Authentication: the key to better email deliverability

Authentication gets your emails delivered.

Spam is considered to be unsolicited bulk messages that are sent at random from people you do not know. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc., try their best to determine what is spam and what is not by using algorithms to filter out the “bad” before it reaches their users.

Unfortunately, sometimes legitimate, permission-based email marketers have messages classified as spam and directed to the Junk folder rather than the inbox or, even worse, messages blocked. The following measures can help you communicate your legitimacy to the ISPs as you work to make your way to the right folder. So, let’s start AUTHENTICATING!

Step 1: Set up Sender ID / SPF Records

Sender ID and SPF are similar but separate authentication mechanisms to help you verify your identity to the ISPs. Sender ID is Microsoft’s version of SPF, and they both require a TXT entry into a DNS server associated with the domain of your Friendly From address. Entering these TXT files into the appropriate DNS allows the ISPs to verify that the email engine you are using (such as WhatCounts platform) is allowed to send email on your behalf.

In other words, you are likely sending your email marketing campaigns through a mass-mailing system, but entering a Friendly From address (or email address your recipients will recognize). For example, I may be sending a message out to my subscribers from WhatCounts, but I want it to appear like it is from me, Lindsay at In order for the ISPs to verify that the WhatCounts platform is allowed to send email on my behalf, I would need to enter the Sender ID and SPF records into’s DNS.

If the ISPs cannot get verification that a 3rd party platform can send on behalf of you or your company, they may assume that you are spoofing a From address in an effort to send spam. They will then swiftly dump your message into the Junk folder.

Step 2: DKIM Digital Signature

A digital signature helps to verify the sender of the message while also ensuring that the email has not been altered in transit. Some ISPs look for this “message integrity” guarantee before determining whether or not it is spam. Most email service providers (ESPs), like WhatCounts, will automatically digitally sign email campaigns on your behalf. Contact yours to ensure it’s done.

Step 3: Deliverability Improves

And if not, we have bigger issues.

If you take these steps and still find yourself being bulked, the complaint rate (users marking your email as “spam”) is most likely the culprit. Many ISPs will begin sending your messages to the Junk folder or blocking if the complaint rate begins to creep up. If your complaint rate is rising, it could be due to the fact that people often use the “Mark as Spam/Junk” button as an opt-out mechanism.

Sound familiar? Ask yourself “why are these recipients wanting to opt-out?” Opt-outs and complaint rate more often than not come down to the quality of one’s list and the expectations set during original opt-in.

Naturally, program goals and tactics change over time, but it is important to periodically review the expectations you originally set for your subscribers. Does your content differ from the content they signed up to receive? Frequency changed? New distribution types added? Name of company changed/altered?

The goal is to get these people to recognize that they opted-in for this AND to encourage them to unsubscribe via the links in the email rather than marking your email as spam. Recommendations to achieve both:

  1. Start putting your company name somewhere in the subject line. If you already do, start putting it in front.
  2. Make sure subject line is direct and matches the content inside.
  3. Move the unsubscribe link to the top of the email, and make it bold and noticeable. This will not encourage more people to opt-out, but it will encourage those with the intention to do so to use the link (they’ll find it right away).
  4. Add a pre-header to the top of your email that explains why they are receiving this email. “You are receiving this email because you once signed up to receive communication from XYZ Company.”
  5. If you have “date opted-in” as a column in your list, personalize this sentence by saying, “You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive XYZ Company communications on 6/1/08. If you are no longer interested in receiving our emails, please click here to UNSUBSCRIBE.”
  6. Follow email best practices by segmenting more in order to send targeted emails; metering out sends; and A/B split testing subject lines, creative design, day and time of send, etc.

Implement these measures and your email deliverability will begin to improve. If you are a WhatCounts client, feel free to contact your account manager today with questions. If you’re not a WhatCounts client but would like to be, click here to contact us.

More to explore...

Ready to See WhatCounts in Action?