Survey Invitations To Improve Your Email Deliverability Rate

February 27, 2014

Despite claims that “email is dead,” it remains the most popular form of communication for organizations. Even with the rise of text messaging and social media, your customers prefer to receive your messages via email.

“People still spend half their workday dealing with it, they trust it, and overall they’re satisfied with it, according to our 2012 survey of 2,600 workers in the U.S., UK, and South Africa who use e-mail every day” (Harvard Business Report).

So when it comes to distributing your survey, it is no surprise that an email invitation remains the most effective method of distribution.

But email has its issues, the biggest one being spam: those unsolicited emails typically sent in bulk. This includes your survey email invitations. While email is the most effective method of distributing your survey, the threat of getting caught in spam filters can make it seem the least attractive.

Because email recipients are fed-up with inboxes flooded with spam, federal regulations have been put in place that make it harder to reach their inboxes.

We, at Alchemer, are frequently asked why we audit email lists, throttle large email campaigns, or why a particular survey invitation was not delivered. The answer is simple: we follow email best practices in order to keep a good email sender reputation so that we may continue to have a high deliverability rate when it comes to emailing our customer’s survey invitations.

We would like to share these email best practice tips with you, so that you can increase the likelihood that your survey invite makes it to your respondent’s inbox. Let’s start by defining what spam is and reviewing the federal CAN-SPAM regulations in case you are not already familiar with them.

What Classifies as Spam

Spam is electronic junk mail. Unsolicited email that is sent out in bulk mailings are classified as spam.

Spam is the main reason why some folks avoid email and prefer to communicate through other channels. But these other channels are not as effective when it comes to reaching your customers. Especially when it comes to your survey invitation.

CAN-SPAM Regulation

The acronym CAN-SPAM derives from the bill’s full name: Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing. It was implemented in 2003 to set U.S. national standards for sending commercial e-mail and is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

This law sets the rules for commercial email and gives recipients the right to stop commercial messages being sent to them. If you fail to comply, there are penalties of up to $16,000 per violation.

The Act applies to all unsolicited commercial messages whose intent is to promote a product or service. It applies to B2B as well as B2C messages and includes messages to your former customers.

It does not restrict you from emailing your current customers and others who you have an existing relationship with (such as your partners, affiliates, etc.). These are classified as “relationship” messages that preclude you from needing to seek email permission. But you do need to seek permission to email those who you do not have an existing relationship with if you are promoting your business.

Here is the FTC’s explanation:

“There are no restrictions against a company emailing its existing customers or anyone who has inquired about its products or services, even if these individuals have not given permission, as these messages are classified as “relationship” messages under CAN-SPAM. But when sending unsolicited commercial emails, it must be stated that the email is an advertisement or a marketing solicitation. Note that recipients who have signed up to receive commercial messages from you are exempt from this rule.” (

7 CAN-SPAM Requirements

Besides needing email permission, there are other requirements you need to comply with. Below are the main requirements for CAN-SPAM compliance as outlined by the FTC.

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  3. Identify the message as an ad
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf

Email Reputation

So now you know the CAN-SPAM requirements in order to be in compliance. But following these regulations is not enough to get your email message delivered to your recipient’s inbox. Certainly, it will improve your chances that it will be received (and keep you from getting fined), but it does not guarantee that your email won’t end up in your recipient’s spam (junk) or bulk folder. Heck, you might consider yourself lucky if your email gets that far – your email might go “missing” which means it has been blocked by your recipient’s ISP.

According to a benchmark study conducted by Return Path:

“More than 20% of opt-in messages don’t make it to the inbox; most of those don’t even make it into spam folders.”

What you need is a good email sender reputation. “What is email sender reputation”, you may ask?

Your email reputation is based on a sender score. This score is a set of metrics that include:

  1. Complaint Rate
    If more than 1% of your recipients complain or flag your emails as junk than your score takes an immediate hit.
  2. Bounce Rate
    Bounces are those emails that do not make it to the recipient’s inbox and are bounced back to the sender. It is an indicator of the quality of your list. If a lot of your emails bounce back , it means your subscribers aren’t engaged or you’re not keeping up with them.
  3. Blacklistings
    If you have a high complaint rate or have hit a spam trap you will be blacklisted. If your IP address appears on one of the leading blacklists, your emails will likely be blocked.

You can check on your email sender’s score by using a free service offered by Return Path called Sender Score. Sender Score rates the reputation of every outgoing mail server IP address on a scale from 0-100. A score between 90 and 100 is considered very good.

