Email Benchmarking Series: Deliverability Update | DMA

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Email Benchmarking Series: Deliverability Update


This article is written by Russell Dawson who is part of the Email Council and its Research Hub.

Following the release of the 2022 DMA Email Benchmarking Report, the DMA Email Council's research hub has prepared a series of articles explaining in more detail some of the most important aspects of the report. This article will be followed by an article by Saravanan Subburam and follows on from an article by Kostas Karagkounis (Clicks: A Deep Dive!).

The 2022 DMA Email Benchmarking Report, offers insights into how deliverability changed during 2021, the factors driving those changes, and what brands can do to ensure their inbox placement remains high.

How does this year compare to previous benchmarks?

In 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic, and the additional send volume that was common during that period, decreased B2C delivery rates to 97.9%, after continued increases over the previous four years.

Increased ‘service’ messages to all opted-in recipients impacted email deliverability due to increased spam trap hits, lower quality of data, and customer fatigue around receiving messages of support during the pandemic period. In turn open, click and click-to-open rates, all reduced slightly, because less emails were making it to primary inboxes.

It’s encouraging to see this rate back to pre-pandemic levels, averaging 98.1%. B2C had a positive year for deliverability with 99.0% the highest rate in the last 5 years, but B2B saw significant challenges, despite holding up well during the pandemic, falling to 95.7%.

Most sectors saw year-on-year increases, and only Publishing saw a decline, continuing a four years trend. Financial Services remains stubbornly low at just 96.9%, meaning over 3% of finance emails bounce, causing additional deliverability challenges.

What external factors have affected this and how likely is this to affect the new report?

Apple Mail Privacy Protection (MPP) arrived in September 2021 meaning inflated open rates and unreliable open times, geolocations and device information.

This impacts deliverability as subscribers appearing to open emails are in fact having their images prefetched, giving a false impression of open engagement. This reduces the overall ‘activity’ of your list, affecting sending reputation if allowed to build up over a longer period.

Some sending platforms are removing pre-fetched opens, allowing marketers to compare the two metrics, but in general, opens can no longer mean success in their own right but instead as part of a broader series of data points (such as clicks, site visits and orders).

B2B’s decline in delivery rate could be down to several factors including more stringent filtering and/or quarantining, especially with cybersecurity a higher priority for homeworkers. High levels of redundancies, the great resignation, and furloughs during this period, meant keeping B2B contact lists up to date became tougher. With more cold outreach than B2C, and less robust acquisition practices, we’re likely to see ongoing delivery challenges for B2B.

In the DMA’s most recent Email Deliverability Report, awareness of deliverability among marketers was broadly high. Just under half (48%) stating they are completely aware of this integral part of their email programme, 38% said they are merely familiar, and 14% reported no familiarity at all. This ties directly with operational performance, and if this number increases, delivery and inbox placement rates will rise.

Deliverability: What does ‘good’ actually look like?

Good B2C senders see delivery rates of 98% and above, with the best senders at around 99.5%.

B2C Delivery rates below 98% could indicate underlying issues with your data or sender reputation. While 98.1% always looks impressive it also means almost 2% of hard-won addresses are bouncing. It's a significant driver of list churn, and expensive when the value of an email address is £36, per the DMA’s Email Marketer Tracker Report.

There is also a big difference between delivery and deliverability.

Delivery rate is the percentage of the number of emails delivered (e.g not bounced) divided by the number of emails sent, whereas your deliverability rate is the percentage of emails actually seen by your subscribers. This is often referred to as ‘inbox placement rate’ and gives a truer account of what is happening behind the scenes.

You can have a good delivery rate whilst having underlying deliverability issues. Incorrect set up of domains and authentication, alongside poor data and sending reputation can push your emails to a subscriber’s junk folder, yet this still counts as delivered within your delivery rate.

Whilst it isn’t impossible to get to 99.50% to 100% delivery rate with good acquisition, sending and list cleaning activities, a lot depends on business processes (such as the timeframe for inactives removal) and customer behaviours (such as buying cycles). More realistic is to compare your own year-on-year rates, focusing on achieving better deliverability (inbox placement) rates. Small increments can soon become permanent gains!

