Alright – so this might be another post written out of a teeny tiny bit of frustration (see my last post on Open Rates).  Here’s the deal – there is another totally misunderstood term when it come to email marketing: email deliverability.  The biggest reason why there’s confusion is because there IS NO SET DEFINITION for it.  Different people mean different things when they talk about email deliverability.  This post aims to clear all that up (mainly because I’m getting tired of explaining it…).

There are 2 commonly used definitions for email deliverability: the one that an email service provider (Infusionsoft, MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) uses and the one that the user of the email service provider uses (that means you).  In order to understand the difference between the 2 different definitions, you need to understand how email works.

I put together this diagram a while back.  It outlines the process each and every email goes thru – no matter how you’re sending it.  It works the same whether it’s coming out of Gmail or Infusionsoft.  It’s just how it works.


So here’s how this process plays out:

  1. Start where it says Start Here
  2. You’re working on your computer to build out your amazing email, and you send it off to Infusionsoft to process
  3. Infusionsoft processes who to send it to, merges in all the contact info, creates the links etc. and connects to the Infusionsoft MTA
  4. The Infusionsoft MTA (the image with the group of servers) then goes thru a 4 step process for each individual email that it’s sending
    1. It connects to the recipient’s email server and says “Hi I’m Infusionsoft and I have a message that I’m sending to Monique on behalf of Jordan”
    2. The recipient’s server looks thru their list of people that have sent them crap before (aka a blacklist) to see if Infusionsoft is on their list or on any of the lists they subscribe to
    3. If they aren’t, they send a message back to Infusionsoft that says “Ok, go ahead and send it to us”.  If they are on the list, the message back basically says “Nope. We’re not falling for your crap again.”
    4. Once Infusionsoft gets the message that they can send it, they go ahead and send the email
    5. Once the recipient’s server gets the email, they send a message back to Infusionsoft that says “I’ve got it from here”
  5. Now that the recipient’s mail server has the email (we’re at the black and blue image now – or is it white and gold), they pass the email thru 2 different filters – one called the SPAM filter, the other I call the engagement filter.
  6. The SPAM filter looks at the content of the email for traces of SPAM.  The filter has a set of patterns that it’s looking for based on the other times that they’ve recognized SPAM before.  If enough patterns are found, it sends the email to the Junk Folder- otherwise it goes to the inbo
  7. The Engagement Filter is looking at the past history of the sender – in this case it’s Jordan. What this filter is looking for is whether or not the emails that Jordan sends to Monique get opened, clicked, forwarded or replied to.  If they haven’t, it’s a one way ticket to the Junk Folder – otherwise it goes to the inbox. Note – this is 100% based on the reputation of the sender not the reputation of the email sending service.
  8. So let’s say you make it to the inbox (BTW – according to the data I saw this morning from ReturnPath ~80% inbox placement is average), if your recipient is using a desktop mail client or Exchange or something else like that – there’s another SPAM filter your message has to get thru in order to actually get to the recipients inbox.  This is especially true with people that host their email with services like GoDaddy.  Outlook downloads the messages from GoDaddy’s email server, then runs them thru another SPAM filter just to be sure.

Alright, so now you’re an expert in the email process.  What does this have to do with anything? Now I can explain the 2 different definitions that people use for “Email Deliverability”.

Email service providers define email deliverability as an email where they get the message back from the recipient’s server saying they’ve got it from here (Step 4.5 above).  The reasoning for this is that once it gets into the hands of the recipient’s server getting into the inbox is 100% based on the content of the email and the history of the sender.  BTW – Infusionsoft’s deliverability rates based on this definition live in the 99%+ range.  I haven’t seen them dip below that in a long time.  That’s world class deliverability folks.

Users on the other hand don’t care whether or not the email was accepted by the recipient’s server, they care whether or not it got to the inbox.  That’s their definition. The problem with that is, they forget/don’t know that they play a huge part in getting their email to the inbox.  It doesn’t matter what Infusionsoft does – if you send emails about overseas Viagra pills – you’re not getting to the inbox. Similarly, if you’re using an AOL Email address as your from address – you’re not getting to the inbox (and you need to be hit on the head with a tack hammer).

So, what can you do to improve your inbox placement?

  1. Write engaging content that people actually want to get, open, read and click – Every email you send should have a call to action with a click
  2. Don’t do the dumb things that spammers do like pad your opt-out links and fill your email with nonsense words
  3. Setup your SPF record – Here’s a walkthru on how to do that
  4. Don’t just send an image with all of your text in it (it’s not going to show up anyway – everyone blocks images by default)
  5. Don’t send people messages they don’t want and don’t send them too many emails either you end up reminding them of that crazy stalker they once had

There you have it.  That’s how emails get delivered.  If you have any questions ask them below.  Don’t get offended if I refer you to the Tommy Boy video again… 🙂