Deliverability and List Health: Part 1

This month we start a 3-part series on email deliverability and list health.  You can have the most creative and compelling emails on the planet, but if they don’t reach your audience, what good are they doing?

Part 1: How do I know if my email is really reaching my audience?

Open Rates

First, let’s look at one of the most common metrics businesses use to determine email performance: the open rate. Open rates should be calculated as the percent of delivered emails that were opened.  Delivered is different from sent. You may send 10,000 emails, but if 1,000 of those addresses bounce, only 9,000 were delivered.

Open rates are a good gauge to tell us which emails are reaching the inbox and being opened. This stat is never 100% accurate, as some opens can not be tracked. To count email opens, your email system needs to recognize a bit of code in an image. So, if you send a text email, opens won’t be counted. Similarly, if a contact has images turned off in their email, the open can’t be tracked.

Open rates are one piece of the puzzle. You know an opened email was received. When that rate goes up or down, it gives insight as well. But it doesn’t tell you what happened to everyone who did not open. Did your message end up in their spam or junk filter? Did they see it and not open? Was the open not counted?  We need to look at other data to get a more comprehensive picture.


There are two kinds of bounces:  a hard, which can’t be delivered at all, and a soft, or a bounce that temporarily can’t be delivered. One example of a soft bounce is if someone has a full email inbox and is unable to accept new messages today. Addresses that bounce require attention on your list.


Do you know your email reputation? When Yahoo, Gmail, or any other email looks at delivering your email to the inbox, they look at your email reputation. Are you on anyone’s black list? Are you whitelisted?  Do you know your email deliverability score? It’s a number between 1 and 100. If your number is in the upper 90s, most of your email is being delivered. If it’s in the low 70s, you’ve got some real challenges getting your message to your contacts.


The most comprehensive way to know where your emails end up is monitoring. Investing in an email monitoring service is worthwhile for a larger email program.  If that’s out of your budget, the next best thing is to set up a seed list and monitor the delivery on your own.

Have Questions about how to understand and measure your email performance?  Write to me at  

Next month, in Part II, we’ll talk about what to do if you think your emails are not being delivered to your audience.