list hygiene

Troubleshooting Email Deliverability

At some point in their email marketing experience, many organizations will run into deliverability challenges. If you’re seeing a steep drop in engagement or find your campaigns in the spam folder, you may be experiencing low deliverability. In this article, we’ll cover basic deliverability troubleshooting for email marketers.

What is Deliverability?

In layman’s terms, deliverability describes the likelihood your emails will end up in spam

Emails with high deliverability are likely to make it to the inbox, while emails with low deliverability (or deliverability issues) are likely to get flagged as spam. Deliverability is influenced by several factors, which can make it challenging to identify a singular reason emails start going to spam.

However, there are a few common culprits an email marketer can look for in their domains, account setup, audience, and campaign creation practices.

Why Emails Go to Spam

There are a few common reasons emails end up in spam, including:

  1. Lack of domain authentication
  2. Misconfigured DMARC, SPF, or DKIM Records
  3. Blacklisted domain
  4. Invalid addresses or spamtraps in the audience
  5. Spam reports from recipients
  6. Irregular send frequency
  7. Spammy email content
  8. Large file sizes in emails

In the following sections, we’ll cover reasons why emails commonly end up in spam, as well as a few other tips & tricks to address deliverability.

Authenticate Domain Through Your ESP

Most ESPs (Mailchimp, Klaviyo, etc.) provide a tool to authenticate your domain. Authenticating your domain means adding a handful of records to your DNS in order to prove that you have ownership of the domain and are legitimately sending email through the ESP.

Authenticate your domain in Mailchimp: Log into both Mailchimp and your domain host (Google Domains, Bluehost, GoDaddy, etc.). In Mailchimp, click on your profile picture, choose “Account & Billing,” then choose “Domains.” Mailchimp provides step-by-step instructions on how to add the appropriate records to your DNS.

Authenticate your domain in Klaviyo: Log into both Klaviyo and your domain host (Google Domains, Bluehost, GoDaddy, etc.). In Klaviyo, click on your company name on the lower right corner of the page, then choose “Settings.” Go to the “Email” tab and click “Sending Domains.” Input your sending domain, and Klaviyo will provide prompts to walk you through the process.

Configure SPF, DKIM, and DMARC

Even if you’ve authenticated your domain through an ESP, you may still run into domain configuration issues. The key DNS records for email deliverability are:

  • SPF: Lists the IP addresses permitted to send emails using your domain.
  • DKIM: Verifies emails as legitimate using encrypted hash codes. Emails received are checked against what was originally sent to rule out tampering. Here’s how it works.
  • DMARC: Builds on SPF & DKIM to define how email receivers should respond to non-compliant mail. Learn more on DMARC.org.

How do you know if there’s an issue with your SPF, DKIM, or DMARC records? We recommend a tool like MXToolbox or Dmarcly. Google and Yahoo launched new sender requirements in 2024, so it may be worth double-checking if you haven’t recently.

If there are severe problems with your DNS record configuration, a generalized email marketing expert may be unable to resolve them. Consider working with a DNS specialist who can analyze and correct your records.

Check the Blacklists

Some emails land in spam because the sending domain has been blacklisted. This means the sender’s IP address or domain has been added to a list of known spammers. While being blacklisted can be frustrating, it doesn’t have to spell the end for your email marketing program.

To remove your email from a blacklist, you’ll have to take the following steps:

  1. Use a blacklist checker to identify which list you’ve been added to
  2. Notify the blacklist database and receive their report
  3. Clear up any problems or suspected issues
  4. Wait for your email to be removed from the list

Some blacklists are harder to escape than others. Check out this guide from Mailchimp for more information on how blacklisting works and why some blacklists (like SenderScore) are stricter than others.

As a first step, you can pull up a blacklist report for your domain using any of the blacklist databases below:

Clean Up Your List

Once you’ve crossed domain & blacklist issues off of your checklist, take a close look at your audience list. Where are most of your subscribers signing up? When you look through your contacts, do you see suspicious emails? Keep an eye out for the following red flags:

  • Contacts with gibberish first and/or last names
  • Sudden influxes in subscribers from one source
  • Contacts with invalid domains
  • Foreign email addresses from markets you do not serve

If you see some odd-looking contacts in your list or have a large audience segment that hasn’t opened any emails in 3+ months, consider using a list cleaner. We like Zerobounce, but many list cleaners are available at various price points.

Once you sign up for a list cleaner, you can take the following steps to check your list hygiene:

  1. Export contacts from your ESP
  2. Import them into the cleaner 
  3. Wait for processing
  4. Download your contacts sorted by validity and activity

List cleaners vary, but generally, the contacts to avoid will be marked as invalid, spamtrap, or do-not-mail.

