What’s the big deal about email delivery and inbox placement?

Email marketers are unique in the marketing world because they’re the only ones who are just as responsible for how their messages get delivered as they are about the strategy and content that go into their email programs.

  • When was the last time you heard a broadcast marketer agonize about TV or radio reception?
  • If a newspaper doesn’t get delivered, is it the print marketer’s fault?

ISPs Call the Shots

Direct marketers have to abide by USPS regulations, but those regulations are published, so marketers know what they have to do to ensure the postal system accepts their mailers.

ISPs, on the other hand, hold all the cards when deciding whether to accept or reject your emails. Plus, they’re notoriously private about the rules, filters and algorithms that determine your email’s fate.

What sails past one ISP’s filter net might send your email to the spam folder or the email Dead Zone. What’s more, you won’t be any the wiser for it because ISPs don’t tell you they did it. Only when they reject your email do you get a message and, sometimes, the reason why.

That’s why it’s so important to understand how email delivery works and what you need to do to get more of your messages delivered. It’s a major issue for us at FreshAddress because list quality and email delivery go hand in hand.

We could write a book about everything you need to know about delivering emails to the inbox. (Instead of doing that, we have rounded up many of the articles we’ve written covering email delivery issues. Find them at the end of this post.)

Instead, we’ll cover one key issue quickly in each of the three posts in this series. It’s what you need to know now as you start planning your email strategy for the coming year.

Do email delivery, deliverability and inbox placement mean the same thing?

No, they do not.

  • Email delivery rate is the number of emails you send divided into the number of emails that were accepted by receiving servers.
  • Email deliverability and inbox placement both measure the percentage of your email that make it to the inbox instead of landing in the spam folder. Many people use these terms interchangeably.

It’s possible to have 100% delivery to an ISP like Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo! but only 50% inbox placement.

How to measure email delivery and inbox placement

Measuring your delivery rate is easy. You just divide the total number of emails accepted by the total number sent. Suppose you send 100 emails, and the ISP rejects 5 because of temporary problems accessing those inboxes or because the accounts associated with those email addresses are invalid. Your delivery rate is 95%.

Measuring deliverability, or inbox placement, is more difficult because ISPs don’t tell you where it sends your emails. So, marketers who want to pin down where their emails are going will use third-party tools such as seed lists or panel data that track specific email addresses and then extrapolate from those results.

If all of your emails to a vendor’s seed list go to the inbox, you can assume your emails are hitting your subscribers’ inboxes, too. But the number is still just an estimate.

Next up: “I have 85% deliverability! That’s great, right?

Stay tuned for the next post in our series, where we explain all about delivery and deliverability rates.

Your Email Deliverability Short Course

Want to learn more about email delivery and inbox placement? Try these recent posts from the FreshAddress blog and resource library:

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