As part of our Deliverability 101 series, we're inviting experts from across the email-sending community to share their pearls of wisdom. For this blog post, deliverability experts from Emarsys, Twilio, and  Validity, share the Email Software Provider’s (ESP) perspective on who is responsible for achieving good, consistent deliverability; is it the ESP or the sender? Spoiler – it’s both, but in very different ways…

Introducing the trio

Before we get cracking with the juicy stuff, let’s introduce this mighty trio who, with around 50 years of experience between them, have provided us with so much insight that we’ve had enough content to create three blog posts!

Between Kate, Kiersti, and Steve, we have a fountain of knowledge; all are passionate about email marketing compliance, delivery optimization, and ensuring that senders know, understand, and adopt best practices to conserve this much-valued communication tool. So, let’s dive in!

Who is responsible for achieving deliverability – the ESP or sender?

“Good deliverability is a partnership between the ESP and the sender,” comments Kiersti. “The ESP has a responsibility to set the sender up for success,” shares Steve, but “It’s a sender’s job to follow established best practices to maintain a good sender reputation” – Kate.

For ESPs, the focus is more on compliance and product. For senders, it’s about good data management and sharing engaging, valued content. Let’s dig a little deeper into this, kicking off with how ESPs should affect deliverability:

Maintaining a clean network

“Responsibility lies with the ESP to monitor the ecosystem in which you’re sending email,” explains Kate. “There needs to be active compliance monitoring to ensure bad actors are not allowed on the network or are quickly removed,” noted Kiersti. Particularly from a senders’ perspective, this is critical, because where IP space is shared, “negative (and positive) actions of others can impact your deliverability” – Kate. Network maintenance and good IP pooling are critical for effective deliverability and can only be done by the ESP.

Building user-focussed tools

When building the tools to enable sender success, the ESP should appreciate that “A sender will often follow the path of least resistance, so the ESP can influence the sender by making it easier to follow good practices in account setup and campaign creation,” shared Steve. He continued, “the ESP can make it easy or difficult to avoid issues, and choose how to highlight issues, their causes, and how to resolve them to help senders improve deliverability.

Active maintenance of the product

“Email receivers make changes all the time, so an ESP must be nimble to respond to those changes and optimize sending accordingly,” shared Kiersti. B2B receivers, for example, “are often trying to protect their networks from phishing and fraud and can be stricter with how email is sent and in what volume.” The platform must be able to adapt to maintain good sending practices that keep pace with changing audience behaviors.

Sender responsibility

So the ESP has a lot of influence. But ultimately, as Steve details, “it’s the sender who has collected the data, created the campaign content, selected the recipients, and hit ‘send’.” So it’s the sender who has the definitive responsibility to land their emails in a positive, engaging way. But there’s an important distinction to note here that Kiersti highlights…

 Email delivery vs. inbox delivery

When we speak of deliverability, we must acknowledge the distinction between email delivery and inbox delivery. “When an email is delivered, it is handed off to a different network, and that network can deliver mail to the inbox, the spam folder, or just drop the mail, so it’s not received at all.” Kiersti believes that “the reputation of the ESP will generally get an email delivered to the receiving network… unless the sender is truly a bad actor”.

But to achieve inbox placement, that lies with the sender. “The sender needs to maintain an engaging relationship with the recipient so that the mail is wanted and receives strong, ongoing engagement. And when engagement starts to wane, the sender needs to be able to identify that and work to re-engage, reduce or stop sending to that person altogether.”

A final note to senders

As you have the ultimate responsibility to achieve inbox placement, ensure your database contains only email addresses from people who explicitly consented to receive your email. Be proactive in managing your database. Be consistent in your sending practices and deliver only what is expected. Find more on this here.

And pick your ESP wisely. They have a lot of influence on your deliverability, even if you hold the ace card. Make sure you look for a reputable ESP that:

  •   Monitors for compliance with quality problem identification and resolution
  •   Has sophisticated IP pooling to protect established senders with known good performance
  •   Allows for dedicated IP environments for senders if you have enough email volume
  •   Has a product suite that offers what you need to meet the maturity of your marketing organization. 
  • Provides deliverability insight, and the data and segmentation tools to act on this insight.

Next up, you can read about the risks and opportunities when considering a move to a new ESP. Find it here.


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