Managing and Avoiding Spam Reports

How you grow your list can matter just as much as what kind of contacts are on it. Make sure all subscribers have actively opted in for your emails. Always include an unsubscribe link in your email footer.

You never want contacts to be surprised they’re getting your emails. When contacts receive emails they did not sign up for, they’re more likely to report you as spam. Over time, spam reports can tank your email deliverability.

Additionally, avoid sending more than 3-4 emails a week and be mindful of aggressive sales tactics like all-caps, repeated exclamation points, and deceptive deals. Sometimes, even unappealing graphic design is enough to get you reported by particularly trigger-happy subscribers.

Send Frequency & Sudden Changes

Can sending too many emails get you sent to spam? Yes. How many is too many? It varies.

As frustrating as that can be, senders may find solace in the fact that deliverability changes are more often caused by a sudden change in send frequency, rather than a specific volume of emails sent. For example, if you leave your email marketing program on pause for 2 years, and then immediately start sending 3 emails a day to 5000 people, your deliverability will likely take a blow.

When it comes to send frequency, try to make gradual, strategic changes. Use segmentation & automation to send emails to the right people at the right times. Remember: When it comes to email, more is not always better!

Optimizing File Size for Email Deliverability

Emails with a very large combined file size are likely to be flagged as spam. When adding images to an email, make sure they are below 500kb each. Check out our guide to email image sizes for more info.

Here are some tools our team at Pure Firefly uses to compress and optimize images:

  1. Tiny PNG
  2. EZ Gif
  3. Optimizilla

Senders should also be wary of large attachments. When sending a free download or .PDF, make sure the file size is below 5MB.

Other Tips and Tricks

If you’ve taken the steps above and still aren’t seeing the results you were looking for, there are a few steps you can take to make a small (but positive) impact on your sender reputation.

  1. Personalize your “To” field: By including a contact’s first name, you indicate a more complete (and thus, more legitimate) record of your audience.
  2. Use live text: Never send an email with only images. This can be hard for people to read and may get you caught in spam filters.
  3. Reply to your emails: When contacts reply to your emails, they indicate an interest in your content. This active engagement can help you stay out of spam.
  4. Add to address book: If subscribers add you to their saved contacts or address book, they are less likely to miss your emails.
  5. Never embed videos: Most ESPs won’t even let you do this, because videos don’t usually render in the inbox. Resist the temptation to install any plugins that allow you to embed video – They are likely to damage your sender reputation.

BONUS: What about Machine Clicks?

Seeing contacts click every single link in your email? They may be extremely engaged, or they may be machine clicks. Some spam filters & inbox providers use automated clicks to check suspicious emails. This can even lead to accidental unsubscribes if the machine clicks on the unsubscribe link in your footer.

How do you spot machine clicks? Look for contacts that have clicked on every single link in an email in a very short time. Some ESPs (like Klaviyo) can show you on a click report if the engagement came from a bot or a human. You can also keep an eye out for trends in machine clicks coming from a particular domain.

If you do see machine clicks on several emails, it’s time for an email deliverability review. Unfortunately, there’s no way to 100% prevent automated clicks on your messages, but keeping a strong sender reputation can help limit them.

Escape Spam with Pure Firefly

Pure Firefly is a full-service email marketing agency. Our team has a combined 10+ years of experience, and we pride ourselves on providing cost-effective email solutions for small businesses, nonprofits, and schools. For help with deliverability, contact us any time!subscribe to our newsletter for mailchimp tips, tutorials, and news

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What Does “Cleaned” Mean in Mailchimp? Understanding Contact Statuses

If you use Mailchimp for email marketing, you’ve probably seen contacts being marked as cleaned. Cleaned is a contact status that impacts how you can store and market to a contact. Let’s dig into what Mailchimp’s cleaned contact status means and what you can do about it.

What is a “Cleaned” Contact?

In Mailchimp, a Cleaned contact is any contact that has been determined as invalid. In other words, this email address is unable to receive any emails. Typically, contacts are marked as cleaned after emails sent to that contact from your Mailchimp account have hard-bounced or repeatedly soft-bounced. Emails need to soft bounce at least 15 times for Mailchimp to clean a contact.

Because you are prevented from sending emails to a cleaned contact, it can be frustrating to see them on your account. Thankfully, cleaned contacts do not count towards your monthly plan limit. 

You can export cleaned contacts, but Mailchimp does not allow you to archive or edit them.

When Does Mailchimp Mark a Contact as Cleaned?

