95%.

As for the other metrics, you want to keep the bounce rate under 3% and the spam rate below 0.08%.

Deliverability can become an issue when you are scaling your outreach efforts. At one point, a Belkins client had 10 mailboxes sending out letters. With 10 technical setups, the company’s emails started hitting the spam filters too often.

With the help of our tools, we fixed all DNS settings, analyzed the performance, and found faulty mailboxes. It took 8 months to improve the sender scores and fine-tune content for the best performance. But in the end, we reached an exemplary 99% inbox placement rate at popular email service providers (ESPs) like Google Workspace, Gmail, Outlook, Office365, Exchange, iCloud, AOL, and Amazon SES. 

Common mistakes that can decrease email deliverability

What can negatively impact your email deliverability? Here are the main reasons why emails end up in the spam folder:

  • Incorrect technical setup
  • Poor-quality email list
  • Low engagement rates
  • IP and mailboxes that are not warmed up
  • Email structure that is off
  • A new domain

By the way, the last one is tricky. If, for example, you rebrand and move your website to a new domain but skip the proper mailbox migration and warmup, it can affect your deliverability. Always prepare when moving to a new address. You can find more advice about this in our case study.

12 steps to improve your email deliverability rate

1. Authenticate your domain with DNS records correctly 

Authentication is validating that an email message came from the sender it claims to have come from. Authenticating your domain tells receiving servers that your emails are not spam. You can do it with 4 records: Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC), and Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI).

  • SPF lets you choose which IP addresses may send emails from your domain. It prevents spoofing (when someone impersonates your domain to steal data). SPF requires a DNS TXT record that lists your domain’s email-authorized IP addresses. Note that there is a 255-character limit to SPF records, as well as a limit on the number of lookups in the record tree, so you want to keep as low as possible. Read more on how to write an SPF XTX record.
  • DKIM prevents email spoofing as well. DKIM verifies email integrity using digital signatures, requiring 2 DNS records — a key and a selector. The DKIM selector specifies the choice of the DKIM key, which in turn generates the digital signature. Find out more details on what is DKIM record.
  • DMARC, which builds on SPF and DKIM, specifies what to do if an email fails authentication. You may quarantine or reject DMARC-failed emails. DMARC requires a DNS TXT record with a policy for DMARC-failed emails. Our friends from Folderly prepared a comprehensive guide on DMARC, so check it out.
  • Gmail users who enable BIMI see brand logos in their inboxes. BIMI setup requires SPF and DKIM in place and your logo in SVG format. Once validated, Gmail will show your logo in people’s mail! Find out more about BIMI to set up your DNS records correctly.

2. Set up the tools depending on your goals

There are 2 primary types of business emailing. One is cold outreach, which means you send your prospects cold emails, usually text only. Another is email marketing and nurturing, where you communicate with and convert a list of subscribers to whom you typically send HTML emails.

The features of different email-sending tools vary depending on their primary goals.

For example, the popular Mailchimp is designed primarily to send newsletters and marketing emails. It has a brilliant HTML builder but needs more essential tools for cold outreach, such as setting a delay between outbound emails or a sequence of emails. It would be counterproductive for cold outreach, as its mechanics can trigger spam filters. Instead, you could use tools like Reply, designed explicitly for cold outreach campaigns.

In contrast, Charge for Outlook facilitates bulk email outreach directly from your Outlook or Exchange account. Its robust feature set, including customizable variables and precise delivery tracking, is tailored to enhance your cold outreach campaigns’ effectiveness and efficiency. Its seamless integration with Outlook and Exchange ensures a familiar and intuitive user experience, letting you focus more on crafting impactful emails and less on navigating complicated tools.

3. Invest in warming up your IP address

Always “warm up” new accounts for 2-3 weeks before sending cold campaigns. After this period, keep it running for as long as you run cold email campaigns.

By warming up your IP, we mean gradually increasing the volume of email traffic that you send from it over time. This gradual increase gives mailbox providers a chance to get to know your sending patterns and reputation, which are essential factors in whether your emails end up in the recipient’s inbox.

