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Dealing with Deferred Emails: How to Fix

deferred email cover image with a road sign markign delays

Deferred emails occur when the delivery of an email is temporarily delayed by the recipient’s email server. This delay is not considered a failure but rather a response from the receiving server. This can stem from reasons like spam complaints, server problems, or suspicion of spam.

If you get a “deferred emails” error in your delivery reports, what does it mean? Do you just wait for them to be delivered, or do you send a new batch?

Before you do anything, we recommend reading this detailed guide on deferred emails. The situation may be murkier than you think!

What are Deferred Emails?

If you’re receiving deferred email error messages, it typically means the email you attempted to send was not delivered immediately and is being temporarily held by the recipient’s email server.

Sending and receiving email servers follow specified protocols to function correctly. When contacted by the sending server, the recipient’s server might reply with a notification of a temporary problem — this is called a deferral. 

But what causes such email deferrals? 

Typical reasons include technical issues with the receiver’s email server, maintenance activities, or exceeding volume limits. A more worrying cause is if the mailbox provider flags you as a potential spammer — this can prompt email deferral, particularly if your IP address has a spam history or is blacklisted.

When an email delivery fails and generates a report, it usually includes information about the reason for the deferral. This may suggest actions you can take, such as retrying the email delivery later or contacting the recipient through alternative means. What it does not do, however, is specify the exact reason why your emails were deferred. 

There are various causes for emails getting deferred, and you should be aware of what they are — it could be a sign of a much more serious issue.

Top Causes of Deferred Emails

Issues that cause deferred emails can be classified into two categories:

  • Recipient issues, 
  • Sender issues.

Deferred Emails Due to Issues at Recipient’s End

Common recipient issues that cause deferrals:

Problems on the recipient’s endWhat does it mean?
Overloaded serverIf the recipient’s server is swamped with incoming emails, it might temporarily defer yours to handle the heavy traffic.
Server maintenanceScheduled maintenance on the recipient’s server can also cause delays.
Inbox fullIf the recipient’s inbox is full, the server may defer incoming emails until storage space clears up.
IT policiesIf the recipient’s company has specific IT policies that defer emails as a part of their email delivery process.
Deferred emails: Caused by issues on the recipient’s side

In these scenarios, you can’t do much besides wait — or try a different method of contacting your recipient.

These Sender Issues Can Cause Deferred Emails

Sometimes, it may not be the recipient’s server but issues on your end cause emails to get deferred.

And what might these be? This table lists common causes:

Sender issuesThe recipient’s server can defer emails if:
Multiple spam complaintsIf a certain number of your emails are marked as spam by recipients.
Spammy contentIf the email content triggers spam filters, like excessive exclamation points or promotional language.
Poor sender reputationIf your IP or domain has a history of sending spam.
Email volumeIf you send too many emails at once.
DNS configurationIf your DNS configurations are incorrect, an there are missing or incorrect records.
Authentication problemsIf authentication fails for your email server or domain.
Sender actions that cause deferred emails

The good news is that all these issues can be resolved, and the changes you implement will also give you added benefits in the long run!

Preventing Deferred Emails

These steps will reduce the chances of seeing a deferred error when you run email campaigns.

  1. Avoid sending spammy content,
  2. Work on your sender reputation,
  3. Stick to permission-based email marketing,
  4. Warm up domains and new IP addresses,
  5. Format messages according to RFC 5322,
  6. Authenticate your email domain,
  7. Comply with data privacy laws and regulations,
  8. Confirm you’re on a TLS connection,
  9. Schedule email sends for off-peak hours,
  10. Send emails in batches,
  11. Monitor your bounces/ spam complaints,
  12. Use a reputable ESP.

These steps, implemented correctly, can lead to a drastic drop in deferred emails. 

Next, we’re going to cover the most critical of these preventive measures in detail.

Reduce Spam Complaints

If the first few subscribers who open your email report it as spam, the delivery process for your remaining emails will immediately be suspended. Preventing such spam complaints is simple; send recipients content they would find useful.

But there’s more to it:

  • Only send emails to recipients who have explicitly opted in to receive your emails.
  • Clearly communicate the frequency and type of emails subscribers can expect to receive when they sign up.
  • Provide an easily accessible unsubscribe link in every email and honor unsubscribe requests promptly.
  • Confirm subscribers’ interest in receiving your emails by implementing a double opt-in process.
  • Ensure your emails are well-designed, visually appealing, and easy to read across different devices and email clients.
  • Pace your email volume; don’t bombard subscribers with too many emails in a short period, as it can lead to email fatigue — and spam complaints, of course.
  • Encourage subscribers to add your email address to their address book or whitelist you to ensure your emails are delivered to their inbox.

Once your spam complaints dip to a safe level, it’s time to focus on a more serious issue — sender reputation.

Poor Sender Reputation = Deferred Emails

If there are issues with your sender reputation, you can forget about landing in your subscribers’ inboxes.

Sender reputation refers to the perception and trustworthiness that internet service providers (ISPs) and email recipients have of your email practices. With enough time dedicated to poor email marketing practices, it can drop to a point where you will get blacklisted. This means your emails won’t make it past any spam filter.

The negative effects of a poor sender reputation can look like this:

  1. The number one sign is your emails land in junk folders instead of the primary inbox.
  2. An unusual spike in deferred and bounced emails.
  3. Low open rates — readers consistently ignore your emails.
  4. A growing number of unsubscribes as subscribers opt out.
  5. Your IP address or domain name gets blacklisted.
  6. Your own ESP throttles your sending volume.

Clearly, these are undesirable conditions for email marketers — it means most of your efforts are going to waste, as is your money. Sender reputation is a serious issue that needs to be urgently addressed before it reaches a point of no return.

