A practical guide to inbox delivery: The story of bulk email


Chapter 1: A brief history of why it's hard to inbox


I’m an opt in email sender. Why the “#$%@^!  wont these emails reach the inbox... You are not alone. Inbox placement is an unforgiving science that has driven even the most patient delivery admins to the edge of madness. This 4-part series on email delivery has been inspired by the blood, sweat and swearwords of the compliance & delivery team at TotalSend. We’ve helped countless clients turn their email delivery around over the years. In turn, we sit on a massive amount of delivery expertise.

This series is a summary of this knowledge, designed to help the non-technical and semi-technical email marketer both understand email delivery at a common sense level, as well as transform their email delivery results with some key strategy changes. Before getting under the hood it helps to get acquainted with what high volume email delivery means these days…


A brief history of email delivery…what happened since the fax machine?


In a word, spam. Spam is the dominant application of email, if you choose to measure by volume (about 80% of it, actually). In the late 90’s, before ISP’s started filtering mail, the bulk email industry was a highly lucrative nerd-cowboy frontier. Well, “cowboy” is generous. The internet chose the term Chickenboners”. Either way, this sedentary trope of under-exercised digital abuser made stacks of quick money preying on the as yet unjaded click-happy audiences of the late 90’s. Have a look at the poetically insolvent tale of Spamford Wallace for a generously rounded stereotype of the industry.

In a nutshell, back then people opened email from strangers at alarming rates, and there was a list of simple tricks to reaching inboxes, like hiding dodgy text as images and using loads of IPs (Snowshoeing) to reach the inbox. These tricks were commercially successful. Spam bought a lot of Ferraris. And it grew, fast.

Naturally, the ISP community was not enamored with the enormous volumes of crap that were being pumped directly into their receiving mail servers. What ensued was a cut and thrust battle is a between ISPs and bad email actors that ensued over the latter half of the last decade, and resulted in the email filtering and gatekeeping industry becoming a multi-billion-dollar behemoth, focused on keeping the bad guys out of the inbox. With the odd exception, ISPs won this battle by implementing massively complex gatekeeping systems, in one of the largest ever commercial implementations of big data machine learning techniques.


Nice story….so what’s the relevance to my email program?


Unfortunately, complexity in garden variety email delivery escalated massively due to the increasing checks and balances being implemented by ISPs and RBLs, and the net result was that it has become quite a specialist job to deliver a lot of email fast, reliably and legitimately.

Where does that leave the average opt in email marketer? Well, firstly, understand that employing ‘inbox tricks’ as mentioned above is both futile, ineffective and likely to give your deliverability a Google sized kicking in the nuts prior to the inbox door being slammed shut. That gap closed a long time ago. I mention this as Its surprising how many opt in clients ask us about using these options, “to bump up the open rate”. No, it’s not your solution.

The good news is that if you do want great delivery, there is a set recipe you can follow, and its not hard. The difference is that it works like compound interest, rather than Roulette. It takes time and patience. If that doesn’t scare you off, read on, and learn about the three keys of Data, Content and Frequency.

If you have any specific questions after reading this, our delivery team responds to them within 24 hours, so hit us up here