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Jason Green

By: Jason Green on March 20th, 2019

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Email Marketing for Associations: Deliverability vs. Delivery

Association Management

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article

You’ve put together the perfect marketing email for your association. You know it's going to land with a splash and set new records for click-throughs and conversions.

But what happens if the email never even gets to the recipient?

Delivery and deliverability are the two main factors in getting your email to its destination. Understanding how they work is key to a successful email campaign.

The Difference Between Deliverability and Delivery

Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some vital differences.


Delivery concerns the email’s journey from your server to the recipient’s server.

If you send an email to bob@mydomain.com, there are two steps required for successful delivery. First, your email server needs to make contact with mydomain.com. If this address doesn’t exist, then delivery will fail. Delivery will also fail if the mydomain.com server has blacklisted your email address.

Next, mydomain.com needs to confirm that there is someone called Bob, that Bob has a valid email account, and that bob@mydomain.com can accept incoming emails. If this is the case, then the mydomain.com server will route your email to its destination, resulting in successful delivery.


The next step is to get from the server into the recipient’s Inbox.

This step is more complicated due to spam filters. If the spam filter thinks that your email is junk, it will either delete it or move it into the recipient’s spam folder, where it will almost certainly go unread.

You also have to worry about rules that may have been applied manually by the recipient. They could be sending your emails to a folder that they don’t check or setting them to be automatically deleted.

How to Improve Delivery

Managing delivery is relatively straightforward. It’s mainly a matter of maintenance, which means ensuring the quality of your send lists. Some things you can do are:

Clean your email list

Some invalid addresses on your email list will be obvious even with a quick visual check. Remove anything that’s doesn’t look like a valid email address.

Valid format for an email address is name@domain.suffix, with a few extra rules:

    • Name and domain can contain letters, numbers, periods and dashes
    • Name can also contain underscores
    • Suffix must be at least two letters (i.e., .com, .gov, .co.uk)

Use email authentication tools

Some commercial tools on the market can go through your list and help identify non-functional email addresses. This helps to reduce the number of bounced emails you send, which is good for your reputation as a sender.

These tools can also identify spam traps. A spam trap is a fake email address that exists to catch out spammers. They frequently appear in email lists that you purchase from a third party and, if you send an email to them, can lead to you being blacklisted.

Check bounce notifications

If delivery fails, you’ll get a bounce notification. Sometimes, these will be pretty definitive, such as notifications that the email account doesn’t exist. If so, you’ll need to scrub the offending email address for your list.

Other bounce notifications could indicate a temporary problem with the recipient, such as their inbox being full. If so, you may wish to try again later, but set up rules to limit the number of attempts so that you don’t inadvertently spam the server.

How to improve Deliverability

When looking at deliverability in the context of email marketing for associations, you have to examine your whole approach to sending emails.

There are three main pillars to maximizing deliverability:

1. Follow identification protocols

Email servers follow a number of security protocols, such as Sender Policy Framework (SPF), Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).

These are things that need to be configured by your IT team, although you will need to work with them to ensure that your email automation tools are compliant.

When you follow the correct identity protocols, it proves to the server that you’re a legitimate sender, which lowers the odds of your message being flagged as spam. It also makes it harder for spammers to spoof your email address, which can happen.

2. Build your reputation as a trustworthy sender

Every time you interact with an email server, that server keeps track of what happens. All of these activities contribute to a sender score, which is a rating of your trustworthiness. If your send score is high, then your emails will probably go straight to inbox. If it’s low, they will end up as spam.

Delivery plays a role in reputation. If you send lots of emails that bounce, it will result in a lower sender score, so make sure that your email lists are kept clean and up-to-date.

Consistency also helps sender score. Try to send emails from the same email address each time, so that the recipient’s server doesn’t have to calculate a new sender score each time.

Sender score is also impacted by what happens when your email is received. If recipients regularly delete your emails or – even worse – manually mark them as spam, your sender score will suffer.

3. Offer great content

What’s the best way to improve deliverability? Send great emails that people love to read. A high open rate improves your sender score, and sending quality emails reduces the chances that you’ll be filtered into some folder deep in the recipient’s email account.

Creating great emails is an art in itself, but here are a few universal rules:

  • Have a sender name that tells the recipient who you are (“[person] from [company]” is a good format”)
  • Avoid clickbait or spammy titles – give real reasons why it's worth opening the email
  • Include content that’s of real value to the recipient
  • Allow the user some way of segmenting their own content, such as an option to select topics that are of interest to them

Also, remember to include clear instructions on how to unsubscribe. If you don’t, the sender may take the easiest option for them – which is to flag your email as spam.

Email marketing for associations – getting your message delivered

Because email is effectively free to send, it can seem like the smart thing to do is just to keep blasting messages out into the ether and hope that some will connect.

Don’t do this. It’s a poor strategy and one that will actually hurt your chances of connecting with people.

Instead, use the right marketing tools with the right strategy to deliver messages that are timely and of value to recipients. In the long run, that’s the best way to connect with people.

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About Jason Green

Jason has an uncanny ability to communicate complex technical solutions across client teams while executing from non-technical descriptions. He has a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology Web Management and spent 13 years working at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Having worked in an association for that length of time, he knows how best to communicate the value of technology solutions to empower the member experience.