Get Out of the Junk Folder with Email Deliverability Audit

Vladislav Podolyako
Nov 16, 2021
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A catchy subject line, appealing preview text, and engaging content –– now your email campaign is ready to convert readers into customers. You hit "Send" and wait for your recipients to open emails, follow links, and probably make purchases right away –– but nothing of that happens. Well, that's probably because your cold emails arrived in the junk folder, and it's time to check email deliverability. What is email deliverability? The results will help you enhance your email outreach since every email deliverability test will evaluate factors influencing the overall sending reputation of your brand. These factors are:

  • Your domain reputation
  • Your IP address reputation.
  • Relevance of your content.
  • Updated email lists.
  • Frequency of your emails. 

However, don't confuse email deliverability with email delivery. The deliverability coefficient shows the number of emails landing only in recipients' inboxes, while the second number accounts for emails delivered to the spam folders, too. And reasonable email deliverability rates should stay as high as 95%. But how to get out of the spam and increase inbox placement rates? Read on!  

Email Deliverability Audit: Ask Professionals or DIY?

What is an email deliverability audit? It's composite research that assesses the effectiveness of your email outreach run by professionals. Email deliverability experts will help you detect weaknesses in your email marketing processes and improve email deliverability. They'll also assist with increasing your open rate, CTR (Clickthrough Rate), and CTOR (Click-to-Open Rate). External email deliverability services include reducing bounce and unsubscribe rates and analyzing how to motivate your target audience to click on CTAs (Call-to-Action) and get to the planned revenues. So, experienced email auditors will do their work quickly and thoroughly when analyzing aspects that influence your email campaigns –– below are just a few of them.

Factors that Affect Email Deliverability Rates 

Every audit starts with checking your cold emails’ basic metrics and statistics, i.e., assessing your sender reputation. And here are the several components that directly influence the reliability of an email sender:

  1. Getting into blacklists.
  2. Getting into spam traps.
  3. Getting bounces.
  4. Having your emails marked as spam.
  5. Changing the sending schedule without reason.


How Long Does It Take to Audit Email Deliverability?

The term of an audit run by experts usually doesn't exceed 2-3 weeks. It'll depend on the number of emails in your campaign and the overall workflow required to support it. The experienced team will use advanced tools and approaches to deliver results, so you get a detailed report at the end of the audit. This report will contain practical recommendations and understandable advice on how to improve your sender score –– often with screenshots and descriptions. So it shouldn't be an issue to bring this implementation plan into life. But sometimes, companies think that if the email volume isn't significant, they can handle the audit independently. Though audit experts can also offer valuable insights to small campaigns, you can arrange an in-house email deliverability audit. But first, you need to consider which option is better for your business – let's do it.

Pros and Cons of Running Deliverability Audit on Your Own

So, inviting a third-party company to analyze deliverability is excellent, but not all companies and startups can afford this. And it's a great time to think about running the audit yourself, taking into consideration its pluses and minuses. Let's start with the negative aspects you can face:

Disadvantages of In-House Audit

  • You won't have definite time frames as you'll be making the first steps to check email outreach effectiveness. So, be prepared that the audit can take longer than you expect –– sometimes even a couple of months. In contrast, professional auditors will set the deadline for their email service before launching the audit project.
  • You won't be able to plan for all the expenses as you'll have to buy tools for the technical setup and probably pay for some courses along your self-auditing journey. Sure, you can estimate expenditures before you start, but you can spend on unnecessary items without proper skills and professional advice. Experienced consultants, in contrast, will offer you a fixed price that will hardly change during their work.
  • You won't get any guarantees. Since you take on the full responsibility for the project, you can rely on your own efforts and face the consequences if something goes wrong. If, for example, you can help your email campaign simply by changing the IP address, but you work on subject lines, it's a waste of time. With a professional approach, your business will benefit from the best practices, and you'll definitely have results that will improve your email deliverability. 

Advantages of In-House Audit

  • You can save hundreds of dollars. Since external audit services never come for free, there's a chance for you to avoid these significant expenses when assessing email deliverability on your own. Knowing your budget limits, you'll try to fit in those amounts and look for optimized solutions. So, if you look for cheaper email deliverability check-up options, the in-house one would be the best fit.
  • You'll gain expertise while mastering various software and instruments, working out your action plan, and understanding the results. For the first time, it'll probably require a lot of time and effort. Still, you'll learn how to quickly detect deliverability issues and eliminate them as efficiently as professional experts. Maybe gaining such experience will be painful, but those skills will never be unnecessary.
  • You can prioritize tasks. While a hired audit team will act according to their standard procedure, you can be more flexible and start fixing problems as soon as you detect them. For example, you find two issues: Your emails are accepted as spam because they include too many images, and the content is not engaging enough. Obviously, you'll need to work on the content after decreasing the number of visuals.

