Email Marketing

4 concrete steps to Increase Inboxing rates during the holiday season

Every brand wants to close out Q4 on a high note, which means competition to capture business will be intense – especially this year. Brands will be aggressively emailing consumers while in-store experiences and event marketing are limited due to the pandemic. At the same time, increasing sending volumes during the holidays can mean a greater risk of deliverability issues.

During our decades of experience with deliverability, we have found that even the largest brands in the world experience deliverability issues on a regular basis. Depending on a company’s industry and average email revenue, inboxing problems can result in $50,000 to millions dollars of lost income.

Here are four steps email marketers can take to avoid deliverability issues, especially during this critical holiday season.

1. Practice good data hygiene:

What is data hygiene?

Data hygiene refers to the collective processes conducted to ensure the cleanliness and usability of data. Email lists should be periodically scrubbed to ensure the emails are accurate and active.

Why is it important for deliverability?
Repeatedly emailing invalid or inactive email addresses lowers your sender reputation. It signals to the email provider that you are sending mass messages carelessly which can result in your emails being blocked by ISPs.

Avoid the pitfalls of invalid email addresses

Chances are your mailing lists are full of invalid email addresses. Inaccurate data could be collected at the point of entry if, for example, a cashier misspelled a shopper’s contact information at the check-out register, or if a consumer entered their own email address too hastily. Partnering with a data provider who can match, verify, and append existing data is a good way to catch invalid email addresses before they cause you deliverability problems.

Inactive email addresses and the threat of spam traps

Email addresses should be labeled as inactive if a recipient has not engaged with a brand in the past 12 months, as these kinds of addresses can become spam traps. Spam traps are inactive/abandoned email addresses that an ISP has recycled and is now monitoring in order to identify spammers. The former owners of these email addresses could have easily subscribed to an email program, but have become inactive since they opted in. Sending to spam traps can result in serious deliverability issues such as excessive bulking, temporary blocks, minor and major blacklistings and (worst of all) long-term damage to a marketer’s IP and domain reputation.

Improve deliverability through accurate data

Reduce hitting spam traps through proper list management – create soft and hard bounce rules and practice regular data hygiene. Data processing services remove closed-down, inactive and non-existing email accounts from your database, reducing the risk of deliverability issues that can cause significant revenue loss such as high bounce rates, blacklisting, and ISP blocks.

Brand example: Lands’ End

Popular clothing and home décor retailer, Lands’ End, wanted to improve their Gmail deliverability.

Gmail users accounted for over 1/3 of the brand’s total subscribers so when Lands’ End sending reputation at Gmail fell, it meant that a large share of their audience were not receiving their email campaigns.

This translated into a drop in both conversion rate and revenue.

Lands’ End turned to Data Axle’s Inboxable solution for help. Data Axle’s deliverability team provided advanced seasonal planning and enhanced monitoring over Q4. Holiday deliverability support included detailed contingency plans in case of any issues, as well as a comprehensive data hygiene process that removed dead, closed down, and spam trap accounts to help Lands’ End minimize deliverability risks that could negatively impact revenue during their busy season.

These tactics resulted in a 60% lower average bounce rate during peak season (Oct-Dec) for Lands’ End’s primary sending domain and a 98% lower average bounce rate for their secondary sending domain. This translated into higher overall number of conversions and higher revenue per email.

2. Monitor inbox placement

Your inbox placement rate helps you understand what share of your intended recipients actually receive your email and enable marketers to implement strategic mailing practices that improve deliverability.

By generating an inbox placement report 72 hours before you deploy an email campaign, you can inspect inbox placement at each ISP. The better your sending reputation, the higher the chance for your emails to reach the inbox.

3. Mail stream separation

A single sending domain or IP address (mail stream) may be enough for a marketer’s day-to-day sending needs. Running various communications programs on separate IP addresses and domains can help ensure maximum deliverability. Some mailing programs – such as your promotional marketing emails – can occasionally trigger deliverability issues, By practicing mail stream separation, you can ensure these issues do not impact critical transactional emails that need to reach your users (e.g.: purchase/shipping confirmations, password reset notifications, etc.).

Here is a sample domain setup for different mail streams:

Promotional marketing program:

Transactional program:

When a sender has a program that may pose higher deliverability risks such as cold outreach/acquisition (which require 3rd party data) or re-activation, the best practice is to configure a unique sub-domain such as

This strategy helps brands avoid deliverability issues that translate into major revenue losses.

4. Gradually increase email volume

It’s tempting to increase email volume during the holidays to try to get the attention of as many consumers as possible. However, rapidly increasing email volume can negatively impact deliverability and lead to subscriber fatigue. Instead of increasing email volume, send emails at times your subscribers are most likely to open them. According to Hubspot, Tuesday-Thursday from 8am-10am are the optimal times to send email. Avoid scheduling campaigns to deploy at the top of the hour since that is when most of the email volume is deployed.1 Instead, schedule campaigns for quarter past the hour and watch how it performs. You can also analyze the behaviors of your audience and see which times are most popular among them.

Offering subscribers the ability to control how frequently they hear from you will also help deliverability. Setting up an email preference center allows customers to choose email frequency and content topics that cater to their preferences. Empowering subscribers to set their communication preferences helps avoid subscriber fatigue, especially during the busy holiday season. Women’s interest website, Refinery 29, offers subscribers options when they try to unsubscribe from their emails. They attempt to sway subscribers from leaving by giving them the option to reduce the frequency of the emails they receive, or choose the specific location they are in to make the content more relevant for them.


While improving deliverability during the busiest time of the year can seem daunting, it’s well within your reach. Companies that practice good data hygiene, separate mail streams, monitor inbox placement, and provide subscribers with easy-to-navigate email preference centers will keep their email marketing on track for Q4.

Want more deliverability tips?

Click here to learn about Inboxable, our deliverability service.


Kathleen Schaefer
Kathleen Schaefer
Senior Director, Inboxable

Kathleen Schaefer is the Senior Director at Inboxable. Kathleen is a leader in email and cross-channel digital marketing solutions. She focuses on leading and maintaining client facing support for Data Axle/Inboxable technology and service offerings. Kathleen’s expertise allows her to help Data Axle clients to conceptualize campaigns, recognize capacity and achieve successful outcomes.