Sending an email does not mean the email gets delivered.

Few people know this.

To maximize email deliverability, you must build a healthy, engaged email list that wants your emails. You must also clean your email list regularly. A clean, engaged list is more important than the email service you use, the volume you send, and the content in your emails.

This guide to email deliverability is for email marketers and content creators with 0 to 25,000 email contacts.

It’s based on sending 100+ million emails and performing 1,000+ split tests.

You are going to learn the major factors that impact email deliverability.

You’ll see that email deliverability comes down to relationships and not being stupid. 

And if you have a healthy list and good email content, you won’t have to worry about your messages getting delivered.

Why Email Deliverability Is So Important

Say you have 10,000 contacts on your email list.

You write your email, and you hit ‘Send.’

Your email app says your email was sent.

And it was sent.

But only 9,000 people got the email.

1,000 emails bounced or just disappeared.

This is disastrous if your business depends upon email.


Before we start, let’s define two terms for important players in the email deliverability world:

Email Sending Provider (ESP): a company that manages bulk email lists, sends, and automations (like MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit, BeeHiiv, Substack, etc.)

Internet Service Provider (ISP): a company that delivers internet traffic including emails to you (AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, Cox, etc.)

What Causes Emails to Not Get Delivered - Soft and Hard Bounces

When an email doesn’t get delivered, it’s often referred to as a “ bounce.”

There are two types of bounces, soft and hard.

Soft Bounce means the rejection is temporary. 

Emails can soft bounce because:

  • The email box has no storage left (common for Gmail users that don’t watch their storage limits)
  • The email server was down at the time (not unusual for small companies running on old systems)
  • The email was too big (an issue if you send large attachments)

With a soft bounce, you can send to the address in question in the future.

A Hard Bounce means the rejection is permanent, which can happen when:

  • The email account no longer exists (like when someone leaves a company)
  • The email address was entered wrong (like someone entering yahoo.con instead of
  • The email address was changed
  • Your email address or domain has been blocked from the receiver’s side

Many Email Sending Providers (ESP) automatically remove email contacts that hard bounce. Check with yours to be sure.

What Causes Emails to Not Get Delivered - Phantom Bounces

I invented the term “Phantom Bounce” to describe emails that bounce without you knowing it.

You send an email but it never gets delivered.

You don’t see a soft bounce or hard bounce in your system.

The email won’t even make it to the spam folder or Gmail’s promotions tab.

The Internet Service Provider (ISP) just decides “I’m not delivering this email.”

So the email is sent, but not delivered.

Phantom Bounces are a gigantic problem because you only know when people tell you they can’t find your emails.

Why Emails Land in the Spam Folder

An email that ends up in spam was technically delivered. 

But it’s not much better than an email that disappears.

So let’s talk about spam.

I’ve seen multiple email lists that had big problems with messages going to spam.

In every single case, the list was dirty because:

  • Unengaged and bad contacts were never removed.
  • Email from questionable sources were bulk uploaded 

Or there was something else going on - like the whole list was built from list swaps and giveaways, or the emails were in a challenged industry.

Speaking of which…

Your Industry and Email Deliverability

Industries like crypto currencies, nutritional supplements, sexual health/aids, and stock trading can hurt your deliverability. This is because these business sometimes attract corrupt people.

If you are in these industries, you run the risk of being blocked at the ISP level.

It’s not a high risk if you have a clean email list, but blocks can happen.

And your readers can complain to their ISPs all they want. 

The emails will not get through.

Email Format and Deliverability

This is where things get weird.

Conventional email marketing wisdom tells us to avoid:

  • Photos or large images in emails
  • Words like “free” and “best price”
  • Saying “click here” or “click this”
  • Having too many links in the email

My tests have shown that factors like these don’t matter much.

I did countless split tests to judge so-called best practices against worst practices.

For example, I’d test “Go Here” against “Click Here.”

Or I’d throw the word bitcoin in an email.

Or I’d test 5 links vs. one link.

Most of the time, the results weren’t much different.

The worst practices emails should have performed worse. But they didn’t.

That’s why I’ll go to my grave saying this: 

“Email deliverability is about your relationship with your subscribers. Everything else is secondary.”

Email Service Provider and Email Deliverability

EmailToolTester released rankings of the email service providers with the best email delivery rates, and ranks them as follows:

  1. MailerLite
  2. ActiveCampaign
  3. Constant Compact
  4. MailChimp
  5. CleverReach
  6. GetResponse
  7. ConvertKit
  8. Aweber
  9. Moosend
  10. Mailjet
  11. Brevo
  12. HubSpot
  13. Omnisend
  14. Drip
  15. Benchmark

And if you’re around long enough, you’ll hear “MailChimp has bad deliverability” or “HubSpot sucks with delivery.” 

But I've found that people who do not clean their email lists always have email deliverability problems.

So while you may get a small boost form switching from one service provider to another, I'll tell you a story.

I once moved an email list from Aweber to ActiveCampaign.

All the metrics were identical.

I moved another list from Infusionsoft to ActiveCampaign to MailChimp to a second Infusionsoft account.

This time, I had identical results across 4 different accounts.

Reality: Most people who have email deliverability problems are doing something wrong on their end.

Let me start with the one that drives me the craziest…

Why You Should Not Dump Contacts Onto Your Email List

You’re running the booth at a big conference in Las Vegas, collecting email addresses from everyone that walks up.