By now, we think we've convinced you that self-auditing the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns is relatively bearable. And we've created this guide to help you make your self-managed audit quick and effective. Let's start! 

How to Arrange an Email Deliverability Audit on Your Own: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, switch to the DIY mode and follow these twelve recommendations to grow your email deliverability rates.

1. Evaluate Inbox Placement Rate

After you send email, it can either be accepted by the recipient's mailbox provider or ISP (Internet Service Provider) or rejected by it. Now we'll take a closer look at the first scenario – when potential customers receive your email and talk about the other outcome in point 6. So, let's assume that 7% of your emails were rejected (you'll know this from notification emails generated by your mail server), so 93% got delivered to the targeted recipients. But is 93% your deliverability rate? Not yet! It's only a delivery rate – a ratio of accepted emails to all emails sent. That's why it's also called acceptance rate, though the delivery and email deliverability rates are often confused. The good news about the delivery rate is that it's easily identifiable. Still, the bad news is that you can't be sure where your message landed in: An inbox (including Promotions, Updates, Social, and others) or a spam folder.

That's what email deliverability rates are for: To show the ratio of emails that reached inboxes to the total number of the sent ones. That's why this ratio is also called an inbox rate or inbox placement rate. The difference between the delivery and deliverability coefficients will show how many emails failed to go through the spam filters. Unfortunately, service providers don't return any notifications whether your email was marked as spam or got into the subscriber's inbox; that's why the inbox placement rate will always be an estimate. Some service providers use third-party tools or partners to check if Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and other email services accept their messages. Also, you can trace other metrics like open rates and CTRs that will indirectly tell you about deliverability.

2. Check Your Domain Reputation 

Good email sender reputation of your company can be reached through reliable domain reputation and IP reputation. However, a company doesn't necessarily have only one domain and one IP address. And at this point, let's clear what these two are. Let's consider IP addresses (numeric combinations like 123.45.678.9 or those in newer format 1234:ab00:5678:9::c123:d4e5) as phone numbers in our smartphone and domains (text strings like – as names of their "owners''. Domains are more human-friendly and easier to remember than IP addresses, but the software environment still uses IPs. And like your smartphone translates names into numbers as you enter letters, DNS (Domain Names Server) does the same when users enter domain names. So, DNS is a kind of Internet phonebook.

Now onto the point: Each device (including mail servers) possesses a separate IP address, and companies can use either a shared IP or dedicated IP to streamline their emails. Dedicated IPs are better because other companies don’t affect your IP reputation, and good practice is sending corporate (transactional) and marketing emails from different IPs. As your email campaigns (and the number of emails) grow, you may need to use several dedicated IPs, but every new IP address requires warming up. This means you need to start from low email volumes and consistently increase them to your usual ones – to let mail providers make sure your sending practice is adequate and the email list is healthy.

A domain usually possesses several IPs, and the key feature of the domain reputation is that it's portable. So, once you move to the new IP address, you don't have to warm it up from scratch. There are plenty of tools that check your IP and domain reputation, and you need to keep them both healthy; otherwise, you risk having your emails in the recipient's spam folder. However, if you blacken your domain reputation, it'll be challenging to start it all over with the new domain. 

Here are some tips to help you improve the situation.

Make sure your mail servers are virus-free, set up web firewalls, and secure your C&C (Command-and-Control) servers.

Use policies for public proxy servers and incorporate authentication for private proxy servers.

– Check email lists for incorrect emails to decrease bounce rates.

Do the proper warm-up of new IPs. Or motivate users to interact with your messages: Open or reply to them and click on links. 

Send business and marketing emails from separate servers.

3. Find Out Your Sender Score

Mailbox providers credit your IP address with a number between 0 and 100, considering spam complaints, number of bounces, blacklisting history, and other factors. This number is called sender score, and the closer it is to 100, the more chances to reach prospects' inboxes your emails have

The sender score is the numeric representation of your sender reputation, and there are online tools that can define and monitor this score –– since it's a 30-day average rolling indicator. If it's higher than 80, your email campaigns are doing great. If the score falls below 70, you need to work on your performance and sender reputation. A score between 70 and 80 isn't critical, but it signals that your email reputation can be enhanced. 

4. Review Blacklists

If your IP address or domain name appears on Real-Time Block Lists, your sender reputation is in jeopardy. These lists are dangerous because they consist of IPs, domains, and email addresses that were reported as spam by users or identified as junk by mail filters. There are many publicly available and private blacklists that are created according to specific criteria, and you can use these:

  • Invaluement
  • Spamhaus
  • SenderScore
  • Barracuda
  • PSBL
  • SpamCop
  • CBL

But why could you ever get on these lists if you're not a spammer? For example, because you send email with an automation tool that uses a shared IP. Other reasons include misconfigurations resulting from malware, adopted policies (sometimes a whole country is banned), usage of spam-like words in the content, or high bounce rates.

