First things first: It's probably your fault
The first step to finding the solution to a deliverability issue is admitting that it may be your fault… because it more than likely is.
Most non-technical people want to approach technical problems as if something’s broken in the system.
But anyone who has worked in technical support can tell you that most support tickets end with educational solutions rather than technical ones.
On top of this, the unwillingness to acknowledge the truth is why so much time is wasted waiting to talk to support people.
Beyond all of that, even if there is a broken cog in the machine, it is important to do your due diligence first if you want to speed up any support assistance.
Once you can admit that maybe something’s not broken and the solution is likely a learning experience for you, then you can troubleshoot things correctly.
Second: Determine your resources
When I help customers, most deliverability issues can be resolved by using the resources already available.
What resources should you look for and lean on the most?
1. Your internal campaign metrics
Nothing can replace your organic engagement stats for your email campaigns.
A change in your engagement stats helps you to know which campaign the issue started with and is one of many useful bits of info that are needed to resolve this issue.
2. Your internal deliverability best practice resources
Every email marketing platform should have some sort of deliverability best practices guide in their internal knowledge base.
Making sure you are following industry best practices is often a great way to solve a lot of basic problems and speed up the support process for larger problems.
The guide to email deliverability
3. Google’s Postmaster Tool (especially for B2C senders)
On average, Gmail makes up 40-60% of a B2C sender’s subscriber audience.
Google’s postmaster tool is great for many reasons:
It’s accurate (at least for your Gmail subscribers’ experience)
Nothing else compares to it on the market
It can be used as a guide to possible similar experiences with other B2C mailbox providers, like Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. who don’t provide such a reliable, free tool
4. Seed test data
Okay, take this one with a grain of salt.
Seed test data (data obtained from sending a campaign to a list of non-human addresses provided by a seed-test platform that then elevates whether each received the message the inbox or not) can be helpful in extreme circumstances but a lot of seed-test platforms often end up causing more issues than they solve by referencing illegitimate blocklists or content checkers (which aren’t the problem for most people).
Beyond even that, seed list data is inorganic data and doesn’t perfectly relate to an actual subscriber’s experience with your campaign.
All of this is to say that you should make sure this is not your first step in checking your deliverability issues… unless you want to possibly waste time running down irrelevant rabbit holes.
Third: Ask the right questions
Now you have your resources ready, it’s time to ask the important questions.
What is the issue I am specifically experiencing and the end result I want to achieve? Keep it simple to help find the true answer needed.
When did this first begin? Knowing when things went from good to bad can give you a reference point for the next pieces.
Was it a sudden change or a slow change over time? A sudden negative change (like a drop in opens) can usually be paired with some change made on the user’s side (content, domain authentication, etc.). A slow change over time often indicates an ongoing problematic activity whose effect was left unchanged to grow and grow.
Has anything changed between before it began and the first time it occurred? Comparing the good and bad campaigns can help identify the cause in a lot of cases.
Is it happening across mailbox providers or only with one or two? If it's across all mailbox providers can indicate a localized, specific thing needing to be fixed on your end. One or two providers can mean that as well, but it can also mean something specific that they don’t like that others don’t care about. For this one, you may move forward with getting an expert’s eye on the situation.
Are you following deliverability best practices, as outlined by your provider? Escalation shouldn’t happen until the answer to this is yes and the problem is ongoing. (This yes/no answer has solved so many of my troubleshooting scenarios and can help you too.)
How to avoid subscriber burnout and keep engagement rates up
Advanced deliverability troubleshooting
Is DKIM authentication (a method of email authentication that uses a digital key-pair signature to verify that the email was legitimately sent in connection with the domain) for your domain still set up and working properly? You will want to send a test to be sure what was once set up is still functioning as expected. So many issues are created by missing or broken authentication setups so this is step one for all advanced deliverability troubleshooting.
Have you changed the sending domain or email-sending platform recently? When you change the technical elements that mailbox systems like Gmail and Yahoo have grown used to, you can see an unexpected change in your deliverability experience. They are testing to see if it is still you and not someone pretending to be you.
For any recent major technical changes (sending domain, IP, email-sending platform), have you properly warmed up the reputation for these new elements? Changes to important technical elements like domain or sending IP can affect you if not done with a proper warmup. If you have made changes but not followed warmup best practices, the answer is to do the warmup process as you should have at the beginning.
Has an old list of unengaged subscribers been suddenly added to your audience? So many marketers and executives don’t realize the damage that can be done by adding a list of opted-in subscribers who haven’t been contacted in 12+ months. These types of additions have been known to cause problems for senders time and time again. Keep them out of your list if you want your new subscribers to see your emails in the inbox.
Is a large proportion of your audience long-term unengaged (>180 days since the last open)? If a majority of your subscribers that are being sent to haven’t opened in the last 6 months, there is a likelihood that they are dragging down your reputation and causing an ongoing downward trend in engagements.
For sporadic or one-off campaign issues, is there a problematic link/attachment in these that isn’t present in the campaigns without issue? There are cases where something in the content can cause issues for one-off campaigns. Those are usually related to links like shared bit.ly links, PDFs, documents, and third-party links.
The above questions can really nail down a lot of senders’ deliverability issues, especially ones that are fixable on the sender’s side (which is most of the time). But there are definitely times when the answer cannot be found on your own, and that’s okay.
When you’ve done your due diligence— escalate
There will be times when all of the above will not show you a fixable solution on your end.
Things do break and you should definitely escalate when you find that they are broken.
When that happens, it is important to follow this approach when escalating to your internal support teams:
Simplify the problem and desired solution
Give an action>consequence breakdown of the troubleshooting done so far
Understand it’s not the supporter’s fault it is broken
Doing the above will help guarantee that the support person doesn’t have to waste as much time getting through to the heart of your issue—and you can get to the heart of your deliverability issues faster.