Why your emails don’t hit the inbox

When you click send, how do you know your email will get where you want it to?

… I know you want to make sure your package gets into the right mailbox… but I’m not sure Mailchimp does physical packages…

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Aug 7, 2018

The Email Challenge…

Let’s not beat about the bush.  Email marketing is getting harder (something I’m sure you’ve heard a lot recently).

On average we receive nearly 150 emails a day (or so the stats say) – That’s a lot of noise to cut through.

Don’t get me wrong – email is still the #1 route to success when it comes to marketing it’s just not as easy as it used to be. You used to just press send, your email arrives in someone’s inbox, they open and click – simple.

The problem is that as things get more and more congested, each step is becoming harder.

Before you can get it opened, read and clicked, you’ve actually got to get the email into the inbox (and try and avoid the spam folder or maybe the gmail “promotion” folder).

and once you’re in the inbox you’ve got to stand out and be recognised, in the hope you’ll be the one picked (a bit like the aliens in the arcade claw game in Toy Story).

and then you’ve still got to actually engage in the email itself, and drive some positive action.

It’s Not Easy!

but in my book, the harder something is, the more chance you’ve got of succeeding if you do it right (and beating the competition)… when the going gets tough…

As a MailChimp user, you have all the tools you need to succeed at email marketing at your finger tips.

but the ball is fully in your court to make things happen:

  • You impact how many of your emails get into the inbox (not MailChimp)
  • You impact if your email actually gets opened
  • You affect whether someone takes action or not when they read your email.

It’s all your fault but that means you get to solve it too!

The life (& purpose) of an email…

What happens when you press send, or when someone puts their email into a form on your website and clicks “sign me up”?

Your email doesn’t magically appear in an inbox, get opened and clicked. It goes on a journey – and each step of the journey can prevent it from achieving its  purpose.

In fact, if you improve its ability to get over each of the individual hurdles it faces – your overall chances of success increase exponentially.

There are 3 stages/hurdles to get over:

  1. Getting into the Inbox
  2. Getting opened
  3. Stimulating an action

and therefore 3 main email stats you need to know:

% Delivered

% Opened

% Clicked

If you assume 50% of your emails actually get into someone’s inbox, 50% of them get opened and 50% of those get clicked, if you send 1000 emails, you’ll get 125 clicks.

i.e. 1000 x 50% = 500 delivered x 50% = 250 opened x 50% = 125 clicked.

but if you improve each individual step by 10% you get a 72% increase in clicks.

1000 x 60% = 600 delivered x 60% =  360 opened x 60% = 216 clicked – 72% over the original level, another 91 clicks!

That’s why addressing each step of the journey individually is important – as well as actually diving down into the ‘micro-steps’ that are taken at each point.  If we can improve every element – the impact on your emails will be huge!

So with that in mind, let’s delve into this first area – all about the hidden element that everyone forgets, and yet is potentially the biggest barrier to your email success – getting the email into an inbox.

because if you succeed just in improving your deliverability, this will have an exponential impact on your results.

Getting Email Delivered

Most of us probably take deliverability for granted, because we don’t ever see any reports on how good our deliverability is. All we see are open and click rates – no “arrived in inbox” rates.

The only deliverability information we do get is information on bounces (emails that cannot be sent because the destination either doesn’t exist (hard bounce) or isn’t accepting email (soft bounce)), and even then MailChimp does the heavy lifting and removes them from our list – some of us don’t even check this.

The problem is that deliverability is a huge step in achieving success – and it’s getting harder and harder with inbox providers doing all they can to ensure only the “right” emails get into their customer’s inbox .

So how do improve deliverability?


Your name is not down, you’re not coming in…

Before we answer that let’s do a quick refresher on how email actually works – which is a little like going clubbing.

There’s a nightclub you’ve been desperate to go to in your local town, so you get all dressed up in your best gear and head off.

but there’s a bouncer on the door.

Are you on the guest list?

Do I know you from another time you’ve visited?

Did I let you in last time without any questions?

Do you look like someone who’s caused trouble in the past?

