The best inboxing diagnostic tools and how to use them

email marketing tools

The holy grail of every email marketer is better inboxing and deliverability. Unfortunately, the quest is often an elusive one, where hunches are far more prevalent than facts. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Getting the data you need to inbox better is a lot easier than you think. Especially if you know how and where to look for it. 

Today, that’s exactly what we’re going to tackle. 

We’re about to share the exact tools you need to inbox better, the data you should focus on, plus how to fix any of the problems you discover along the way. 

So, buckle up and let’s get started.

The Inboxing & Deliverability Tool Box

Every great craftsman is equipped with specific tools that help them get the job done. It’s no different for email marketers. 

There are two tools that separate the amateurs from the pros.

The first is inbox tracking software. There are a lot of different choices out there, but there are only two I consider to be the cream of the crop. The first is Edatasource. It’s my personal favorite for a lot of reasons. First, it has a fantastic dashboard. Next, it offers multiple seed types, including actual panel data from users, seeds that mimic behavior, “standard” seeds. Best of all, it’s incredibly user friendly and easy to use. 

My second favorite is Everest by Validity. You might know it by some former names, ReturnPath or 250ok. While the dashboards aren’t as great as those by Edatasource, they still make the cut, but Everst only deploys standard seeds. It’s also worth mentioning that spam trap data isn’t always accurate. 

If these two tools are beyond your budget, there are a host of other options out there, and any one of them is far better than nothing. 

In addition to your inbox tracking software, you should also be using Postmaster tools. Google, Yahoo and Hotmail all have tools that will provide you with feedback sent directly from the different ISPs. You just have to find them, use them and learn to look for the red flags they throw out. 

Don’t Forget To Use The Tools You Already Have

Email marketers are just as prone to “shiny object syndrome” as anyone else. That’s why, in addition to inbox tracking software and postmaster tools, you can’t afford to ignore the data you already have at your disposal. 

Your open data is often the first metric that will indicate a disturbance in the force. If you’re really strapped for cash, this can serve as an alternative to inbox tracking software. But even if you have inbox tracking software in place, your open data is a great way to confirm what you’re seeing from the seed data these tools are giving you. You know, “trust but verify.”

The open data you get from your internal reporting should serve as your “baseline” to measure against. 

But you need to make sure you’re looking at it the right way. 

The first thing you need to do is separate your opens by consumer inbox. Most email service providers have the tools you need to do this. 

Then, you need to compare your open rates between the four biggest inboxes out there. 

Assuming that you are segmenting and sending to an engaged audience, Gmail will usually have the highest open rates. Yahoo and AOL won’t be far behind, within about 10% or so of your Gmail stats. Hotmail, on the other hand, will only be about half of your Gmail open rate. 

Next, you need to compare these stats against your overall average of your sends AND against the average of your previous weeks’ sends to get a birds-eye-view of what’s going on. 

If outliers pop up, this is a clear red flag that you have inboxing issues. 

It’s worth mentioning that the Apple MPP that wreaked so much havoc in our industry actually makes open rates an even more reliable way to find and identify inboxing issues. 

So, let’s say you do this and you get your results back as follows:

Gmail has a 15% open rate. AOL has a 50% open rate. Yahoo also has a 50% open rate and Hotmail comes back with a 30% open rate. 

Since Hotmail tends to inbox at a lower rate than the other ISPs, and your previous sends have consistently shown a 30% open rate, all is well.

As expected, your AOL and Yahoo open rates are the same, and fall in line with recent send trends. Again, no issue. 

Gmail, however, is FAR below the other open rates, and (even worse) it is far below the industry average of 55%. 

Houston, we have a problem…

Tell Me How To Fix It!

The tools you use to diagnose the problem are not the same tools you’ll need to solve it. However, there is a four step protocol for addressing inboxing issues that works like a charm. 

Step 1: Check Your Segments & Frequency

This will always be the first step to solving inboxing and deliverability issues. It doesn’t take long to learn that you can’t just send every email to every single person on your list. You’ll get punished for it over and over again. Instead, you should be focused on communicating with your most engaged readers. Personally, I only try engaging with audiences that have engaged with my sends in the past 15 days. 

If you’re already doing that but still have an issue, you need to pivot. You can do this by trying a shorter time frame (like those who have engaged in the last 7 days) or by tightening up the level of engagement. If you’re only looking for one open in the last 15 days, try looking for those who have opened two, three or even more times in that time period. 