Getting on the blacklist is frustrating, but is it possible to get off them? For minor issues, it often happens that your domain, IP, or email addresses will be automatically removed from a block list after a couple of weeks. But it's always better to be proactive when getting out of these lists. Usually, you'll be able to see the reason for the ban and learn general rules of how to delist your company. Use this information to fix the problem and reach out to the list operators asking for removal. However, don't try to argue the criteria, but better move towards a win-win solution. 

5. Authenticate Your Emails

You obviously don't want to allow spammers to send emails on your behalf. And to restrict email spoofing, you need to ensure that your messages will pass the spam test of your recipient's email service provider. These three components verify each email and directly impact your email deliverability. They are:

  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework).

This record lists all the IP addresses that can send emails on your behalf. And when you complete this section correctly, your recipient's mail server will just check if your IP is on that list. In other words, SPF helps to verify your email addresses. The Sender Policy Framework is fundamental when you use automation tools to send email campaigns to let receiving servers trust your messages. But when you change email service provider, don't forget to update the SPF record; otherwise, your message will be blocked. 

  • DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail).

This protocol contains your digital signature, which is proof that it was you who sent an email. However, you can encrypt this signature, and it can be decrypted (and identified) with a public key. This is an additional security measure, and every time your email passes this verification, your domain reputation grows. So, setting up both SPF and DKIM on your mail server is crucial for email deliverability, but there's one more decent safety tool.

  • DMARC (Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance)

DMARC is a protocol where you can state what recipients should do with "your" emails that failed to pass SPF and DKIM authentication. So, this record can only be used once the previous two are set correctly. Well, what can you do with fraudulent emails? You can instruct ESPs to reject such messages, deliver them to a junk folder, or let them in. DMARC is also a great tool to learn if your emails that failed SPF and DKIM tests were accepted, rejected, or quarantined. 

6. Measure Your Bounce Rates

In point 1, we considered the scenario when you send email, and the mail exchange server delivers it to your recipient. But what happens when it's not delivered, and why does this happen to your message? The ratio of undelivered emails to the total number of sent emails is called a bounce rate, and a 1%-2% bounce rate is inevitable and expected. Emails can be bounced for several reasons, and primarily bounces happen either due to an invalid email address or the recipient's full inbox. These cases are referred to as hard and soft bounces, and let's take a closer look at them.

  • Hard bounce.

So, when email addresses or domain names do not exist, or the recipient's mail server blocks delivery, you get a hard bounce. For example, the "Unknown user" error tells us that this email address is invalid, and "Mailbox full" says the inbox is abandoned. Such emails need to be deleted from your target list immediately, and you should never try to send messages to them again. And unfortunately, hard bounces affect your domain reputation and work as red flags to spam filters. That's why it's vital to keep your email list healthy. However, you can always try to contact the recipient's email service provider and ask to add your IP to their trusted list.

  • Soft bounce.

In reality, there are many reasons for soft bounce, and they depend on the recipient's email server requirements. For example, your message doesn't meet anti-virus, anti-spam, or authentication criteria, and it can be blocked because it's too large or due to some trigger words in the content. After a soft bounce, you can try to make a copy of that email and send it to that address again a bit later. However, you'll need to monitor the server's reaction to it. 

7. Monitor Spam Complaints 

Your Email Service Provider will most probably subscribe you to Feedback Loops (FBLs). These notifications are also known as complaint loops, and they are intended for excluding emails from your campaigns or newsletters – emails of those users who decided to unsubscribe or marked your message as spam. Here are some reasons that make users move your email to junk folder:

  • Too many images.
  • Unpersonalized content with many exclamation marks, phrases sounding like scams, or words written in capital letters.
  • Too long or too short subject lines.
  • Wordy unstructured text of the message. 

There are tools that help to check how spammy your email looks before you send it out to your target audience. And in the course of your email deliverability audit, you'll need to test email for spam, too. This way, you'll learn how to maximize the chances of your messages landing in inboxes instead of junk folders.

8. Make Sure Users Can Unsubscribe

Hiding the subscription button in the hope of retaining your audience is dangerous. So during your email deliverability audit, you'll have to make sure your recipients can easily unsubscribe once they no longer want to receive your emails –– for whatever reason. And it's your responsibility to make this process simple and effective, so for this:

  • Make the unsubscribe link (or button) easily identifiable and clickable. Usually, users expect to see it at the email end and would appreciate it if you isolate it from other links, so they won't accidentally click the wrong one and then have to return.
  • Ensure that the subscription link leads to the right page and that after hitting "Unsubscribe," this contact won't receive any emails from you or will get only those types of emails he opts for. Otherwise, chances of your emails being labeled as spam grow.
  • Help your subscribers make as few clicks as possible to unsubscribe. Ideally, they should make one click without any further actions. Just remember how irritating it is to jump from page to page to finally get what you want. Just don't forget that unsubscription should be as simple as flagging your email as spam. 