Do you look like you’ll cause trouble today?

If you’re lucky, they let you in straight away if not, it’s into the queue (and maybe a long night in the cold, waiting!)

That’s what sending an email today is like.

The bouncer for the night club is an inbox provider, one that controls the email accounts of the people you’re communicating to.

There are lots out there whether they be the big 3 (Gmail, Yahoo and Microsoft) or any of the masses of others, both private and corporate.

They use all the information they can to decide whether your email ‘deserves’ to get into their customers inbox or put into the spam box (or in Google’s case, the ‘promotional’ folder.

They control the first step of the email’s journey.

So when an email is sent there are actually two people you need to build a relationship with the end user and the inbox provider that is the bouncer for their inbox.

Five Areas to improve deliverability

Fortunately, for you the emailer, improving your deliverability is not a massive task.

Firstly, because you’re using MailChimp (you are a MailChimper aren’t you?), they’re doing a lot of the hard work for you. Remember, MailChimp has one simple objective – to get your email delivered.  If it can’t do that, it’s not really doing anything.  Which is why every day MailChimp is working hard to get your emails in the inbox.

MailChimp is probably one of the best EMS tools (if not the best) at getting into the inbox because it’s the biggest.

Ok, so what can you do?  There’s one task you need to do initially and then the rest is just common sense.

but let’s break it down into 5 areas with a bit more detail:

  • Are you really who you say you are? – Verification & Authentication
  • How good is your list? – List Quality
  • What have you done in the past? – Reputation
  • What’s in the specific email? – Content
  • Did it work? – Testing

(and if you’re the type of person who doesn’t need the background/detail and just wants to jump to the key actions – just click here to go to the  conclusions section which has a quick hit list of what you need to do)

1) Verification & Authentication

First step is to verify and authenticate your domain.

To let MailChimp send emails which appear to come from your email address, even though it’s MailChimp’s servers that are actually sending the email, MailChimp needs to verify your address.

It does this by sending you an email, which you then click to confirm it’s your address – to be honest, you can’t really use MailChimp without carrying out this step.

You can see what domains you’ve got verified by clicking on your image/account name (top right hand corner) and then clicking Account >> Settings >> Verified Domains.

You should see a screen like this:

It is worth noting that although you can use ‘free’ email domains, such as Gmail or Yahoo in MailChimp as your sending domain, it’s not recommended.

Firstly, it doesn’t look very professional if you’re a business and you’re still using a gmail account to market to  but more importantly, you can’t authenticate it – which is the next step. If you want to get serious about deliverability, you need to authenticate your domains.

Authentication is like an email “passport”, that MailChimp can attach to your emails so that when an inbox provider gets your email, it knows that it’s really from you – which is a big plus point when it comes to deliverability.  Unfortunately, setting up Authentication is not as simple as just clicking a link in an email. 

You will need to have access to your hosting account (where your domain sits) – so you can add some information to the Domain Name System (DNS) associated with your domain. Here’s a link to MailChimp’s article on how you set it up – http://chimp.tips/domainauthentication

Unfortunately, every system does it a little differently, but hopefully the instructions will get you where you need to be (and if not, there are usually some videos/blogs out there which are hosting account – specific. Just do a search)

Once you’re Verified & Authenticated you get a nice green tick ✅ on the verified domain page.

2) List Quality

Once you’ve verified & authenticated your domain, it’s time to start sending emailsbut beware, as every time you send an email – what happens to it gets logged by the inbox providers – and they start to build a picture of you and the type of emailer you are.

One area they pay close attention to is list quality – So how good is your list?

Did you crawl the internet (do people still do a ‘webcrawl’?) grabbing email addresses from websites?

Did you get people to sign up and complete a form? and did you get them to opt in twice (aka the Double Opt In)?

and are you regularly cleaning out email addresses that don’t open or read your emails?

All of these things have an impact on the health of your list, and thus your deliverability.

List Quality  – Building your list

When you start email marketing, you may be desperate for email addresses – but unfortunately, if you’re bad, this can have a negative impact on your deliverability.

Many inbox providers use “spam trap email addresses”, which if you add to your list, they know that the only way the address can be sent to is if someone has done something bad to get it in the first place. So don’t just grab email addresses where you can.

Also, if you’re not checking those emails and making sure their owners actually want to be on your email list, you’re likely to get a higher number of unsubscribes and even spam complaints. Both are signals for inbox providers that you’re doing something wrong.

Plus, in those instances MailChimp itself won’t like you either, and if the unsubscribe or spam rate for any single campaign goes above a certain level, the ‘chimp police’ (known as Omnivore) will put a hold on your account – not what you want.

MailChimp are very protective of their reputation when it comes to sending emails (considering it’s all they really do, it’s no wonder they’re so sensitive), and will hit hard anyone who impacts their deliverability.

and finally, a load of people not even opening your emails (i.e. a low opening rate) because they aren’t interested, is yet another signal to inbox providers that you’re not the best when it comes to sending emails to people who actually want them.

When it comes to how you build your list – there’s one key rule.

Only add emails to your list of people who have actually said they want to receive your emails

One thing that you might consider is running your database regularly through an email verification service.  These will check your emails and remove any known “bad” ones.

There is a cost, but it’s very low at less than £0.01 per email address checked.

I’d recommend you do this every 6 months or so – it’s better to be safe then sorry!!!

The ones I like are:

List Quality – Maintaining your list

Of course, once you’ve got a list, you need to clean it (According to Litmus in 2017, 47% of brands don’t clean their list).

This means regularly carrying out maintenance on it and removing the dead weight – the people who never open your emails. Inbox providers use engagement as an indicator.

All they are doing is dragging down your deliverability rates and thus impacting your ability to put emails into the inboxes of those who do want to read them.

So how do you remove those who are “unengaged”?

MailChimp lets you identify these people using segments. If you want to do this, just follow these steps.

Open the list to its standard “spreadsheet view”…


You can keep this list, and send them an email asking if they want to be kept on or taken off the list

and if they don’t answer, you can probably remove them – thus cleansing your list.

You should try and do this activity every few months to keep the list fresh.

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3) Your Reputation

Assuming you’ve authenticated your domain, and you keep a nice clean list – sending emails only to those who want them – you’re very much on the right track. Fortunately, as long as you do this and are just a “good emailer”, you’ll probably be fine.

In fact, authentication, a clean list and your reputation as a sender (i.e. are you a good emailer?) are the key things you need to focus on, much more so than the content of the email itself.

Inbox providers are continually analysing what happens when they send an email from your domain into one of their inboxes and are looking for signals that the email is good. Here’s what they are looking for when it comes to building a good reputation:


  • The email gets opened
  • The email gets read
  • The email gets scrolled to the bottom
  • The email gets clicked on
  • The email gets replied to (so don’t use a “no-reply” email address!)
  • The email gets forwarded
  • The email address is whitelisted and added to an address book
  • An email that doesn’t take a long time to load – so don’t make it too big!


  • The email doesn’t get opened
  • The email gets deleted without being opened
  • The email generates an unsubscribe
  • The email generates a spam complaint

This is good too as all of these are actually not only good signals for the inbox providers, they’re good signals for you!!!

So by making sure that you’re being ‘pure’ in your intentions when it comes to email will ensure you’re on the right side of the inbox provider.

All of these will build a positive reputation and thus help ensure your emails get where you want them to go – the inbox.

The most important email you’ll ever send

You start building a reputation from the first email you ever send to someone – which means that starting as you mean to go on is important.

A good first email can have a huge impact on your reputation and position things positively for future emails.

Here are a few tips specific to your domain’s reputation with inbox providers relating to the first email you’ll ever send.

Here’s some tips to make the most of it:

  1. Make sure it’s sent straight away – i.e. if they’ve just filled a form to sign up on your website – make sure the email is sent straightaway – a delay and they’ll forget why they signed up (and thus not open/interact and may even complain!)
  2. Make sure it’s relevant – if you’re delivering something by email (a pdf for example) make sure it’s there!
  3. Ask the recipient to white list your email address (i.e. add it to their address book).  This is a big “proceed direct to the inbox” signal for inbox providers
  4. Ask them to click and connect on social media – good clicks = good inbox provider signals.
  5. This is a bit sneaky, but add a p.s. at the end of the email asking them to reply so you know they got it.  This reply is another great signal for inbox providers  only people with good reputations get replied to!
  6. and if you can get them to forward the email – even better – that’s a top quality signal to an inbox provider that your stuff is good and not spam!

Finally, Inbox providers will look at how often you send.  Try and be consistent and regular when it comes to your emails (whereas a huge gap and then a big “dump” of emails doesn’t look great).

4) Content

Fortunately, if you do a good job with the first 3 elements of deliverability, you probably don’t need to worry as much about the content side of things as you think.

Authentication, List Quality and Reputation trump content every single time.

but if you’re still skating on thin ice.. here’s a few tips, all of which are common sense and are just good email practice.

  • Avoid spammy words.
  • Don’t have all images and no text.
  • Don’t have links to bad websites.
  • Don’t overdo the caps lock.
  • Lots of explicit “buy my stuff” will also harm you.
  • Don’t overload the email – having too much content will slow the load time

MailChimp has some advice on subject lines that work (or don’t) here – http://chimp.tips/goodsubjectlines

5) How Do I Know – Actual Deliverability

One question I get asked a lot is “how do I know if I’ve got a good reputation or not with the inbox providers?” closely followed by “I’ve sent a test email to myself and it’s gone into spam – what should I do?”

Firstly, sending yourself an email which goes into your own spam is in no way indicative of what will happen when you send an email to everyone.

Hopefully you can now see that each inbox provider looks at a whole host of factors – there’s much more to it – and your recipient’s activity when receiving your emails is most important.

so how do you know if you’re getting to the inbox?

Fortunately, there are some tools out there (free ones!) which you can use to check your email.

Both websites give you a test address that you can send a test email to.  They’ll then let you know whether the email will get into an inbox (or not).

If you upgrade to the paid level, you can get much more information and specific reasons why you went to the inbox/spam/promotional folder etc.

If you send lots of emails, it makes sense to pay for a bit more information on how you can improve your inbox deliverability (and you can get 3 full reports with a free account to test it out).

Every little helps especially this close to the start of an email’s journey.

Deliverability Conclusions

Deliverability has a massive impact on your email marketing success – and yet it’s an area that you probably never really think about.

…but with a bit of knowledge and a small amount of time you can improve the number of inboxes you hit… and have more people opening, reading and acting on your emails.

Here’s your target activity list:

  1. Get your sending domain authenticated.
  2. Don’t grab emails from anywhere – only add emails that you know are real and want to receive your information.
  3. Keep your list clean and remove any “dead weight” by regular culling of dead emails through a “are you in or out” campaign.
  4. Regularly run your list through an email validation tool.
  5. Build a good reputation with inbox providers by being a good emailer.
  6. Focus on good signals (opens, clicks, whitelists, replies) and avoid bad signals (unsubscribes and spam complaints) in your emails.
  7. Your first email is the most important email you’ll ever send – so make sure it ticks the boxes.
  8. Don’t overdo the spammy words and other “spam like” design elements.
  9. Check your emails regularly with a tool like Glock Apps to make sure they’re getting into the inbox.

Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to a much higher deliverability rate, which will have a massive impact your opens and clicks!

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Robin Adams

Robin Adams

Robin Adams is a business owner who is passionate about helping businesses build effective marketing systems that work and don't waste money. Having a lifetime of Marketing experience (he's got a degree in Marketing before there were degrees in Marketing!) and having worked for big and small businesses and both client and agency side, he understands not only the theory, but the systems that are required to underpin everything.
51% marketer and 49% Chimp, Robin is the main man behind chimpanswers.com and the Mailchimp Answers Facebook Group - the world's biggest Mailchimp User Group. Connect with him on Linkedin.

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