Or, your buddy gives you a copy of his company’s email list.

So you have a whole bunch of emails, and you’re going to upload and start blasting away, right?


Bulk uploading contacts will screw up your email list because:

  • The leads will be unengaged
  • You will get spam complaints

Why? Because by the time they gave the email address and the time you uploaded the list, they forgot.

So you destroy your sender reputation, which is key to email deliverability.

Bulk uploading contacts is how you get a 3% open rate and 0.0001% click rate.

Yes, 3% open rate. Not 30%.

Which brings us to…

How Your Email Sender Reputation Can Sink You

Email Sender Reputation is an umbrella term used to describe how trustworthy you are, as ranked by Internet Service Providers.

For example, Verizon might look at Amazon and say “yep, these emails should come through fine.”

But they might give a low score to “Billy’s Bitcoin Billionaire System.”

The higher your score, the higher your delivery rate.

Email Sender Reputation can be impacted by factors like:

IP Address Reputation

Major email service providers put multiple customers on the same IP address. So if you have a spammer on the same IP as you, that could impact your score. 

Most email service providers will give you a dedicated IP address if you have a large account and you’re willing to pay up.

ConvertKit offers a dedicated IP for $250 a month, provided you send 150,000+ emails a week.

ActiveCampaign requires you have 100,000 active, engaged contacts, and charges $750.

Dedicated IPs only make sense in certain situations, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Domain Name Reputation

If your website address is known for sending spam, your reputation will be hurt.

If you acquire an online business, make sure you study its domain name reputation. 

Spam Complaints

If you get a lot of spam complaints, your sender reputation will drop like a rock. 

Especially if you do send spam!

Your Email Address

Please do not send bulk emails from a Gmail or Yahoo! Account - that's one of the biggest mistakes you can make. You will have deliverability issues and your account might get banned. Get a proper email service like ActiveCampaign (my choice) or ConvertKit.

Hard Bounces

Hard bounces are a big red flag so if you get too many, your score will suffer.

Overall Engagement

The more people open, click, and reply to your emails, the better. 

That tells the ISP’s that people want your messages.

So your messages are more likely to get delivered.

7 Steps to Improving Your Email Deliverability

So you want to maximize your email deliverability.

Or you just started your email list and you want to make sure your emails land in people’s inboxes.

Let’s go through the steps you can take to improve your email deliverability.

Step 1: Set Expectations and Meet Them

When people join your list, tell them exactly what they’re getting in the welcome email.

Then live up to your promise.

If you’re going to email 5 days a week, then you better get them out.

Don’t email 4 times this week, then 1 once next week, and then nothing for 2 weeks.

If you are not consistent, all your email engagement metrics will suffer, hurting your deliverability

Step 2: Email at Least Twice Per Week

People will forget you if you only email once per week.  

So email at least twice a week, or more frequently if you’re an information-based business.

I email my list every 2 days which averages out to 3.5 emails per week.

Exception: service businesses like plumbers and electricians shouldn’t message that much, unless you have some kind of entertainment angle. Once a week is fine.

Step 3: Split Test and Analyze Your Emails

You should always be testing different email strategies to see what works.

Double down on the good stuff. 

Get rid of the bad.  

What works in one year may fail the next. 

It’s easy to get complacent and watch your performance decline over time. 

So keep your eyes on the numbers, and pivot when needed.

Step 4: Write Simple, Easy-to-Understand Emails

People will want to engage with your emails (which boosts deliverability) if they are simple and easy to understand.

Just write basic plain-text emails because they feel more personal.

And make each email about just one thing.

Forget the graphics and photos and fancy templates. 

They don’t matter.

Step 5: Do Not Do Anything Stupid

Bulk uploading of unengaged contacts will ruin your sender reputation like nothing else.

So do not buy email lists from the Internet.

Do not steal email lists.

And do not trust that old spreadsheet full of emails from 2004 that your boss just found.

Step 6: Consider Double Optin

Single optin is when a person joins your list as soon as they enter their email.

Double optin requires people to also click an email after they enter their email. (hence the double optin)

There are cases to be made for both, but most people (especially newcomers) should use double optin because it’s the easiest way to cut off bad contacts from the start.

List cleaning is essential if you use single optin, because you don’t want those bad contacts piling up in your system.

Related: Single Opt-In vs. Double Opt-In

So let’s talk about list cleaning.

Step 7: Clean Your List Over and Over Again

If people do not engage with your emails, remove them from your list. 

This will keep your engagement metrics higher, which improves your deliverability.

Having fewer contacts can lower your spending on email service.

I recommend removing all contacts that have not engaged with you in the last 60 days, unless they are paying customers. Customers should stay because they may need to receive emails for customer service reasons. Reach out to them to see if they have a new email, or if your emails are suddenly going to spam.

However, always keep a spreadsheet of contacts you remove from your Email Sending Provider, because there are other uses for them, like creating lookalike audiences and running retargeting campaigns.

If you follow these 7 steps, you should have no email deliverability problems.

Now, did I address every little issue related to email deliverability?

Of course not.

But now you know the basics.

  1. Set expectations and follow them
  2. Be consistent
  3. Write simple emails
  4. Test different strategies and analyze your results
  5. Keep your list clean.

Now get out there and write an email!

Take care friends.