Step 2: Find Ways To Increase Highly Engaged Traffic For the Impacted IP(s)

ISPs are just like the rest of us, they start with the simplest metrics. So, most ISPs are looking for a certain percentage of engaged users. If you can boost the level of engagement among your readers, you can help remove red flags. 

If your typical sends are 80% recently engaged users, you can work around this by sending out a second message to a smaller, more engaged audience that can then boost that percentage to 90% or more. 

If that seems like too much math for you right now, there is an easier way. 

You can deploy Inbox Mailers triggered sends to increase your ratio of highly engaged readers. First, ISPs score triggered workflows higher than they do large bulk blasts. But Inbox Mailers takes that a step further by triggering those sends not just from opens of your messages, but based on opens across a vast network of senders. That means your sends don’t just look for an open in your universe, but can see when readers are in their inbox reading a message from other active mailers and deliver your send based on engagement you’d never see without Inbox Mailers. 

This is the single best way to rehab a low reputation and simultaneously build a good reputation with the ISPs that matter most. 

You can find out how that behind-the-scene magic works (and increase open rates to 50-70%) by getting your hands on this comprehensive guide. 

You also need to stay on top of your DNS settings, plus your SPF, DKIM and DMARC settings. Most ISPs will have a “show original” option in your inbox. It looks like this:

If your records don’t “Pass,” then you need to check with your ESP and rapidly work to get the correct records in place. 

Step 3: Run Your List Through a List Scrubbing Service

Even the best lists can get “dirty” over time. Website forms can get attacked by hackers and fed bad email addresses. Lead gen partners can get lazy and feed you dreadful traffic. Even old inactive addresses that look harmless can transform into spam traps. 

You don’t take one shower and call it good forever do you?

List hygiene should be treated the exact same way. Do it often. Do it methodically. 

You’ll be rewarded for your efforts. 

Regular scrubbing will lower your email marketing costs while raising your return on investment. You’ll start to see a dramatic drop in your spam complaints, and suddenly email providers will like you more. Then, before long, you’ll enjoy a rapid rise in both your open and your click-through rates.

What’s not to love about that?

Step 4: Stay Consistent!

Paul Merson has a great quote that you should commit to memory: “If you want to be successful, you need consistency and if you don’t have it, you’ve got no chance.”

There is so much truth in that statement. 

Consistency is important to your readers, but it may be even more important to ISPs. Just like the rest of us, they like to know what to expect. The more often you do the same thing(s), the better they like it. And it’s just icing on the cake if your readers can’t resist opening whatever you send their way. 

If you’re constantly changing things up, in terms of send volumes, send frequencies, constant template redesigns, you’re probably making things worse, not better. 

It’s okay to make changes, but only make one at a time, and give ISPs time to adjust before you introduce your next one. 

And any time you make a major change, don’t forget to go back and reflect that change in your welcome journey. This is your first impression with your readers, and if you’re just “setting and forgetting” your welcome flow, what readers expect and what readers actually get can be worlds apart. That’s a recipe for unsubs and complaints, which will only shoot all of your efforts right in the foot. 

2 More Big Takeaways

Now you have the tools you need to find inboxing problems and a surefire strategy to fix them. But there are two more big takeaways you need to let sink in. 

First, none of these fixes are going to work if you aren’t delivering your contacts the content they want to engage with. While you might see a temporary lift, over the long run, crappy content will always yield crappy engagement. And crappy engagement will always see you punished when it comes to inboxing and deliverability. Content is still king. Intimately understanding the wants and needs of your audience is never time wasted. Yes, I want you to inbox better, but what I really want is for you to inbox better forever. Not just a few weeks. 

Second, stop measuring success solely based on the size of your entire list. Probably 80% of those “subscribers” rarely or never open your content. If you have a list of 3,000,000 but only 10,000 opens, that’s nothing to brag about. That’s dead weight. Stop wasting time with contacts that aren’t interested in what you have to say. Sure, try to re-engage them, but if that doesn’t work, scrub them without hesitation. 

If you follow these two rules, you won’t have to keep going back to the drawing board every quarter. 

And if you’re serious about taking your engagement to the next level, there’s no better way to do it than joining the ranks of Inbox Mailers. If you want more eyeballs on your offers, more clicks, and higher revenue, then this is the secret ingredient you’ve been missing. 

Picture of John Gardner

John Gardner

John Gardner is an expert email marketer and co-founder of Inbox Mailers. He specializes in email segmentation and improving overall deliverability, helping top brands and businesses optimize their email marketing strategy.