“Many have heard about the warmup, but only a few know that you must warm up the emails before the campaign with the same email template that you will be using for this campaign. Use the exact template for at least 5-10 days before running your campaign to get the best result.” — Michael Maximoff, Belkins co-founder

When it comes to sending patterns, follow these best practices to build a good reputation:

  • Send emails to no more than 200-300 recipients at a time.
  • Schedule sending with no less than 200 seconds between emails.
  • Adhere to your ESP’s limits for sending emails; for Gmail, it’s 250 emails per day, whereas for a business email, a healthy cap is 325 a day.
  • Address no more than 5 people within the same organization.

Warmup is a tedious but crucial process for building up effective email marketing, especially when sending from a new email and domain. To cut some corners, look into automated email warming-up products such as Folderly.

4. Set up double opt-in

Opt-in means the recipient has given you permission to send them emails, and double opt-in means that they have confirmed their email address. The extra confirmation ensures that people who sign up for your email list want to receive your emails and helps to avoid spam complaints.

If you get permission by having recipients sign up for your email list without an automated double confirmation, a good idea would be to send a follow-up email and ask them to confirm their subscription.

Example: If most of your subscribers are using Outlook — which is more aggressive with spam mail — you can kindly request your subscribers to add your domains to their safe senders list. If they are using Yahoo or Gmail, you can request that they add you to their contact lists. This will keep your emails above spam filters.

Don’t be afraid to lose some people on this step. The trade-off is gaining a better quality list, higher engagement rates, and an improved reputation. It’s better to lose several hundred recipients in the beginning than fail to reach thousands of subscribers down the road.

🎥 Related Video → Cold Emailing Compliant with GDPR, CASL, CAN-SPAM

5. Have the opt-out link in place 

Just as important as verifying subscriber consent is letting them unsubscribe easily. The GDPR is blunt: “It shall be as easy to withdraw as to give consent.”

Opt-out should be a one-click process, and you should not require people to log in or give any other information to unsubscribe. Here are the legal requirements for the unsubscribe mechanism:

  • Provide clear instructions on how the receiver may opt out of receiving future emails from you.
  • An average person may quickly identify, read, and comprehend it.
  • Provide a return email address or another simple method for people to express their decision to you.
  • You may make a menu to enable a receiver to opt out of various sorts of messaging, but you must provide the option to stop receiving commercial messages.

Ensure you have an unsubscribe link in every email you send and that it is easy to find the unsubscribe page on your website. If people have difficulty unsubscribing, they will likely mark your emails as spam, hurting your sender rating and deliverability.

6. Don’t buy email lists

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is buying an email list. It may seem like a quick fix to get many addresses, but it’s not. Email lists often need to be updated with more accurate information.

If you buy an email list, you will likely send messages to people who have not opted in to receive them. This can lead to high levels of spam complaints and cause your account to be irreversibly suspended or blacklisted by email service providers.

It’s far better to focus on building a high-quality email list organically. It takes more time and effort but is worth it in the long run.

We do understand that in some cases, buying a contact list might be relevant. Just make sure you do it right. Our guide on where to buy quality leads will help you with that.

7. Curate your email list and audit it regularly

It’s called “nurturing” for a reason. If you tend to your email lists carefully and regularly, you will reap engaged, happy recipients with great lifetime values for your brand.

There are 4 key things to look for when auditing your B2B email lists:

  1. Use only business emails. Never use personal email addresses (Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, etc.) to send business emails. Not only is using personal addresses for these purposes illegal, but it also won’t get you high engagement rates, thus affecting deliverability.
  2. Validate all email addresses to minimize hard bounce. Verify all the contact information in your list is up to date. Make sure nothing bounces; if it does, remove the invalid contact. If you have lots of emails, use validation services such as ZeroBounce, Clearout, and the like.
  3. Avoid spam traps, or “catch-alls.” These are email addresses companies use to catch spammers. Usual suspects are role addresses (info@, support@, contact@) or emails of former employees. If you send emails to spam traps, your sender reputation will suffer, and your deliverability will decrease.
  4. Filter based on engagement. For the best deliverability, limit your lists to engaged recipients. If subscribers are not opening or clicking through, it’s time to take action. Come up with a policy for handling unengaged and inactive users. It may include a reengagement try via a last-call email and then archiving those unresponsive contacts.

