It used to be an email marketer’s biggest challenge was writing a snappy subject line that would get your emails opened. Then came the anti-spam regulations, CAN-SPAM in the U.S. and CASL in Canada, and marketers had to be a little more careful.

These regulations mandate that you make your subject lines relevant, not just snappy. And the content of your emails can be scrutinized for relevance as well.

CAN-SPAM requires you to provide a way for recipients to unsubscribe and, it goes without saying, you need to follow through when they do. While in Canada, you can only send to recipients who opt-in to receiving your emails.

And still, complying companies are finding it harder and harder to reach their prospects’ inboxes. What’s going on?

The explosion of email scams, fraud, and phishing schemes has driven email service providers and receiving email servers – we’ll call them the “email police” for simplicity – to tighten security in an effort to clamp it down. They put policies and processes in place to stop anything that smells like suspicious behavior. And we’re all glad they do!

But what constitutes suspicious behavior?

Any sender behavior that looks unusual. I know, that’s pretty broad. So let’s break it down. When you spin up a new sender IP address. Suspicious. Why? Because fraudsters switch IP addresses constantly to try and stay a step ahead of the email police. You may have perfectly legitimate reasons for setting up a new IP, but to the “police,” this is reason for caution.

When you suddenly send a higher volume of emails than usual. Suspicious. Or change the frequency of your email sends. It’s actually better for your email reputation to send a steady stream of emails than to take breaks and send on an irregular schedule.

How about introducing a new email domain – the part of an email address after the “@”? You’ve never sent email to @ABCcompany before and suddenly you send 100 emails to that domain. Suspicious!

What is a marketer to do?

Don’t give up on email marketing. It’s still one of the most effective tools in a marketer’s tool belt, especially when used in combination with other communication channels, such as targeted ads and outbound calling. But there are some best practices you need to follow that will help you earn and maintain a healthy email reputation – one that the email police will trust so they let your emails through.

Email Best Practices

  1. Authenticate all your sending IP addresses. This is especially important if you’re new to email marketing and have virtually no email reputation established. You’ll want to make sure you’re complying with SPF, DKIM, and DMARC industry standards. These resources can guide you through the process:
    1. The Ultimate Guide to Deliverability by Return Path, Chapter 6
    2. DMARC Set-Up
  2. Warm up new IP addresses. While authenticating a new IP address is essential, it’s just the first step. You also need to warm up any new IP addresses by sending small email batches and gradually increasing the volume over a period of weeks. Your email service provider should be able to guide you through this, but you may also find these resources helpful:
    1. 3 Ways to Warm Up Your IP Addresses (and Keep them Hot) by DRH Internet, Inc,
    2. SendGrid’s Email Guide for IP Warm Up (B2C focus)
    3. B2B Email Deliverability: 11% of B2B email is classified as spam, these 6 tactics will help by Marketing Sherpa.
  3. Clean your email list and keep it clean. This applies if you’ve been doing email marketing for a while. By removing bogus email addresses, unknown users, spam traps, inactive subscribers, and complainers, you reduce bounces, keep your reputation high, and improve deliverability. Your list may get smaller, but your inbox placement will improve. A helpful resource: The Ultimate Guide to Deliverability by Return Path, Chapter 5.

4. Check your sender score. Knowing your Sender Score is like knowing your credit rating. A low score will cause your emails to bounce and can end up getting you blacklisted. It’s incredibly easy to damage your score and, if you get blacklisted, very arduous to rebuild your reputation. So know your score and take action to improve it, if needed. Visit SenderScore to get your score and find resources to help you understand and better it.

5. Check your domain reputation. Have you already been blacklisted? Find out! There are dozens of blacklists out there and you can do a free check across all of them at MXToolbox.

6. Warm up cold domains. If you’re sending to a new domain – remember the example of @ABCcompany above? – you’ll want to establish a digital relationship with these prospects first. You can use ad targeting and/or social media to target prospects with compelling industry content such as webinars, white-papers, and blog content. When prospects opt-in to your marketing programs, you can gradually introduce these new email addresses into your established email list.

7. Comply with anti-spam regulations. Following email regulations in the regions where you send emails is table stakes for email marketers. Compliance will help keep you out of spam filters, safeguard your reputation, and, in the case of the relatively new GDPR in Europe, protect you from the possibility of substantial fines. Check out these resources to learn more:

    1. Understanding US and Canadian Anti-Spam Laws
    2. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): What Senders Need To Know by SendGrid
    3. GDPR: How New Email Laws Benefit Marketers by SendGrid

Following these best practices will keep you out of spam filters and open the door to inboxes. In particular, when you obtain email addresses from a third-party source, whether you buy lists, use a list building app, or have your data cleaned or enriched by a service provider, you’re introducing new email addresses into your database and you’ll want to use them with care. If you’re replacing with an alternative – as most customers will be doing this year – it’s especially important to follow this advice.