How to Improve Deliverability with Analytics

Tonya Gordon is the Manager of Compliance & Deliverability Operations at Sparkpost, an email delivery SaaS for developers and enterprises.

Although the terms sound similar, and are sometimes used interchangeably, email delivery and email deliverability are two distinct concepts. Email delivery is simply the act of successfully transferring a message from one server to another; if a destination domain accepts a message from a sender, that message has been delivered. Email deliverability, on the other hand, involves the email arriving in the inbox and everything that happens to that message after it’s been delivered:

  • Was it opened?
  • Did its content drive the recipient to click on any links in the message?
  • Did the recipient forward the message or file it away?
  • Did the recipient delete it without reading it?
  • Did the recipient unsubscribe and/or file a spam complaint?

All these things taken together are sometimes referred to as engagement, and they can and will have an impact on the ongoing delivery of your mail: whether it’s accepted right away, accepted after a period of delay, or flat-out rejected. In this article, I’ll talk about how to measure your deliverability using analytics, and how to spot and address trends before they lead to problems down the road.

Using analytics to get the whole story on deliverability

Getting your messages accepted by the mailbox provider is only half the battle. The ultimate goal is getting your messages in front of the subscriber. The inbox and inbox tabs are where your subscriber will see, open, read, and take action with your message.

Many people feel that reporting tools are useful since they let you know when your messages are NOT being delivered. But they often fall short in letting you know whether the message is in a place where your subscriber will actually see it. Analytics can complete that picture. defines analytics as, “studying past historical data to research potential trends, to analyze the effects of certain decisions or events, or to evaluate the performance of a given tool or scenario”. The goal of analytics is to improve one’s business by gaining knowledge which can be used to make improvements or changes.

Identifying deliverability benchmarks for deeper insight

While analytics can be used to identify problems prior to them becoming huge, painful, long-lasting issues, using benchmarks as a part of your analytics gives you the ability to identify subtle blips and to analyze specific areas early on before they spread. Common deliverability benchmarks used:

  • Bounce Rate
  • First Attempt Delays
  • Open Rate
  • Spam Complaint Rate
  • Unsubscribe Rate

It is best to set benchmarks not only at the account level but also for your most important domain families (domains with the same mx that have the same rules for reputation and thus can be grouped together, i.e. the Gmail domain family includes and all google apps domains) or top volume domains. Once you have established your benchmarks, you should compare these with future stats, watching for any spikes or sudden drops. This is will allow you to quickly identify issues and begin troubleshooting. For example, a sudden drop in Open Rate with one of your high volume recipient domains could be caused by an outdated or non opt-in list being added to a campaign. Or, a sudden spike in delays with your overall account could show that your automated list hygiene process is not working as intended.

The importance of analytics and benchmarking is to catch issues early on, before they become long term issues that are difficult to resolve and hurt your ROI. The quicker you can catch issues, the easier it is to repair the damaged reputation. Analytics can also be used to improve deliverability by coupling benchmarking with A/B testing. It is all too common for campaigns to become stale. If you don’t keep content, subject lines, and templates fresh, you will lose subscribers due to boredom. Making changes can be very risky, one false move can result in losing subscribers. Analyzing each change using A/B testing to see what performs best prior to making an overall change is a safe way to keep your brand fresh and exciting without the risk.

While reporting tools are important for monitoring, it is imperative that you also analyze your data. Setting benchmarks and staying on top of the trends will not only improve your overall deliverability but will also make your email landscape successful!

About the Author

As the Manager of Compliance & Deliverability Operations, Tonya is a thought leader in her field providing direction and feedback during this exciting time of innovation. Tonya manages a team that maintains shared and dedicated environments to ensure that reputations stay positive and abusers are quickly identified and removed from the network. Tonya has worked in the email industry for over 20 years. Her experience comes from having worked on both the receiving (ISP) and the sending (ESP) side of email.