Mailchimp may clean a contact at any point in their lifecycle in your audience. Here are a few of the most common times when you’ll see a subscriber become cleaned:

  • After you send a campaign: When you send out a new email, Mailchimp will record the contacts that bounce. Addresses that hard bounce or soft bounce repeatedly will be marked as cleaned.
  • When you import contacts: If you import a misspelled or invalid email address, Mailchimp may automatically mark them as cleaned. Some emails will even be blocked from importing at all.
  • During an automated series: Sometimes contacts that initially appear valid will bounce back repeatedly, leading to them being marked as cleaned.

If you find that many of your new contacts are being blocked from import or immediately marked as cleaned, it may be time to brush up on list hygiene. Consider using a list cleaner like Zerobounce to remove invalid addresses.

What Do I Do With Cleaned Contacts?

Unfortunately, Mailchimp does not allow you to archive cleaned contacts. These contacts are removed from your billing but will remain in your audience unless you remove the list entirely.

To avoid cluttering your list with cleaned contacts, make sure invalid addresses are not allowed into your audience. Consider enabling double opt-in or reCAPTCHA to prevent spam on your signup forms. 

Double opt-in can also root out any real website visitors using fake email addresses – Some people will do anything for that 10% discount.

Can I Send Anything to a Cleaned Contact?

Contact statuses in Mailchimp impact what you can send. For example, users cannot send marketing emails to non-subscribed contacts. However, non-subscribed contacts can still receive postcards.

Cleaned contacts are unable to receive any communications from Mailchimp. 

Why is Mailchimp Strict About Cleaned Contacts?

Mailchimp maintains strict deliverability standards to protect the sender reputation of all its users. If a handful of Mailchimp users send to many invalid addresses, this can impact the delivery of all emails on Mailchimp’s platform. 

To keep everyone out of spam, Mailchimp constantly cleans contacts and monitors compliance with laws like CAN-SPAM & GDPR.

Optimize Your List Hygiene with Pure Firefly

If you’re struggling with managing cleaned contacts in Mailchimp, consider working with a Pro Partner like Pure Firefly. A qualified email marketing expert can help identify the source of cleaned contacts and develop a list hygiene strategy. Just send us a message for a quote on audience work.

30 & 60 Minute Training Calls are also available to answer all your email questions!

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Email Marketing Glossary: 10 Terms You Should Know

Do you speak email marketing language? For email newbies, the unique terms marketers use can be a roadblock to getting started. If you want to cut through the jargon and make the most of your chosen email marketing tools, learning the language is an easy first step. Here are 10 terms to get you started on your path to email mastery.

Segmentation

In email marketing, segmentation involves dividing your email list into smaller categories based on specific characteristics or behaviors. With segmentation, you can send subscribers the most relevant information. Some common methods for segmentation include:

  • Interest groups
  • Segmentation by demographics (age, gender, etc.)
  • Segmentation by location
  • Behavior-based segmentation
  • Purchase-based segmentation
  • Engagement-based segmentation

Email marketing tools like Mailchimp provide straightforward options to begin segmenting your audience. Check out our guide to tags, groups, and segments for more info.

Personalization

Personalization means customizing email content for individual recipients. This may use a recipient’s name or past behavior, and is often simpler to set up than it sounds! Marketing platforms like Mailchimp and Klaviyo use merge tags to customize how an email will appear to each subscriber.

Deliverability

In simple terms, deliverability means keeping your emails out of spam. Several factors can impact deliverability, including domain configuration, list hygiene, and compliance with GDPR and CAN-SPAM regulations. Because deliverability is impacted by so many different variables, working with an email marketing expert is often the best way to address deliverability issues.

Accessibility

Accessibility in email marketing means designing emails everyone can enjoy. Subscribers with disabilities, especially people using screen readers, can often run into difficulties reading the content of an inaccessible email. By using alt text and high-contrast colors, email marketers can improve their emails’ accessibility and make them available to all.

Engagement

In email marketing, engagement is the level of responsiveness your audience has to your content. Some common ways of measuring engagement include click rates, open rates, and revenue. For more information, check out our article on email marketing metrics.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is the practice of sending two different versions of an email to a sample of your audience to determine which performs better. You may A/B test an email’s content, “from” name, subject line, or other elements.

Call-to-Action (CTA)

An email’s CTA prompts recipients to take a specific action, such as making a purchase or signing up. It typically takes the form of a text link or a button. Some emails may include multiple CTA’s, while others focus in on one main action.

List Hygiene

List hygiene is routine maintenance for your email audience. Marketers with good list hygiene regularly remove inactive and/or invalid email addresses. Maintaining a clean email list can help with deliverability. If you’ve never cleaned your list, try starting with a straightforward tool like Zerobounce.

