Email Delivery vs. Deliverability: What’s the Difference?

We spend hours preparing out every detail of each campaign, crafting the accurate copy and worrying over spacing, colors, and fonts. We talk through our target audiences, personas, and messaging. We produce emails from scratch or alter templates so that we are setting our best foot forward with our email marketing campaigns.

With all the tears, blood, and sweat that go into our emails, there is nothing more tragic than finding out the message made it to our subscribers. No matter how precisely we prepare our campaign design, development, and strategy, if the email does not reach the inbox, it does not matter.

Getting it into the inbox is one of the more ambiguous, misinterpreted elements of sending a good email. Marketers usually mix up a key distinction: deliverability vs. delivery. Though the terms are usually used interchangeably, they have very different meanings.

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Email Delivery vs. Email Deliverability

Let us start with the basics: What are we talking about? Following are the definitions:

  • Delivery: whether or not a receiver accepts your email. This happens before the inbox/spam folder distinction. Will the message be physically accepted in the first place!
  • Inbox Placement or Deliverability refers to where that message settles up once it is accepted, rather the inbox, spam folder, or another folder.

When it comes to an understanding of the difference between deliverability and delivery, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Can a receiver accept your message?
  2. Does it get to the inbox?

Let us discuss both.

Can a receiver Accept your message?

At its core, delivery refers to whether or not a receiver accepts the message you have sent. This appears before the spam folder is ever considered. Does the email address or domain exist? Is your IP address blocked?

Assume your email is a busy business tourist on her way to a conference. Successful delivery would mean that the tourist arrived at the exact airport. (If anyone from New York city has accidentally gone to LaGuardia instead of JFK airport, you know how these types of confusion happen!) She then proved her identity with a passport and ticket, and airport security will verify her as a safe passenger to pass through security to her departure gate.

Likewise, when an email is successfully delivered, that clearly meant it made it to the intended recipient’s mailbox — and that could be in the inbox or the spam folder.

Did your Email get to the Inbox?

Also known as inbox placement, deliverability refers to where that message ends up once it is accepted. Did it get right to the inbox?

Let us turn back to our tourist metaphor. Our tourist has made it through security to the right gate and now wants to get to her destination.

Deliverability is related to where the tourist flight eventually arrives. While many tourists carefully get to their departure gate (delivery), weather or other misadventures may reroute them, for instance, from Houston to Dallas (deliverability).

Deliverability consists of three parts:

  1. Identification: This is the collection of protocols that prove you are whom you say you are when you send an email, such as DomainKeys Identified (DKIM), Domain-Based Message Authentication, and Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC). Each of these terms operates like your license, passport, or background check. Are you Janice Doe, the hard-nosed lawyer from upstate New York city? Or Janice Doe, the collegiate swim coach from northern California? Your ability to get on the right flight to your intended destination hinges on your identity.
  2. Reputation: Your sender reputation is basically a score that signals how trustworthy you are. Each company and internet service provider (ISP) might have various scores for you. Creating positive subscriber behavior, like engaging with your email or marking you as a trusted sender, is a great way to increase your sender reputation — which you can do by sending relevant, personal emails to your subscribers.
  3. Content: Is your message relevant for your audience? Is it appropriate? Are you joining copy like “Work from home” and “Make money fast!” with poor sending practices like buying an email verifier list (nooooo!) or restricting unsubscribes? Using unnecessary exclamation points, uncanny formatting, and URL shorteners can all affect your email’s deliverability based on your early sending patterns. Try to think about it from your subscribers’ view. If you get an email with the subject line, “MAKE MONEY NOW!!!!”, are you truly going to open it? Tailor your message to what your subscribers consider to make the most influence.

Reputation and Identification account for the reason an email will land in the inbox or the spam folder. Think about waiting in a long line for an airport security screening. If you do not have a ticket, you will not make it past the first section. And if you are on the no-fly list, surely you are not going anywhere.

Delivery issues mean that some might be wrong with your infrastructure, you have got damaged email addresses on your list, or you have received quite a negative user interaction to warrant a block. Deliverability issues mean that your permission and sending practices might be out of whack, or your email list is ordinarily disinterested in your content.

How to Make it to the Inbox

Now that you understand the difference between deliverability and email delivery, what this means for your marketing strategy? The following are three practices to guarantee your messages make it to subscribers’ inboxes.

1) Make your list Squeaky Clean

Even though we prefer permission-based marketing, when it comes to emails, permission can expire. A huge number of inactive subscribers can impact your deliverability because they balance your engagement metrics. Consider suppressing or removing inactive customers after a set period of time or automating a re-confirmation campaign.

If you are facing deliverability issues, it is likely that your list includes spam traps, which seem like real email addresses, but are used to recognize spammers. Sending to one can symbolize poor list hygiene or spammy acquisition practices, like renting and buying lists or deleting email addresses off the internet.

Discarding invalid emails on a daily basis and re-confirming your not active subscribers can help declutter your list.

2) Make it Easy to Unsubscribe

It is a typical myth that unsubscribes are not good, but there is no indication that unsubscribes rates via the direct unsubscribe link in your email influence your deliverability. In fact, it can actually help by increasing your subscriber engagement and cleaning up your email list. If you are sending targeted campaigns to people who want to receive your emails, then you are compelled to increase opens and clicks and minimize your bounces.

Do not cover your unsubscribe button. Make it easy and clear to find in your email, whether that be at the top. Streamline the unsubscribe process so that it is one step — otherwise, you are fighting a lost battle against the dreaded “report as spam” flag.

3) Make your Emails Personal and Relevant

Subscribers and Marketers usually define spam differently. Subscribers do not consider in terms of spam filter testing or algorithms but in terms of significance. Are you sending content that matters to them? This is ultimately the most important question to ask yourself before hitting “send” on any email.

Email is one of the personal channels in a marketer’s arsenal. Sending emails that resonate with your audience and leverage the 1:1 nature of the medium will not just positively affect your deliverability; it will also increase reader engagement and build more solid relationships with your audience as well.