Best practices to ensure great delivery for your email: Part 2

In this blog series we’ll discuss how we came to the conclusion that manual account approval will help us maintain the best deliverability for all of our customers. In Part 1 we discuss how ISPs establish and track your email’s delivery reputation. Part 2 focuses on things you can do from your side to make sure your email gets delivered reliably. And in part 3 we discuss how all senders share the responsibility for good delivery, and how that led to our decision to move to a manual approval process. 

Differences in delivery between transactional and bulk email #

When you’re sending emails, engagement matters, and engagement differs significantly between transactional emails and bulk emails. The effect on your reputation is significant enough that Gmail officially recommends sending your bulk and transactional email from different domains.

If you send both promotional mail and transactional mail relating to your organization, we recommend separating mail by purpose as much as possible. You can do this by:
 
- Using separate email addresses for each function.
- Sending mail from different domains and/or IP addresses for each function.
 
By using these tips, it's more likely that the important transactional mail will be delivered to a user's inbox. Our guidelines are meant to help you build a good reputation within the Gmail system, resulting in continual delivery to Gmail inboxes.

Why is engagement so different between transactional and bulk? #

Transactional emails like password resets and receipts see significantly higher open, read, and click rates than bulk promotional emails like newsletters do. When you consider the context, this makes more sense. When someone requests a password reset, they immediately go to their inbox to find it, open it quickly, and follow the link inside. It doesn’t get much higher engagement than that.

Now consider bulk emails like newsletters and marketing announcements. Even if your entire list is double-opt-in and carefully curated, people aren’t sitting there waiting for these emails. With a consistently great newsletter they may look forward to receiving them, but those emails are rarely time-sensitive, and so they’re lower priority in recipients’ inboxes. In many cases, they simply won’t be opened at all. The result is lower engagement, and your reputation is lower as a result.

Simply put, your customers place more value on your transactional emails than your bulk emails, and the higher engagement means more reliable delivery for those emails. 

What do the differences mean for you? #

If a newsletter goes missing, you probably won’t receive any complaints, but if a password reset email or receipt goes missing, you’re guaranteed the customer will reach out to support. If delivery is bad enough, it could literally be costing you money through customer support and lost customers. Your transactional emails are simply too valuable to let your marketing emails affect your sending reputation.

If you’re sending them from the same domain and IP address, your bulk emails may even drag your domain reputation down to the point that your transactional emails get sent to the spam folder. You need to protect the reputation of your transactional emails, and you want to be confident they’ll get to the inbox. 

Tools of the trade #

Beyond delivery, transactional and bulk email simply have different needs in terms of tools. Due to the importance of transactional emails, tools that help you track and troubleshoot specific missing emails are critical. With bulk, however, it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to track down a lost email. That’s where benefits like storing the full content of every email for 45 days comes in handy. If there’s a delivery issue, you can track down and see every detail of the life cycle of that email.

Being totally honest, as an email service provider, there’s more money in sending bulk email. When you make money off quantity, bulk is always going to generate more revenue than transactional. For most providers, transactional is an afterthought. It’s an add-on to their marketing-centric toolset, and it’s usually treated as such. With Postmark, we’ve decided to forgo sending marketing emails and focus exclusively on transactional emails.

Finally, while tools for sending bulk email can largely stand alone, a transactional email provider is a key piece of your infrastructure, and you need to be able to closely integrate with your systems. This means seamlessly handling details like bounce handling, open tracking, link tracking, and processing inbound emails. For a bulk email provider, you may be able to tolerate a simple API and developer tools, but for a piece of your infrastructure, nothing beats a provider that’s focused purely on transactional email for applications rather than trying to do both transactional and bulk marketing email.

Separating and protecting your reputation #

The first step to improved delivery for your critical emails is separating your bulk email sending from your transactional email sending. With some providers, you could do this via dedicated IP addresses, but often times, that’s not enough. ISPs are smart enough to look not only at individual IP addresses but also at ranges of IP addresses. Having a dedicated IP address simply isn’t a silver bullet. 

In addition to dedicated IP address, sending from different domains, subdomains, and email addresses can help further separate your bulk and transactional reputations so the inbox providers don’t penalize your critical emails due to the lower reputation of your bulk emails.

In our next article on delivery and reputation, we’ll dive into IP reputation and our beliefs about how a well-policed set of shared IP addresses will lead to more reliable and resilient delivery than dedicated IP addresses.