Subject Lines

Subject lines are the brief text that appears at the top of an email. They typically give subscribers a glimpse of the email’s content, and can be thought of as an email’s “title.” All emails are required to have a subject line, so developing an engaging subject is essential for email marketing success.

Preview Text

Preview text is a snippet of text that accompanies the subject line. Depending on your email client, it may display slightly shorter or longer than the subject line. Preview text often contains a snippet of text from the email copy itself.

Go Beyond the Basics with Pure Firefly

Maximizing your email marketing success takes more than a grasp of the basics. Pure Firefly offers 1-on-1 training sessions on the nuances of Mailchimp strategy, template design, and campaign analytics. Or contact us to kick off ongoing marketing work including account set-up, Mailchimp audits, template creation, and more.

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What is an Email Bounce?

Newbies to email marketing often wonder what it means when an email bounces. If you’re among these new marketers, don’t worry. Bounces are a common occurrence every email marketer must learn to manage. In this blog post, we’ll explain what a bounce is and delve into the key distinctions between “hard bounces” and “soft bounces.”

What is an Email Bounce?

Emails bounce when they are unable to be delivered to a specific address and are returned to the sender. This can happen for various reasons depending on the situation and type of bounce. Typically, bounces are divided into “soft” and “hard” bounces. Understanding the difference can make a major impact on your email marketing strategy.

What is a Hard Bounce?

A “hard bounce” is a type of email bounce that occurs when an email cannot be delivered to the recipient and is permanently rejected. Hard bounces typically result from issues that are unlikely to be resolved, such as:

  • Invalid Email Addresses: This is the most common reason for a hard bounce. If the recipient’s email address is incorrect or doesn’t exist (e.g., typos in the domain or username), the email cannot be delivered.
  • Blocked Emails: Sometimes, an email address may be blocked by the recipient’s email server, often due to spam or security reasons.
  • Domain Does Not Exist: If the domain part of the email address (e.g. gmal.com) doesn’t exist, it results in a hard bounce.

What is a Soft Bounce?

Unlike hard bounces, soft bounces are the result of a temporary issue that prevents an email’s delivery. Common causes include:

  • Mailbox Full: Similar to a hard bounce, if a recipient’s mailbox is temporarily over its storage limit, it can result in a soft bounce. This issue can be resolved when the recipient clears space in their mailbox.
  • Server Is Down: If the recipient’s email server is temporarily unavailable, you may be unable to send to it. This can happen due to server maintenance or technical issues. It typically resolves when the server comes back online.
  • Message Size Exceeds Limit: If your email message is too large to be delivered to the recipient’s mailbox, it may bounce. Use file-sharing links or optimize your image sizes to resolve this issue.
  • Recipient Server Timeout: Sometimes, the recipient’s email server may take too long to respond due to server congestion or slow network connections.

Why Email Bounces Matter

Understanding the difference between hard and soft bounces is crucial for several reasons:

  • List Maintenance: By identifying and removing email addresses that result in hard bounces, you can keep your email list clean and up to date, improving your email deliverability.
  • Reputation Management: High bounce rates, especially hard bounces, can negatively impact your sender reputation. Maintaining a positive sender reputation is essential for avoiding the spam folder.
  • Customer Engagement: Bounced emails fail to reach the intended recipient. Over time, this can lead to lower engagement rates and diminished campaign success.

How to Handle Email Bounces

Dealing with email bounces effectively can boost your list health and improve the success of future campaigns. Here are some steps to start with:

  • Identify Bounced Emails: Use an email marketing platform that tracks bounces and categorizes them as hard or soft bounces. This will help you understand the severity of the issue.
  • Remove Hard Bounces: For hard bounces, promptly remove the email addresses from your list. Continuing to send emails to addresses that hard bounce can harm your sender reputation. Try using a list cleaner like Zerobounce to root out any additional invalid addresses in your audience.
  • Retry Soft Bounces: For soft bounces, consider retrying the delivery after some time. Soft bounces may resolve themselves, especially if the issue is temporary.
  • Update Contact Information: Routinely encourage subscribers to update their contact info. This can help clear out invalid email addresses.
  • Monitor & Repeat: Keep a close eye on your bounce rates as you continue to email your audience. Promptly addressing any sudden spikes can prevent further deliverability issues.

Bounce Back with Pure Firefly

Email bounces are a common occurrence in digital marketing, and understanding the difference between hard and soft bounces is essential. To take your knowledge to the next level, consider booking a strategy session with the email marketing experts at Pure Firefly. We can take a close look at your campaign analytics and provide you with actionable steps to improve deliverability, maximize engagement, and help you convert subscribers into happy customers.

