How to Started with Great Email Deliverability

SparkPost’s team of email deliverability experts has put together this guide to help you get off on the right foot with optimum deliverability. We detail ten best practices and key configuration steps you will use to get started sending messages through SparkPost with great deliverability.

This guide specifically is focused on deliverability best practices. If you’d like additional step-by-step help configuring your SparkPost account, please see the SparkPost New User Guide.

1. Create a sending domain

Creating a sending domain is an important first step when using SparkPost. When selecting a sending domain, it’s key to select a domain that matches your brand and purpose for the message. A few do’s and don’ts when selecting a sending domain include:

  • Do use a sub-domain of your primary web domain whenever possible.
  • Do use a sub-domain that makes its purpose clear, for example: newsletter.domain.com; email.domain.com; alert.domain.com; confirm.domain.com.
  • Do use a domain that references your web domain if you’re unable to use an actual sub-domain, for example: newsletter-domain.com; alerts-domain.com; confirm-domain.com.
  • Do use different domains for different types of mail, for example: separate newsletters, alerts, and order confirmations into separate domains.
  • Don’t use frequently spammed keywords as the sub-domain or prefix, for example: discounts, free, finance, loans, payday.

2. Verify and authenticate your sending domain

Before sending email through SparkPost, you must verify your sending domain. Configuring email authentication is an important part of this process. Email authentication makes your domain and IP more difficult to forge or “spoof” by spammers and phishers. It is a best practice to set up SPF, DKIM, and DMARC for your sending domain. Increasingly, ISPs such as Gmail, Microsoft, and Yahoo are using email authentication to help determine delivery, as they want to protect their users from potentially malicious mail.

3. Warm up dedicated IP addresses

If you have opted for a dedicated IP address, make sure to properly plan and warm up the IP. Please see our IP Warm-up Overview Guide for more information. Generally speaking, you will realize the most benefit from a dedicated IP address if you send more than 100,000 messages per send and develop a proper reputation for good delivery.

4. Create a custom bounce domain

Just like your sending domain, your bounce domain (also know as the Return-Path domain) has a reputation at many ISPs. While configuring a custom bounce domain is an optional feature for SparkPost accounts, in order to separate yourself from others sending in your shared pool, it is a best practice to create a custom bounce domain.

5. Create a custom tracking domain

Like sending and bounce domains, a tracking domain carries a reputation with many ISPs and filters. While configuring a custom tracking domain is an optional feature of SparkPost, doing so helps separate yourself from others sending in your shared pool. That’s why our deliverability team recommends the best practice of creating a custom tracking domain.

6. Upload your suppression list

If you’ve moved to SparkPost from another provider, it is imperative to import your suppression list from your previous provider. Doing so is crucial to protect your reputation by ensuring you don’t email bad addresses out of the gate. Neglecting to upload your suppression list and re-sending to those addresses will have an immediate negative impact on your sending reputation and your deliverability.

7. Remove unengaged subscribers from your list

When you begin sending, you will have no reputation built up for your IP address(es)—and domain as well, if it’s newly registered. As a result, ISPs and filters will be especially cautious when deciding how to treat your mail. Therefore, we recommend sending only to highly-engaged subscribers for the first 30 to 45 days until you have built up your reputation. This means that, if you mail daily, send only to subscribers that have opened or clicked on a message at least one time in the past 30 days. If you mail weekly, you can up that window to 60 days.

8. Send a test message

Before you send a campaign to your subscribers, it is best to send a test message to check the following:

  • Use SparkPost’s DKIM Validator to assure that your email is configured correctly for this key authentication standard.
  • Check the SMTP headers to ensure your custom domains are appearing as intended.
  • Check the message content to verify the tracking domains are working properly.
  • Review the message content for spammy words, HTML errors, and other quality issues.

9. Monitor delivery results

Deliverability best practices don’t stop with the send! Be sure to use SparkPost’s analytics to monitor delivery as well as opens in order to determine if messages are going to the inbox. Keep in mind that some delays to delivery are normal during the first 30 to 45 days as your reputation matures. However, if you send to highly engaged subscribers delays will be very minimal after just a few sends.

Of course, we all would like 100% delivered on every campaign. However, not even the most perfect sender can achieve uniform, 100% delivery. There are many reasons your mail may not be delivered: the address was invalid (hard bounce), the message was blocked (block bounce), or the message was delayed and timed out on retry (soft bounce). In most situations, if your Delivery Rate (acceptance rate minus admin bounces) is above 95%, you can rest assured that you are doing great and can be very proud of your sending practices!

10. Evaluate and take action

If you have followed the above best practices, there will not be many more actions to take. If you continue to see high complaints, blocks, or spam foldering, you should restrict your mailings to the most engaged users by tightening up your engagement window (last subscriber activity) further until those subside.

If you are experiencing delivery trouble and would like help from SparkPost’s team, you may open a support ticket for a review. Or, consider upgrading to our Premium Service add-on plan to get highly tailored recommendations from a dedicated Technical Account Manager (TAM) and our team of email deliverability experts.

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