A Beginner’s Guide to Great Deliverability

A couple years ago, I was chatting with a friend who was telling me about working at SparkPost. He asked me if I thought it would be a challenge to communicate about email and how it works. I have to confess, my first reaction was, “how hard can it be?” After all, I was a technically literate person who had a lot of enterprise tech marketing under my belt. I knew something about the basic standards involved with email transmission. I even had some hands-on knowledge of administering small-scale mail servers.

Suffice to say, it didn’t take me long to realize just how much I didn’t know! In particular, the challenge of ensuring email deliverability for large-scale senders was a real eye-opener.

If you’re at all like me, this story might feel familiar. And it’s why SparkPost’s deliverability team has put together 10 Steps to Great Email Deliverability. This deliverability for beginners guide is aimed at helping new senders get over the hurdle of “where do I begin?”

One thing I really like about this guide is that it’s very practical. It’s focused on 10 best practices and key configuration steps that will help any new sender get off on the right foot, including the best way to configure sending and bounce domains, how to warm up a new IP address, why email authentication affects email deliverability—and the all-important impact of subscriber permission and engagement.

Additional Deliverability for Beginners Resources

By the way, once you’ve had a chance to work through these 10 starting steps, you might want to check out some additional resources that will help you continue to develop great email deliverability.

  • The Intro to Email Deliverability section of our SparkPost Academy is a great starting point for SaaS teams looking to learn about deliverability
  • In Email Best Practices 101, SparkPost’s head of deliverability, Kate Nowrouzi, builds on these starting tips with a curriculum that will help you to increase the ROI of your email operations with 15 proven tactics for boosting email deliverability.
  • And if you’re a developer new to building email into your apps, you might especially appreciate our Developer’s Survival Guide to Email. It’s a light-hearted read highlighting the quirks and idiosyncrasies that turn out to be “gotchas” for many developers.
  • Anyone can send email, but let’s not forget the key players on the other side of the equation who actually deliver it—ISP inbox providers. They sometimes earn a reputation as demanding deliverability gatekeepers, but their rationale really isn’t a mystery. Their job is to ensure that their customers (and ours!) have a great experience with email. It’s well worth getting the perspective they share in the 9 Things ISPs Really Want Email Senders to Know.
  • And finally? You’re looking at it. 🙂 SparkPost’s team consistently shares great blog posts about using Google’s postmaster tools to troubleshooting blacklisted IP addresses to the surprisingly complicated question of how to measure email deliverability. Dig into our Deliverability category for a wealth of information for newbies and experts alike.

If you’re a new sender, what kinds of challenges did you face ramping up your programs? And if you’re a pro, what do you wish you’d known when you got started in this business? Sometimes the best lessons are the ones you learn the hard way. Let us know in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter.


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IP Warmup: How to Gain Credibility with ISPs

Switching Email Service Providers (ESPs), changing data centers or simply adding a new IP address to your outbound mail traffic will most likely require you to “Warm Up” an IP address. Warming up an IP address means establishing a reputation with the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) so you can send more mail and at a faster rate. I like to compare IP reputation to an ISP like a new neighbor moving in next door. You most likely won’t hand them a spare key to your house (Whitelisting at an ISP) right away. They’ll need to gain your respect by meeting you several times and getting to know you (sending a little bit of mail to users who are opening messages).

Now the first thing we need to make sure of before we start warming up an IP address is that all DNS entries are in place before the first piece of mail goes out the door. This includes PTR, A and MX records, SPF, DKIM value. Test that your configuration is setup properly with a validation tool such our DKIM Validator.

Slow and steady wins while thinking of volume to the ISPs. The last thing you want to do is flood an ISP with all of your traffic right away. Choose the email addresses or channel that has the most engaged subscribers and mail to those first. As users open your mail, your reputation will increase. As your reputation increases, ISPs will begin to accept more mail from your IP address.

You will hear many different opinions on how many messages each ISP will accept per hour or per day as you are starting to send messages on your new IP address. The most important thing is to listen to the ISP on what they are telling you through failure analysis. Start with a few thousand messages to each ISP and then analyze your logs. See if the ISPs are accepting, deferring, rate limiting or rejecting your messages. Then you can adjust your daily and hourly volumes accordingly. Most senders can double their volume every 1-2 days if messages are being highly accepted throughout their IP warmup.

When your IP address is finally “warm” continue to follow best practices to keep your IP reputation intact. Keep in mind that if your IP sits for too long, you might lose all reputation on that IP address. If that happens,  you’ll need to start over with the IP warmup process. ISPs don’t like to see spikes of valleys in volume, so keep a consistent volume and cadence of traffic on your IP address to maintain the best reputation. Any time you add a new traffic stream, domain record or make other changes in your sending configuration, it is best to warm that traffic up with a slow approach.

-Brady Edwards

P.S. Want to learn more? Our IP Warm-Up Guide provides a practical framework for managing IP warming.

Do you have questions about IP warmup? Something we missed? Comment below.

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