Comparing your YoY negative and positive indicators, and determining what is acceptable, helps identify trends before they become larger issues that impact deliverability.

  • Positive Indicators: True Opens (not MPP) / Clicks / Read time / Move out of spam / Forwarding / Replies
  • Negative Indicators: Deleting without open / Move to spam folder / Mark as junk / Abuse or Complaint rates

Sender and domain reputation also play their part in good deliverability, and this can be measured. Higher reputation makes it more likely subscribers will receive their messages in their primary inboxes. Using Google’s Postmaster Tools, Validity’s Sender Score & Microsoft’s SNDS is a great way of monitoring reputation feedback, in conjunction with keeping bounces, junking and abuse complaints low.

It’s helpful to put yourself in the shoes of mailbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail & Microsoft. Their primary focus is protecting their customers from any spammy, phishing or fraudulent email activity. They won’t let emails into their customer’s inboxes unless they can be certain they are compliant and wanted. This emphasises not just the need for proper authentication, but also good sending practices that do not mimic these attributes.

Red flags that mailbox providers look for include;

  • Sudden large irregularities or jumps in sending volumes
  • Increased or high volumes of complaint and abuse rates
  • Hitting large numbers of spam traps
  • Sending to inboxes that are no longer accepting mail (abandoned)

Brands focused on collecting and utilising zero-party data, provided intentionally by subscribers such as preferences, and combining this with first-party data interactions will have high retention rates as they can provide higher levels of personalisation and segmentation maturity. Subscribers who are willing to provide this level of personal data are more likely to be engaged in the first place.

Good practices for maximising deliverability

Distinguishing yourselves from spammers by correctly authenticating with SPF & DKIM, ideally with DMARC protocols as well, has the biggest impact on inbox placement. And with Apple now supporting Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI), this additional visual inbox brand recognition for subscribers will further encourage legitimacy and higher opens.

Great delivery starts with great acquisition, and minimising harmful or invalid email addresses should be a priority for brands. Bots seek out unprotected subscribe forms with a view to spoofing & phishing attempts. Using acquisition tactics like email validation, double opt-in, reCAPTCHA, hidden fields, or “honey-pot” addresses ensures only interested and valid subscribers join your list, whilst also reducing your chances of invalid typo addresses.

Identifying and handling bounce management is an important area of a successful email program and can inform you of the quality of your recipient list and if any data hygiene actions are required. Contacts that are hard bouncing should be automatically removed and suppressed from further sends. Soft bounces should be appropriate to the frequency of your sends and should ideally be kept at under 2% or less. Proactive bounce management includes identifying your most common bounce types, providing good actions for keeping your email list clean and your bounce rate low.

Consistent sending volumes also help good deliverability. Slowly ramping up to full volume prior to sale seasons like Black Friday avoids looking like spammer behaviour because of the large jump in email volume.

Unengaged subscribers drag deliverability rates down, particularly those that join your email programme and then never engage. Automate the removal of non-activated new subscribers if they show no signs of email or web activity to help keep your lists clean.

Before removing non active subscribers, re-engagement campaigns provide a good opportunity to identify what has changed and why they’re no longer interacting. Highlighting relevant offers and content, updating preferences, quiz funnels and feedback surveys are all useful ways to update your subscriber data and help retention levels.


It takes time and hard work to build a good sending reputation, and just a short period to ruin it. Successful reputation management and inbox placement comes from proper data hygiene, address acquisition methods, and good monitoring. The higher the quality of your mailing list, the fewer bounces or negative indicators you will see post-send.

Reaching your target audience by sending emails recipients will engage with is the objective. Smaller, clean and engaged subscriber lists where a high percentage of recipients engage and action your emails, will keep inbox placement rates high and your emails out of the spam folder.

In the end, ensuring your most engaged and profitable subscribers actually receive your emails - into their primary inboxes - to take action has the most significant long-term impact on your email marketing success.

See more from the Email Council here.

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