And here’s how you go about it.

How to Improve Sender Reputation 

Luckily, sender reputation can be fixed. Begin by assessing your current email practices — look at factors such as email volume, frequency, content quality, and engagement metrics. Identify areas where improvements can be made.

Next, follow these 6 steps to remedy it:

  1. Implement authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC on your domains. Not only is this better for email delivery, but Gmail and Yahoo require all bulk email senders to do so.
  2. Regularly clean your email list to remove invalid email addresses.
  3. Honor unsubscribe requests because the next email you send them will get reported as spam and such complaints tank your sender reputation.
  4. Gradually increase your sending volume to avoid triggering spam filters and maintain a good reputation
  5. Confirm you don’t share your IP with spammy senders. At Campaign Refinery, this is a non-issue as we screen customers before onboarding them and continue to monitor activity to clamp down on spammers.
  6. Don’t buy email lists because all the spam complaints can damage your IP and domain reputation, which in turn negatively impacts sender reputation. 

It can take time to earn the respect of mailbox providers, so remember to be patient. Do not stray from the path of best practices!

Low-Quality Content Can Lead to Deferred Emails!

How your audience reacts to your email content not only affects your engagement rates, it also affects your sender reputation. This is why consistently poor performance can lead to your emails being stuck in a deferred state. 

Work on your email content with these 8 guidelines in mind:

  1. Spammy-looking content: Using spammy words, phrases, or formatting in your email can trigger spam filters, causing your emails to get deferred.
  2. Suspicious topics: Content that touches on topics like financial offers, pharmaceuticals, or adult content can lead to deferral.
  3. Subject lines: Don’t use misleading subject lines and preheader text.
  4. Image use: Including too many images or attaching large images can cause deferrals.
  5. Maintain quality: If your emails are irrelevant, your readers will be unengaged; email servers may view these emails as unwanted or spam. Work toward offering value to readers.
  6. Compliance: If your emails lack a clear unsubscribe link or a physical address, your emails can get deferred.
  7. Low-quality copy: Grammatical errors, awkward phrasing, or machine translation artifacts in emails might make them appear suspicious and get deferred.
  8. Duplicate Content: Sending repetitive content can lead to deferral. Keep it fresh and engaging for subscribers.

Wondering how to make your content more relevant? A/B testing can help!

Split Test your Email Content

A/B testing involves comparing two iterations of an email campaign to ascertain which of the two your audience prefers more. 

Through experimentation with various components like subject lines, content, layout, or timing, you can narrow down the version that connects better with your subscribers, driving higher rates of engagement. Remember to send variants to your most enthusiastic readers to get a balanced view of things.

These A/B testing tips can improve content performance:

  • Test subject lines to identify which ones are more likely to grab attention.
  • Send different types of content, such as text, images, videos, or buttons, to determine which ones lead to higher click-through rates.
  • Try different design elements like layouts, color schemes, or fonts, to decide which ones appeal visually.
  • Test emails at different times of the day or days of the week to know when higher open and click-through rates happen.

The goal of split testing is to gather data-backed proof of the effectiveness of your email marketing strategy and make informed decisions based on the results.

Email List Maintenance is Critical

List maintenance and list hygiene are two crucial practices that go hand-in-hand for successful email marketing. They both focus on keeping your email list healthy and up-to-date, ensuring your messages reach the right people and have a positive impact. Do this consistently enough, and you won’t be seeing deferred emails anymore.

Here’s Why You Should Clean Your Contacts List Regularly

Regular list maintenance gets you these perks:

AspectHow email marketers benefit
Reduction in deferred emailsWith a drop in spam complaints drop and a rise in engagement, you get fewer deferred email errors.
Improved deliverabilityA clean and well-maintained subscriber list can improve email deliverability
Reduced bounceslist maintenance helps reduce bounce rates by removing invalid email addresses from your list
Better engagement statsFocus on engaged subscribers who are more likely to open, read, and interact with your emails to improve engagement rates.
Higher ROIYou can save money by reducing the number of emails sent to inactive addresses, lowering email marketing costs
Improved strategyWith an engaged audience, you can gather more accurate data insights, which is better for your email marketing strategy.
List Maintenance: Advantages

How to Maintain Email Lists

Email list maintenance, or list management, is the ongoing process of managing your email list. 

This is what list maintenance is all about:

  1. Adding new subscribers, removing inactive or unsubscribed contacts, and updating contact information.
  2. Inactive subscribers hurt your stats. Regularly removing them keeps your list clean and reduces bounce rates and deferred emails.
  3. Updating subscriber information is critical. People often switch jobs, move, or update their contact info. List maintenance ensures you have accurate contact information for better deliverability.
  4. Identify and remove invalid emails to maintain a good sender reputation.
  5. Segmenting your list. Dividing your list into groups based on demographics, interests, or purchase history allows you to send targeted emails with more relevant content.
  6. Use email verification tools to ensure the email addresses on their list are valid and accurate.
  7. Don’t completely abandon inactive subscribers — send them targeted emails to try and win them back.

Remember, sending irrelevant emails to uninterested people can also damage your brand image. By consistently maintaining your email list, you’ll reach the right people and deliver relevant content.

Use Batch Sending as a Strategy

If you have a massive contacts list and are worried that a high volume of emails will choke servers or make mailbox providers suspicious of you, then batch sending is the solution you’re looking for.

Batch sending refers to the practice of sending emails in smaller groups or batches rather than all at once to your entire subscriber list. 

The benefits are:

  • Batching allows you to schedule and send campaigns more efficiently. You can group similar emails together and send them at optimal times for different segments of your audience.
  • