Email Deliverability Challenges: How to Land in the Inbox

Email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to reach your audience. As a direct marketing channel, email is capable of delivering timely, relevant messages throughout the lifecycle of a lead or customer.

With different email programs and constantly changing security measures, how can you be sure that your email reaches your subscribers’ inbox? As marketers are striving to improve their email marketing tactics, many continue a blind struggle to identify areas of improvement. One reason your emails may be falling flat? Email deliverability. Let’s dive into the basics around email deliverability and how to improve your email marketing campaigns to land in your customers’ inbox.

The Difference Between Email Deliverability and Delivery

A common misunderstanding of email marketing is the difference between deliverability and delivery. These terms, although they sound similar, refer to two drastically different actions. Having a solid grasp on these terms can improve your email program by providing more actionable insight.

Delivery, also known as acceptance rate, measures the percentage of subscribers whose email server has accepted an email compared to the total emails sent. Basically, any subscriber whose email didn’t bounce is included in your delivery rate. The email server acts as a frontline of defense for subscribers against risky, phish-y, or SPAM-ridden emails.

Now that you know that your email has been delivered to your subscriber, it’s important to know where your email was delivered. Don’t make the assumption that delivery means your email has landed in the inbox. There are other options such as junk or SPAM folders. Those who use a Google-based email also have the option of primary, social, and promotional tabs to sort emails.

Deliverability, also known as inbox placement, is what happens once your email is delivered. When you find yourself asking, “Did my email go into the inbox or was it filtered to their junk or SPAM folder?” then you are referring to the deliverability of your email.

Truth be told, you’ll never know whether your email landed in your subscribers’ inbox or somewhere else that they may never see. While we may all wish for a magic report to know this data point, there isn’t one. You can, however, explore reports on delivery. Bounce reports detail permanent hard bounces and temporary soft bounces for a subscriber. It’s always a good idea to check the bounce report 72 hours after each email send.

Despite not being able to measure inbox placement, it remains an important consideration for your email program. Understanding what impacts email delivery and deliverability will improve your marketing practices and ultimately, your inbox placement.

What Determines Email Delivery and Deliverability?

Many things go into determining whether your email will make it through and land in the inbox. Two of the biggest factors are your sending domain reputation and your IP reputation. Based on the current email landscape, domain and IP reputation are (typically) of about equal importance.

Domain Reputation

The domain reputation of an email program is based on the email sending domain. That is the domain that appears after the @ in your “from” address of emails (for example Each email you send from that domain is building up its reputation – or hurting it.

As with a brand’s reputation, it takes time to build a positive one, and one misstep can set you back. The same holds true for your domain reputation. Things that can damage your domain reputation include the amount of email being sent, SPAM complaints, the number of bounces and unsubscribes, and more. If you’ve flubbed your domain reputation, it’s going to negatively impact delivery and deliverability, and take time to regain a positive standing.

IP Reputation

Then, there’s your IP reputation. This refers to the IP or IP range provided by your email marketing software to send your emails from. Unless you send a large amount of emails (as in, emailing more than 100K contacts per month), you will likely share an IP with other customers on your email marketing software. Together, you all build and leverage the same IP reputation.

The sound of sharing a reputation that can be influenced by others makes some marketers cringe. What if those senders bring down the overall rating of the IP, and consequently, the effectiveness of my campaigns? Luckily, the group approach of a shared IP is typically better for most companies. The quantity of email deployments a shared IP sends lessens the blow of one bad send. Also, email marketing software companies usually have stringent acceptable use policies that deter users from actions that are known to hurt the IP’s reputation, helping them maintain a strong reputation.

With the success of your email marketing hinging on your reputation, how do you improve your deliverability? There are three email practices you want to keep in mind.

3 Things to Improve your Email Deliverability

If you’ve found yourself with a deliverability issue or want to further improve your email marketing engagement rates, there is no quick and easy solution. Again, it’s your reputation we’re talking about. If it were easy, more spam emails would be getting into folks’ inboxes.

Follow these three practices to improve your email deliverability and reap the rewards of an engaged audience over time.

Email Identification

The email server making the call on whether your content is delivered or not is the first line of defense. One thing this server looks at are technical records that indicate where each email is coming from (based on IP address) and whether or not that platform (i.e., MailChimp) has the permission to send from that domain (the “from” address).

Setting up DKIM and/or SPF records authenticates to email servers that emails coming from a specific software and IP address is confidently you and not a cybercriminal. Setting up these records is a fairly quick process and will help to protect your domain, but we always suggest looping in your IT before doing so.

Once the server lets your email through, the next question is inbox placement. The email server wants to ensure people are getting only the information they want and need. By filtering potentially harmful or unwanted content to spam folders, it is helping to deliver a good experience to the recipient.

Put yourself in your subscribers’ shoes — think about how you engage with your own email inbox. Lots of people quickly scan their inbox and spam folders to remove emails from companies or people they either don’t know or no longer want to hear from. To position your email best, it is important you use a clear and accurate “from” address. If your subscribers want to read your content, this will help them find it in their inbox.

List Acquisition & Maintenance

Unsubscribes, marks as spam, and bounces are natural – to some degree. These negative metrics see an increase when marketers do not practice white-hat list acquisitions practices and ongoing list hygiene. These engagements can decrease your email domain reputation, and ultimately lead to your content getting filtered to the junk folder.

How you acquire your contacts can drastically impact your email deliverability. List acquisition refers to the sources and scenarios where you capture a lead’s email address and add them to a list. When generating leads, you want to follow these few tips:

  • Only add email contacts who have shown interest in receiving content from you. These are people who have opted in to your communications through a form submission, in-person communication, etc. No one likes to receive an email out of the blue (it can lead to a bad first impression).
  • Make it clear to the visitor what they are signing up for by clearly stating the types of content they will receive.

In addition to how you acquire your list, how you maintain that list is important as well. Scrub your lists for disengaged, unsubscribed, and/or bounced contacts to make sure you are only emailing those who want to hear from you.

Set up dynamic lists or segments for bounced and unsubscribed contacts to suppress and remove these contacts from your email marketing. Depending on your email software, setting up or using a gray mail email list to suppress those contacts who have not opened a number of consecutive emails can also improve your engagement rates.


Each email send is unique and the content within those emails has the opportunity to hurt or improve your domain reputation. If your organization is still sending email blasts to your entire database, stop. Now.

The contents of your email needs to be relevant to your audience, otherwise the end user is less likely to engage with it. Plain and simple. If this happens repeatedly, it can have negative consequences on your reputation. Segmenting your email sends into smaller lists with related contacts and personalizing your email for that audience can help drive opens and clicks, which is very important.

Although email deliverability is largely determined by your built-up reputation, there are some one-off practices that can make you appear more spammy, causing email servers or recipients to disengage with your content:

  • Misspellings and grammatical errors – Always spellcheck, and spellcheck your copy again. Typos and grammatical errors are common among spam emails and are (mostly) avoidable with a strong QA process.
  • Being overly salesy – There are some words that are known indicators of sketchy content, such as FREE, no obligation, no hidden costs… the list goes on. For the ultimate list of words to avoid by industry, read this article from HubSpot.
  • Yelling at your audience – Spammers like to yell apparently, so try to avoid excessive exclamations and words or sentences that are all capitalized (LIKE THIS!!!!).
  • Sending large graphics – Sizing your images for digital is worth it as a large file size can get your emails filtered to spam, or not delivered at all.

The Takeaway

With email being a critical channel for directly communicating with your audience, it is important your messages have the ability to reach them. Focusing on your email deliverability by employing these best practices will ensure you don’t find your email marketing campaigns in hot water, or should I say, spam folders.

About VONT Performance Digital Marketing

At VONT we believe that change is the only constant in the digital world – and that excites us. When tools and environments are constantly changing, new opportunities to help our clients achieve success are constantly arising. Each new advertising technology, social platform, or design approach allows us to improve on the results we achieve for our clients.

We believe in this idea of continual fine-tuning so much that we named our company VONT, which means to achieve exponential improvement in incremental steps. It is our core belief, and the reason why we are not simply a web design company or simply a digital advertising agency, but rather a long-term, single source partner providing a comprehensive array of web development and digital marketing capabilities.

In short, we’re here so that our clients achieve success in the ever-changing digital world.

If you’d like to learn more about VONT and the work we’ve done with our client partners, visit our Work page. Or, if you have a question, contact us. We’ll get right back to you!

Written By

The VONT Team