4 Tactics to Maximize Email Deliverability Inbox Placement Rates | npENGAGE

4 Tactics to Maximize Email Deliverability Inbox Placement Rates

By on Oct 1, 2019


Nonprofit Marketing, online marketing, email marketing, email campaign

The days of the “wild west” when it comes to mass email marketing, where anyone can employ mass email to send an email message to any email address, if it existed, and it was delivered, have come to an end.  Starting during the weekend of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and #GivingTuesday in 2016, Gmail introduced a new method for measuring the quality of engagement when it comes to email deliverability from the email sender to determine if an email should be delivered to an inbox, known as the inbox placement rate.  While many senders were in the “spray and pray” mindset, Gmail was quietly setting the stage for the next era in email marketing and flipped the switch during the most critical time of year for many nonprofit organizations.

Today, things are much more different and if you don’t play by the rules, your emails are sure to miss their mark when it comes to email deliverability. They could be delivered to a junk mail folder or possibly worse, not delivered at all and rejected as spam by the receiving mail server like Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo!, etc.  At Blackbaud, we have developed several resources to help social good professionals not only comply with legal requirements like the CAN-SPAM Act and Canada’s CASL Law but also to understand and adopt industry best practices and content strategies with our very own Blackbaud Email Resource Center.

Here are 4 quick strategies that you can adopt right now to move closer to maximizing your email inbox placement rates:

  1. Quality over quantity

email deliverability

The first thing that you want to understand about the email marketing world today is that it isn’t about the sheer number of contacts in your list. Today, email is about engagement and not quantity. The more engaged your recipients are with your emails, the more likely that a receiving email server will let your emails through and be delivered to the inbox, increasing your email deliverability.

That means that you must cut and stop sending to those email addresses that are not opening your email messages for the past 3-6 months. Sure, it can be a scary thought, but if you really think about it, those email contacts were not reading or opening anything you were sending anyway. Even though you are sending to a smaller list, you are sending to the same people you have been sending to all along, just without the non-opener email recipients included.

Finding and weeding out any non-opener contact records can be easily done if you leverage a marketing solution that automates the process of finding and excluding non-opening email contact records before you send each and every email.

  1. Help your recipients avoid the “This is Spam” button/link at all costs

Litmus chart email spam

The above chart shows why people will mark an email as “spam”.  Those who cannot find the unsubscribe link or know how they got into your email list are two reasons why someone might mark an email as “spam”.  Here are some quick things you can do to combat users marking your emails as spam:

    • Move your unsubscribe link near the top of your email message. This will make it easier for users to find the link to unsubscribe. Further, unsubscribes do not hurt your email sender reputation where an email marked as “spam” can hurt your sender reputation for months and serve to decrease your email deliverability.
    • Uncheck opt-in checkboxes on informational and donation forms where the purpose is anything other than a form to explicitly sign up for emails. Let your users decide if they would like to receive email from your organization.  Maybe someone who is donating is doing so because a friend of theirs holds your organization in such high regard that they ask their friend to make a donation for things like their birthday or as a way to honor their friendship. The donation, in this case, could be about friendship and not necessarily tied to your mission or your activities as a basis for what inspired the person to donate to your organization.
    • Set expectations with a Welcome Series. When someone new enters your email list, it is always a good opportunity to lay out the metaphorical welcome mat and speak with them early on by setting expectations on how often you plan to send emails to their inbox. Further, you can also invite your Welcome Series recipients to update their preferences at any time and you can offer a choice of how often they prefer to be contacted by your organization and what topics of interest they care to hear about from your organization. Further, using a cloud-based, comprehensive marketing solution can help you in making sure you are reaching new subscribers every day by automating a Welcome Series of email messages.
    • Provide opportunities from time-to-time for users to choose their topics of interest. Targeting the right person, at the right time, with the right message can be a challenge when it comes to email segmentation practices. However, this can be a relatively easy task when you know that those who you are messaging care about a given email message’s topic. Recording past actions and activities such as whether someone attended an event in the past, donated, filled out a specific online questionnaire or clicked on a specific link in an email can help you with segmentation. In addition, from time-to-time, simply sending an email that invites your users to update their email topics of choice and preferences, including how often your organization should contact that person, will go a long way to laying a solid foundation for your relationship with the email recipient. Through each of these methods, it helps you understand how the email recipient is connected to your organization and further, you are speaking to the recipient about something that they prefer to hear about from your organization where they feel in control about how and when you can and should communicate with them.
  1. Ratchet up your user engagement with more clicks

Nothing demonstrates engagement more than a click. Sure, your email recipients are opening the email message and engaging by opening your email message but further, they are engaged with your emails when someone clicks on a link in your email message. The more clicks you can generate with your email messages, it will help your email sender reputation and email deliverability by demonstrating to the receiving email server, e.g. Gmail, that your users want your emails and they are eager to engage with it.

The more engaged your email recipients are with your email messages, the more likely your email gets an increasingly higher email inbox placement rate with future messages.

Some things that drive clicks can be as simple as a link to a video, the full article where, in your email, it is a sample of the full article’s content, something with urgency such as a deadline to register or sign up, etc.

  1. Make it personal

Adding someone’s first name in the salutation, such as “Dear John” is a good start to personalizing content. However, you can go further by speaking to someone’s experience such as thanking the person for attending a past event or volunteering at the last volunteer opportunity can help the email recipient feel appreciated and more likely to get involved further and will become more engaged with your email messaging.


Although the landscape of the mass email marketing industry has certainly changed, by introducing these few suggestions above to your everyday practices, you can adapt and excel at reaching higher email inbox placement rates and ultimately further, increase engagement with more donations, form responses and overall email recipient satisfaction through their interactions with your organization. Working to change the mindset from that of “bigger is better” to “smaller but engaged” email universe can be a challenge and does take buy in from every person who is a part of a mass email program.

Helping your recipients to avoid the “spam” link in favor of the unsubscribe link, unchecking opt-in checkboxes on forms that are not sign up forms, setting expectations with new email list subscribers, and providing opportunities for your users to give you feedback on what they prefer to hear from you about will go a long way to ensuring a quality and happy email list for the lifetime that an email contact remains in your list.

Generating clicks as a focus with every email message will also further increase email inbox placement rates where users are demonstrating that they are happy to find your email in their inbox and are willing to engage with it.

Finally, making things personal means more than mentioning someone by their name in the email message.  It means acknowledging past behaviors and activities and will help grow their affinity toward your brand and mission.

Together, all of these things mentioned above will help you reach higher email deliverability and help increase your supporter engagement with your email recipients and who knows, you might find an increase in your revenue and list subscriptions rates as well.


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Will was lucky enough to work with many Congressional offices on Capitol Hill and nationally recognized nonprofits in Washington, DC to manage their online and e-mail marketing campaigns as well as their social media and Web presence. He holds a Masters of Public Administration with a Concentration in Nonprofit Management from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Nevada, Reno in political science with a Spanish minor.

He currently serves in the capacity of Senior Implementation Analyst at Blackbaud, deploying new and existing clients as a product specialist for all things Blackbaud Luminate Online with some web development projects sprinkled in for fun.  His passion lies in all things politics, snowboarding, and gaming and web marketing and design.  He is a husband and father of three young children working remote out of Reno, Nevada. To learn more about Will, please visit his website at WillHull.com.


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