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Essence of email deliverability - SPF, DKIM, DMARC and segmentation


Recently I attended a lively discussion on email deliverability hosted by Litmus, one of the leading providers of email marketing tools. As email marketers one of the core metrics we often rely on is email deliverability and the discussion was around how to improve the email deliverability in today’s world where our audiences are ever inundated with emails. In addition we often find ourselves operating in a very competitive landscape vying for these audiences' precious attention.

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

Hence it’s becoming increasingly important to ensure our emails are reaching our audiences’ inbox and driving engagement. This is why email clicks and engagement are strong indicators of the performance of our email campaigns instead of just the delivery rate of our campaigns partly thanks to Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection.

So let’s start with the distinction between email delivery and email deliverability. This is very well articulated by Dimiter Batmaziam in the Litmus webinar.

Dimiter describes email delivery as when email is successfully delivered to the receiving entity and a status code of 250 is received. This means that there weren’t any hard or soft bounces and the email was successfully delivered. However he also calls out that this doesn’t mean that the email has reached the recipient’s inbox! The email still has to go through various spam filters before it reaches the recipient inbox. This is where email deliverability comes into play

Email deliverability is when an email reaches the recipient’s inbox after passing through all the spam filters. Consequently email deliverability is always hard to measure as unlike the email delivery the mailbox provider does not share any status codes informing the Email Service Provider (ESP) if the email reached the recipient’s inbox.

This is why measuring email deliverability is not an exact science and relies more on the engagement metrics to identify the success of the email. Consequently it is very important to ensure the essence of email deliverability is embedded in your email marketing practice to ensure your emails reach the recipients inbox and drive engagement. 

There are two (2) facet to ensure email deliverability is high:

  1. Email authentication 
  2. Email segmentation

1. Let’s start with email authentication. There are three (3) pillars to email authentication:

  • SPF  (Sender Policy Framework): SPF allows the receiving entity, Mailbox Providers (MBPs) to verify that the email is received from an IP address which is authorized to send email. This is an authentication protocol that lists the authorized IP addresses in a DNS TXT record that are authorized to send emails on behalf of the email subdomain. 
  • DKIM (Domainkeys Identified Mail): DKIM is a digital signature included in outgoing email which lets the receiving entity verify that the message came from the authenticated sender. 
  •  DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance): DMARC helps to specify to the receiving entity what to do if an email from the sender fails SPF or/and DKIM. This prevents unauthorized use of the email subdomain and also helps the sender to monitor all the emails which are using the sender subdomain.

You can learn more about the email authentications by referring to the links at the end of this post.

2. Here’s few things you can do to ensure your segmentation is at par:

  • At a very foundational level this means you send email to your audience with the right content, at the right time at the right frequency. The objective of this is to ensure your emails are relevant to your targeted audiences and result in continued engagement. This in turn fuels email deliverability.
  • You should allow the user to unsubscribe from your emails. This is never preferable however it’s better than allowing the user flagging your email as spam and impacting your deliverability.
  • You should allow the user to inform you which content they want, when they want and at what frequency they want. This can be achieved by providing the user with a preference centre. Then use the provided information to orchestrate your email campaigns.

In conclusion, email deliverability is becoming increasingly important to email marketers. High email deliverability fuels the effectiveness of the email campaigns. Hence getting the basic right will ensure all the hard work which is being put behind a creatively designed and curated email meets its potential. 


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