At Alchemer, we take great pride in our high score and work hard to maintain it by following the tips listed below. You can help us to keep our high score so that your survey invites reach your respondents by following these tips as well. Even if you are not using Alchemer for your survey invitations, we encourage you follow these email best practice guidelines so you can maintain your email sender reputation.

Deliverability Tips

The following tips will help you improve your sender reputation and increase your email deliverability rate.

  • Don’t use purchased lists
    If you purchase industry lists or some other customer list, you are setting yourself up for trouble. While that vendor may have permission to email these contacts, this permission is not transferrable.

    If you still decide to purchase a list, make sure it is from a reputable source. Know that some list providers do not collect email addresses in an ethical manner. Shadier vendors scrape email addresses from chatrooms, websites, customer lists, and newsgroups.

    ISPs have caught on to this practice, and have set up spam traps. If they detect a spam trap or “honey pot” in your email list, your email reputation will immediately take a hit and result in email deliverability issues.

    The use of general email addresses rather than personal email addresses is a warning to ISPs that an email list was harvested by spambots. (Spambots are viruses that automatically comb websites for email addresses.)

    If your email list has a high ratio of email addresses that use impersonal or department names such as administer@, contact@, info@, it@, marketing@, sales@, or support@, your emails will be blocked. Remove these or risk poor deliverability.

  • Use double opt-in
    Confirm email addresses. Have your new subscribers confirm that the email address they entered on your sign up form is correct at the point of submission. You can then display a “Thank You” page that instructs them to check their inbox for a confirmation email.
  • Send a validation email
    It is good practice to generate a confirmation or “Welcome” email after a new subscriber signs up. This message has several benefits:

    • It allows you to immediately validate a new email address.
    • It sends a positive brand experience.
    • It allows you to request that you be added to their trusted senders list.
    • It provides you with an opportunity to collect more information from the new subscriber such as their preferred contact method, frequency, subject, etc.

  • Avoid trigger keywords
    Certain keywords are known to be spam flags. By avoiding these words in your email subject lines, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting past spam filters.

    Here are a few examples: cheap, discount, free, winner, deal, clearance, affordable, etc. Check out HubSpot’s email-spam-list for more examples.

  • Use a valid from/sender email address
    The “sender” field is the first to appear in an inbox. Use your name or your company name so that the recipient recognizes who it is from. Unrecognized senders quickly get deleted or sent to the junk folder. Do not use updates@, reminder@, noreply@.

    This applies to both the “From” address and the “Reply-To” address.

  • Include a text version when using HTML emails
    Not all email clients support HTML. If you send an HTML email to one that does not support this format, your email is going to end up in the spam folder. It is good practice to always include a text version in case your recipient happens to be in a location that does not allow them to see the HTML version. Make sure that it is properly formatted!
  • Send good email
    This seems obvious but I will say it anyway – The content of your emails needs to be relevant, interesting, informative or entertaining so that you engage your recipients. Otherwise, you risk losing them.
  • Spikes in volume
    If you have a large email marketing campaign to send, consider staggering it. Sending more than about 1,000 identical emails at a time is a red flag to ISPs. Once they suspect bulk email, they will likely turn up the spam filters.
  • Keep a clean list
    Remove hard bounces and disengaged subscribers. These will eat away at your sender score.
  • Re-engage
    If you have subscribers that have been inactive for a period of time, send out an email asking if they would like to continue to receive your emails or change the frequency of your messages. It is better to unsubscribe those who are not interested than to keep them since they are the likely ones to make a spam complaint.
  • Whitelist
    Make sure that you have a Sender-ID/Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record in place. This allows the receiving email server to validate whether the domain name that the email claims to represent is associated with the IP address that the email has been broadcast from.

    If a lookup can’t be validated then your email will likely end up in in the spam folder.

You need to make sure that your or whoever is sending your emails not only follows the rules set forth by the CAN-SPAM Act, but is also adhering to deliverability standards. Check your or your email sender’s score. This will let you know if you need to make some changes.

Spam Complaints

Despite following regulations and the tips listed above you will still get the occasional spam complaint. These usually come from disengaged subscribers who:

  • Didn’t subscribe (i.e. you made a mistake in who you sent the message to)
  • Didn’t recognize you as the sender
  • Forgot that they signed up

Improve Your Email Deliverability Rate

At Alchemer, we understand how frustrating it is to have your email list audited, or your email campaign paused because of a high bounce or spam rate, or your campaign throttled if you have over 2000 invites. But it is only by following good email practice that we are able to keep a good sender reputation so that we can deliver all of our customer’s survey invitations.

Let us know if these guidelines have helped you with your email marketing campaigns.

Can-Spam Act
Sender Score
HubSpot Spam Trigger Words

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