Email & Mailing List Deliverability: What You Need to Know

Email & Mailing List Deliverability: What You Need to Know

Procured cold lead lists can be valuable assets to marketers. They provide access to hundreds or even thousands of potential future customers via email or direct mail marketing.

There are aspects of procured lists that are frequently misunderstood, however. Deliverability is one of the most frequent topics of confusion. A common belief among those new to purchasing a list is that it’s a simple, two-step process.

Step 1: Purchase a list.

Step 2: Market to the contacts on the list and put our messaging into the inboxes or mailboxes of everyone on it.

If only it worked that way…

In reality, you’ll never reach every single contact on a procured cold lead list. Deliverability is never 100%. This fact is surprising to many and can even make them angry. When they pay for X number of records and not all of them end up being reachable, it leaves a sour taste in their mouth.

In this article, we’ll bring some clarity to the subject of list deliverability. We’ll explain why complete deliverability isn’t guaranteed and provide reasons you should trust the process and not give up on procured lists entirely. We’ll also give you some tips to get the most out of your lists and maximize your ROI.

Procured lists really do have a lot of value. You just need to be aware of their nuances and how to properly utilize them.

Procured Lists: A Quick Overview

If you’re new to procured lists or could use a refresher, here it is. A procured list is one created by a list complier that contains data points that fit the criteria requested by the purchaser. Some of the largest and most trusted list compilers include Dun & Bradstreet, Acxiom, Experian and First Direct.

It may be possible to purchase your lists directly from the list compiler. However, working with a “middleman” known as a list reseller offers benefits that outweigh the additional costs. A list reseller, especially if it is a marketing company, can help you with targeting so you have more confidence that the records you’re purchasing share commonalities with your best customers. The list reseller will also have an established relationship with the list broker and can make the overall process simpler and more efficient by completing the transaction and list preparation for you so it’s ready to use when you receive it.

Now, let’s get back to the topic at hand…

Factors That Affect Deliverability: Outdated Data

There are many factors that affect the deliverability of email and mailing lists. The first is the source itself — the list compiler.

It’s true that you can put the most trust in the list compilers listed in the previous section, but even the best of the best can’t guarantee that you’ll reach every contact on the list. That’s because they typically update their records monthly. While that frequency isn’t bad, it still leaves a window where you could be purchasing outdated data. People’s information changes all the time, and it’s nearly impossible for list companies to keep up.

For instance, Printing Impressions cited that 16.8% of the country moves annually. Of those people, only 60% fill out a National Change of Address (NCOA) form, and only 50% fill it out correctly. You also must consider changes to email addresses and employment statuses.

Envelope Marked Return to Sender

Factors That Affect Deliverability: Email Source & Content

With direct mail, having the right address will eliminate most of your concerns. But with email, there are lots of things that could prevent your message from being delivered. The first area to focus on is the email source, which can be broken down into two categories:

  • Email Authentication – Protocols that confirm that the sender of the email is who they say they are.
  • Sender Reputation – Trustworthiness of the sender’s organization determined by algorithms developed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Or more simply, do you have good intentions or are you a known spammer?

The second area to focus on with emails is the content. Certain words, punctuation and formatting within the email can cause ISPs to put up red flags for spam and potentially prevent it from reaching the recipient’s inbox. Every detail is scrutinized, from subject line to preheader text and body copy.

Trust the Process

So far, we’ve shed light on the fact that a portion of the contacts from procured email and mailing lists will be bad and you won’t be able to market to them. Even though the list you’re getting won’t live up to your expectations if you hoped every single record you paid for would be good, stay the course.

Procured cold lead lists are valuable, especially if you (and your marketing agency, if applicable) have put in the work upfront to really dial in your target audience. Think of it as a boost to the top of your sales funnel.

Without a list, you’re reliant upon inbound marketing tactics like SEO/SEM, social media, blog posts and videos to grab people’s attention, build interest and, eventually, get them to give up their contact information for gated information or offers. If done correctly, inbound marketing is very effective. It just takes time. So, if you’re looking for immediate results as most companies are, you need alternatives to help bridge the gap.

Outbound marketing tactics like direct mail and email are also effective and have the advantage of being faster and more efficient. You can speak directly to an audience and put your message right in front of their eyeballs without them having to go out of their way to look for it. A procured cold lead list enables you to take this approach and, hopefully, generate some instant response.

We highly recommend utilizing a mix of inbound and outbound tactics. To learn more, click here.

Marketing ROI Toolbox

Tips to Improve Deliverability & Increase ROI

While it is inevitable that some of the contacts from your initial list purchase will be, for a lack of a better term, no good, there are many things you can do to improve the list and make it more valuable than it was when first provided to you. You’re actually doing yourself a disservice if you proceed with the list as is and don’t try to clean it up.

Initial list cleansing and ongoing, frequent list maintenance will help you achieve maximum deliverability both now and during future marketing efforts. Here are some tips and tools you can use to whip your list into shape:


As mentioned earlier, running your list through NCOA will update any outdated address information. To learn more, click here.

Merge & Dedupe

For simplicity and efficiency, it’s better to utilize a single list per campaign. If you want to market to contacts from multiple lists, merge them together. During this process, you should also dedupe so each contact is only listed once. This will save you from sending unnecessary emails or direct mail pieces. At Adventure, the software we use for this process is WinPure.


Verify Emails

There is software you can use to cleanse email lists in the same way NCOA and address verification help you cleanse direct mail lists. ZeroBounce (utilized by Adventure) and similar products analyze your list and weed out invalid email addresses.


Spam Test

We previously mentioned that content can prevent emails from being delivered to inboxes. To combat that problem, there’s software that analyzes the email and gives it a spam test report that shows you which aspects passed the tests and which ones could be improved to better the chances of successful delivery. Adventure utilizes Email on Acid, which not only provides spam testing but also has tools that show you how your email will display across a multitude of devices, apps and browsers. This allows you to edit as necessary to ensure that the email will display properly for the recipient regardless of how they view it.

Email on Acid

Putting a Stamp on Deliverability

As you near the end of this article, you may be thinking that we forgot to include a couple of helpful statistics — acceptable deliverability percentages for procured mailing and email lists. We didn’t forget; we just wanted to make sure you were presented the full scope of the topic first.

With that said, here you go…

For Direct Mail:

“Up to 10% of the list could be returned undeliverable or mistargeted due to moves or circumstantial changes in demographic compatibility.”

— Data & Marketing Association (formerly Direct Marketing Association)

For Email:

“A good deliverability rate depends on the data being started with. If you are in the high 70% and above, that could be considered good in some cases. But the ideal situation is to make it into the inbox and not the spam box.”

— Joel Buhr, First Direct

There you have them… baseline numbers for reference. Now, keep in mind that every list and campaign is different. In some cases, you may exceed expectations. In others, you may fall short. The key is to understand that data is constantly changing, and you need to be proactive in cleaning and maintaining your lists to maximize their potential.

It’s not an easy job, and there are lots of boxes to check. You may be able to do it yourself. But for many companies, it’s more efficient and cost-effective to seek the assistance of an agency. They will have the knowledge, connections and tools to get the job done right.

Have additional questions about list and data services or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.


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