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How to Use Zerobounce for Email List Cleaning

Maintaining a clean contact list is crucial for email marketers. Thankfully, several tools and services offer you a clean list in an instant. Zerobounce is one of the most reliable among these options. In this blog post, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide to using Zerobounce, from uploading your audience file to interpreting the results. For more list-cleaning tips, book a training with one of Pure Firefly’s email experts!

What is Zerobounce?

Zerobounce is an email validation platform designed to improve the quality of your email lists. Basically, you upload the email addresses, and Zerobounce tells you which are worth contacting! Their software uses advanced algorithms and an extensive database to root out invalid email addresses, spam traps, and other low-quality contacts. After getting a full analysis of your list from Zerobounce, you can remove risky contacts to boost both engagement and deliverability.

Why is List Cleaning Important?

List cleaning is vital for maintaining a healthy sender reputation. Sender reputation is based on a variety of factors, including spam reports, active opt-in, and the presence of spam traps in your audience. By maintaining a healthy sender reputation, you can maximize overall deliverability. This means more contacts will actually receive your emails in their inbox.

By regularly cleaning your email list with a service like Zerobounce, you can continuously remove invalid and inactive contacts, which reduces your bounce rates, and minimizes the risk of being flagged as spam.

Upload Your File to Zerobounce

To clean your email list with Zerobounce, you’ll first need to upload your audience file. The process is simple:

  1. Create an account or log in
  2. Click on “Validate New List”
  3. Drag and drop your file, or import from cloud storage
  4. Match the columns in your file to the labels in Zerobounce
  5. Mark whether or not the first row contains column headers
  6. Confirm if Zerobounce can remove duplicate emails
  7. Hit Validate!

Once you’ve uploaded your file, Zerobounce may take up to an hour or more to complete the validation process. Zerobounce list cleaning supports CSV, XLS, XLSX, and TXT files of any size.

How to Interpret Your Zerobounce Results

After the validation process is complete, Zerobounce will provide you with a detailed report on the quality of your email list. Emails will be divided into the following statuses:

  • Valid: These contacts have a bounce rate under 2% and are the safest to email.

  • Invalid: Invalid emails either do not exist, contain a syntax error, or have a full inbox. As a general rule, these contacts should be deleted.

  • Catch-All: These addresses are set up on a unique kind of domain that always returns a valid response – even if there’s no one on the other end. If you want to keep these addresses, try making a segment of catch-all contacts and observing their response to a campaign.

  • Spamtrap: These emails are fake addresses set up by ISPs & blacklist providers in order to catch spammers. Sending to a spam trap can have an immense impact on your sender reputation, so definitely delete any that Zerobounce finds! Check out Mailchimp’s article on spam traps to understand how these addresses work.
  • Abuse: These contacts are typically real people that are known to report even innocent emails as spam. Avoid sending to these contacts, as even an inaccurate spam report can damage your deliverability.

  • Do Not Mail: These are most often role-based or company emails (like “sales@purefirefly.com”). While these addresses are valid, they’re typically poor contacts for most email marketing. Take a closer look at these addresses to determine whether or not you’d like to continue sending to them.

  • Unknown: As you might predict, Zerobounce can’t determine the validity of unknown contacts. Try re-importing them at no cost, or remove them from your audience. 80% of unknowns are invalid addresses.

Along with these statuses, Zerobounce also provides sub-statuses explaining why a contact may have landed in a particular status. They also provide additional predicted information about your contacts, including name, gender, and general location. 

What’s Next?

After you’ve cleaned your list using Zerobounce, you can choose how to make the most of the information provided! One great option is to archive any of the invalid, spam trap, and abuse contacts in your audience. You can even archive your full contact list and re-import the valid addresses.

You may also use your Zerobounce list cleaning results for segmentation. For example, you can use Zerobounce’s gender predictions to send targeted marketing based on gender. Or, you can create a tag for catch-all addresses and send a targeted campaign requesting that they re-confirm their subscription. 

However you choose to use your Zerobounce results, make sure you clear out those spam traps and send to your most valid addresses!

Get a Cleaner List with Pure Firefly

Ready to put your cleaner list into action? Pure Firefly, a trusted partner in email marketing, offers list-cleaning services and comprehensive training to help you optimize your campaigns. Our team of email specialists have over 10 years of experience in marketing, design, and IT. 

Contact us today for a free quote on any email marketing service! We look forward to working with you soon.

*Note: This post may include affiliate links. If you sign up for Zerobounce list cleaning using links in this post, Pure Firefly will receive a small commission. We never promote services we do not use ourselves, and all opinions expressed are our own.

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