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Engagement: The Holy Grail of Email Deliverability


An engaged audience is a happy audience. They’re the people who read your emails, who find value in them. They’re the ones growing to trust and respect your authority, and ultimately, they’re more likely to invest in your products and service.

But aside from the obvious happy audience, there’s another reason engagement is crucially important. That reason relates to email deliverability – the likelihood of your emails landing in the inbox in the first place. And that’s why I rave about engagement all the time.

Not All Emails Hit the Inbox

Sending an email does not guarantee that it will reach your audience. Email services providers (Gmail, Outlook, Microsoft, Hotmail, Yahoo etc) take a lot of care to protect users from receiving spam, or unwanted emails. And so, the way they’re processing incoming email has changed massively over the last few years.

In the past, they just looked at the content of emails to decide whether it should appear in the inbox or the spam folder. Today, they are looking more and more at user behaviour to decide what happens to the emails that are sent.

The better your audience engagement, the more likely your email is to arrive in their inbox.

Here are some positive examples of engagement that email service providers are looking for:

  • Opening an email
  • Moving an email to a specific folder (filing)
  • Replying to an email
  • Rescuing a message from the spam folder
  • Adding a sender to the address book (whitelisting)

Interestingly, clicking on links in emails does not count as engagement from an email provider’s point of view. It’s certainly a very useful indicator for you to gauge whether your audience is reading and interested enough to click through, but email providers don’t generally track whether a link has been clicked.

Here are some examples of negative behaviour that email service providers use to reduce engagement scores:

  • Deleting an email without opening it
  • Reporting phishing
  • Marking an email as spam

Every Contact On Your List Matters

It’s important to keep in mind that email service providers will be looking at your entire audience’s behaviour. This may sound unfair, but if half of your audience delete your email without opening it, or report a particular email as spam, that massively increases the likelihood of future mails going into the spam folder for everyone! 

This speaks loudly to the importance of removing unengaged contacts from your mailing list. The percentage of contacts who are not opening your emails can hurt your chances of reaching the rest of your audience. (Check out this post for a case study of how emailing unengaged contacts massively impacted one of my client’s domain reputation and open rates). 

The golden rule with today’s email landscape is to make engagement your absolute top priority – every email that you send out should be designed to increase engagement, and if you can get your audience to reply to your emails, you’ve got gold.

Our Deliverability Defender software makes it incredibly easy to automate your engagement management – click here to find out more.

2 thoughts on “Engagement: The Holy Grail of Email Deliverability”

  1. Thanks Gareth, sorry I didn’t reply to this sooner. To answer this fully, email engagement is tracked from two different sides: the marketing automation provider versus the actual mailbox provider.

    Mailbox providers use the criteria that I’ve described in this article, and they *generally* don’t track clicks because that would involve modifying the link URL that’s presented to the end user.

    The marketing automation providers have a simpler set of criteria – in general, it’s if an HTML form has been completed by the user, or an email has been opened, or if an email has been clicked on (which implies that it’s been opened). It would be very difficult or impossible to track some of the other actions that are easy for the mailbox providers to track.

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