8. Break down your email list into segments

A good practice is to have segments of 250-300 emails each. If your audience is vast and the marketing segments consist of thousands of subscribers, find a way to break them down into smaller chunks. You can divide them by:

  • Location
  • Time of subscription
  • Demographics
  • Engagement rate
  • Subscription source
  • Purchasing stage

And then break them down into even smaller groups if you need to.

Breaking down your email list helps in more than one way. First, you can better target your messaging, and personalization is critical today. Second, sending emails to smaller groups of people improves deliverability as spam filters tend to block senders who dispatch thousands of emails at once. 

9. Craft engaging emails for your audience

Now that you’ve segmented your audience, you can personalize your emails for the best engagement levels. Never send the same email to everyone, as most recipients will delete it.

Keep your emails short and lovely, incorporate meaningful keywords, and (in a perfect world) bring enough value to the addressee to get starred or replied to. 

You don’t need to overthink it. Here’s a template for a personalized first cold email that brought our Belkins Growth Podcast guest Sarah Hicks, from Predictable Revenue Inc., a 90% response rate: 

I saw you post that thing about [blank]. We do stuff with [blank]. Let me unpack this on a quick call. 
Talks soon,
[Your name and title]

For audiences who subscribe to a course or download a white paper, you can use this hack to increase engagement and boost email deliverability. Start your letter with “Thanks for your subscription! To get the email with your downloadable, please reply here, as this will prevent it from going to spam. If you could, please take a minute to introduce yourself in a few words. I read each letter myself and would love to meet you!”  

10. Keep your emails from looking spammy

Choose your words carefully and focus on providing value and being helpful. You can assess the quality of the content of your email beforehand with the mail testers like GlockApps, DeBounce, Litmus, or Mail Tester.  

Also, avoid the red flags for spam, which are: 

  • No name in the greeting line
  • No personalization 
  • Bait-sounding copy like “Want more customers?” and “Special offer for you,” etc. 
  • Spam words
  • Urgent or threatening language
  • No clear value statement
  • Generic calls to action
  • A signature without contact info
  • Spelling mistakes
  • All caps or too many exclamation marks
  • Shortened links from services like Bitly (links to social media are OK)

It is best to use vocabulary relevant to your audience and describe ways they’ll benefit from reading your email. Be specific about what someone will get when they click through — even if it’s just learning more about how something works or how to do something better.

11. Set a consistent sending schedule and frequency

Regularly showing up in your recipient’s inbox will help build trust and brand recognition and encourage them to open your marketing emails.

On the other hand, if you show up too infrequently, people may forget why they signed up for your letter in the first place and unsubscribe. However, sending your emails way too often is not a good practice either, as you risk annoying your audience. 

The exact recommendations on sending frequency will vary depending on your campaign types. Yet research and statistics reveal that the perfect cadence for most marketing emails to increase open rates, CTR, and deliverability is about every 2 weeks.

📚 Related Post → What’s the Best Time to Send an Email

12. Check sender ratings regularly, and act as needed

Since there are so many moving parts in email outreach, you want to keep a finger on the pulse of your sender reputation to ensure it is not on the blacklist.

Sender ratings measure how likely your emails will land in the inbox. You can check them using tools like:

If you find your sender rating low or find yourself on a blacklist, identify why this happened. It could be because of the following: 

  • Users placing abuse complaints
  • Users spam-reporting your emails
  • Low reputation of your domain
  • High bounce rates of your campaigns
  • Your domain’s overall email history

Once you’ve identified the problem, take steps to fix it and then resubmit your sender information for reevaluation. 

Be aware that fixing the sender rating does not imply a one-size-fits-all solution. It is rarely a predictable process, as Google and Gmail change their technology frequently, and it often requires specific expertise and investigation to fix.

Bringing it all together

This guide covers everything you need to know about ensuring your cold outreach efforts are effective. We spoke about technical requirements, writing tips, and how to avoid triggering spam filters in the future.

Remember to present your company in the best light and show you have something that will improve prospects’ company performance and make the decision-makers’ routines effortless. Be relevant, remember you’re addressing real people, and always offer them something of value. Now go and launch your next campaign with confidence!

Vladislav Podolyako
Vladislav PodolyakoiconCo-founder and CEO of Belkins and Folderly
Vlad’s a recognized expert in the areas of culture transformation and leadership development, B2B sales, marketing, spent more than 10 years building technology products, has a background in communication networks and electronic device engineering.
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