9. Mind Volume and Frequency of Your Campaigns

There are examples when sending emails more frequently led to significant changes in revenue: Both negative and positive. So, finding the optimized volume and frequency of your campaigns is essential but not simple. And here are some tips on how to choose the best cadence of your emails:

  • Set data-driven goals for a new email schedule. Whether you want to grow traffic, increase conversions, or build loyalty, you need to have a transparent background and plan of how growing email volume can help reach your objectives. 
  • Mind the lifecycle of your customers. If you sell sports clothes, your current and potential clients can be happy to get emails several times a week –– if not to buy, then just browse new items. But ERP buyers will need updates only once in a while. Also, consider how many other email readers get from you before setting a new frequency.
  • Check average statistics of relevant email outreach. Popular email service providers and owners of email marketing tools publish valuable email-relevant data across various industries. It's an excellent opportunity to compare your metrics with your competitors' coefficients and probably adjust your strategy.  

10. Ask Subscribers to Whitelist Your Email

In the same way as getting on blacklists can ruin your domain reputation, whitelisting can save it. At first, asking subscribers to help your emails get through spam filters may seem obsessive. But, on the other hand, they agreed to receive your newsletters, and you have a lot of valuable information to share. It'll only take you a couple of minutes to communicate and another couple of minutes for your contact to follow the whitelisting instructions. Try to send email from another address or use social media to make sure it reaches your subscriber and make this message short and to the point. Don't be confused by causing inconvenience to users, but treat this issue as another "contact verification": if the new user does this little favor, he sees value in your product or service. And treat ignoring your request as unsubscription. 

11. Split Active and Inactive Subscribers

You may think that inactive subscribers don't have any impact on your email deliverability, but that's not true. When recipients don't open or reply to your emails and don't follow links, many email providers consider such messages unwanted and label them as spam after some time of inactivity. That's why you need to minimize the number of unopened emails. And you can do this by setting acceptable engagement rates and classifying all users into two groups: Active and inactive subscribers. But don't hurry to remove these emails from your lists – now you need to take a closer look at your inactive audience.

  • Users who have never opened your emails. This group of subscribers is the riskiest for your domain reputation. No matter why they decided to opt-in (whether they did it unintentionally, changed their mind right after subscribing, were signed up by bots or malicious attackers, etc.), you need to remove them. However, you should do this only sometimes, after sending the re-permission email, in which you ask them to re-confirm the subscription. 
  • Inactive buyers. If your former customers stopped reading your emails and making purchases, it's time to take an email deliverability test. The reason can be far from a poor value proposition, not engaging content, or non-catchy subject lines –– as you may think. Your messages can remain unopened because they simply land in a junk folder. But if your messages are well-delivered, you'll need to assess domain reputation risks for each inactivity case. 

12. Keep an Eye on the Delivery Rate 

We have approached the last step of your self-managed email deliverability audit – measuring delivery rate. We've referred to this coefficient earlier since it's one of the basic metrics in email marketing: The ratio of delivered emails to the total number of the sent ones. No, delivery rate can't show you how many emails landed in your subscriber's inbox, but this is the first indicator of your email outreach success, and you should regularly check it. That's because when your delivery rate falls below 95%, it usually signals that a whole bunch of factors can go out of control and affect your email deliverability. Whether your contact list contains invalid emails, message content includes spam words, or your open rates drop, your sender reputation is at risk, and the delivery rate will be the first to flag this.

Wrapping Up

Well, now you know how to run an email deliverability audit without attracting external consultants. This process will require your dedication, involvement, attention to detail, and patience. But in return, you'll learn how to evaluate your email campaigns’ deliverability and minimize the chances of landing your emails in junk folders. We hope that our guide will help you improve your inbox placement rates, grow your audience, keep your sender score high, convert prospects into customers, and increase revenues. If you need professional audit, feel open to contact Folderly's specialists!

Vladislav Podolyako
Vladislav Podolyako
Founder & CEO
Vlad’s decades of entrepreneurial wisdom and business building experience have allowed him to successfully mentor a diverse group of business owners, entrepreneurs in growing their companies. A recognized expert in the areas of transforming organizational culture and leadership development, B2B Sales, Marketing, spent more than 10 years building technology products, with a background in communication networks and electronic device engineering.

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