One of the most common questions in the world of email has to be the infamous “why didn’t this recipient receive my message?”. There can be more than one correct answer, and a lot of times the question itself is misleading, as the recipient not seeing the email in their inbox is not the same as the email not being delivered. In fact, sometimes the message wasn’t even sent to the recipient to begin with. We’ve decided to outline a few quick steps that will quickly shed light on what happened to the “lost” email and help you earn the badge of a deliverability detective in no time!
Finding the message in Postmark#
When a recipient says they didn't receive the message you sent through Postmark, the first place to check is the Activity tab of the relevant Message Stream. You can enter the recipient’s address in the search bar and we will show you all message events for that recipient, as long as they occurred in the past 45 days (which is how long we store the activity for). Pro tip: You can use time based filters, or reference the “Subject” parameter on the results to find the message you’re looking for.
You can’t see any email activity for your recipient?
If you’re sending messages using our API and the message doesn’t appear at all in Postmark’s Activity, it means it was never accepted for sending. You would need to reference your own logs to review the response code we sent to you when you submitted the message request.
If you’re sending emails via SMTP, we will log error codes in the UI as descriptive SMTP API errors. The only exception to this would be if a connection error occurs before the message data reaches us. For the data we do receive and error codes we log accordingly, please refer to the Bounces section for more details.
Interpreting the message events#
Once you’ve identified the relevant message in the Activity list, you can click into it to find all the events related to that message, and the times at which they occurred.
A message that shows as "Queued" was accepted by Postmark but has not yet been sent to the recipient.
If the message appears as Queued it could signalize one of the following things:- Postmark itself is experiencing trouble with processing your emails - check our Status Page to confirm if this is the case. - Your account or Message Stream sending was paused (e.g. your bounce or spam rate is too high). If this happens, we reach out to you (or your account owner), so please check your inbox for messages sent by Postmark, or contact us if you’re not able to find any.
When you see a message as being Processed, that means the Postmark app has successfully handed off the message to our mailing servers.
Our mailing servers are then working to hand off the message to the recipient's server (for a more fun description of this journey, check out this comic we made). Once the message reaches the recipient server it will either:- confirm it’s accepted the message for delivery (results in a “Delivered” event)- reject the message (results in one of the “Bounce” sub-category events)- ask us to “wait”
If you're seeing the message “stuck” at Processed for an extended period of time, it means the recipient's mail server is holding on to your message for a while as it checks over things like the message content or your sending reputation. Alternatively, it could be that the mail server is having a temporary problem accepting messages which will resolve after a short period of time. Usually in such cases they will eventually provide either a “Delayed” or “Bounce” message to acknowledge the issue.
When a message is stuck as Processed, usually there is not much that can be done except waiting. That said, if you notice a sudden and significant increase in Processed messages for a specific email provider, do let our team know and we can investigate that further.
In this case, our mailing server is able to connect to the recipient server and receive responses from it, but the response is specifically telling us to "wait" in some way. Usually, this occurs because the recipient server is temporarily too busy, or overwhelmed by mail.
Our mailing server will share each "wait" response it receives with the Postmark app, and this will result in a "Delayed" event in your account.
We retry most domains every 10 minutes for up to 12 hours before we finally Bounce the message ourselves. Note, there are some domains that we'll retry at different rates for different time periods based on our experience.
A bounce is when an email is returned back to Postmark’s email servers after being sent. We’ve written in detail about different bounce types and shared advice on how to address each one of them.
When a message shows as Delivered in your Postmark account, that means that Postmark was able to successfully send the message and that the recipient's own mail server successfully accepted it from us
That’s good news! But there’s one caveat: Once we hand off a message to the recipient's mail server, we lose all sight and control over the message.
This means that the mail server definitely accepted the message from us, but it could be holding the message up to run it through some additional checks, or it may have accepted the message but decided to not move the message to the inbox. It may have been moved to the spam / junk folders, or just not placed anywhere. We’ve recently written about 13 reasons why ISPs may place your email in spam and what you can do about it.
If the message is not in the spam folder, the recipient would need to work with their mail admin/IT team to see what their mail server did with the message. The recipient can also try the following to help improve inbox placement:
- Add your FROM email address to their contacts
- Whitelist our sending IPs
- Check their ISP or organizational filters ( example of how messages could be pending due to Gmail settings)
If you have Open Tracking enabled, and see an Open event, it means that either:
- Your customer received and opened the email themselves
- If an email shows as opened but the recipient insists that they never saw it, there’s a chance that your customer’s ISP client opens the email on your customer’s behalf. For example, if an email is opened by Gmail itself, it will show as “Opened in Gmail” or “Opened in Mountainview, California” (home of Gmail). Similar to that, Apple Mail’s new Privacy Protection feature (MPP) can also cause inflated “Opened” rates.
While there is no sure way to predict if an ISP client will open your email, that extra check can sometimes signal that the message was deemed as suspicious and potentially “spammy” looking. You can check out the 13 reasons why ISPs may place your email in spam and what you can do about it.Please note, opens are not 100% accurate, and their accuracy can depend on several factors.
If you’ve enabled Link Tracking and see Clicked on the list of message events in the Activity, it’s almost always a sure sign that the customer interacted with your email
Even here a rare case of an overly aggressive spam filter or a firewall can rear its head, following the URL to its destination, which can in turn result in a click being recorded. However, that is an exception, not the rule.
If you’ve reviewed the steps above, and are still having doubts or questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link from your Activity to the message you’re having trouble with. We’ll gladly investigate this with you!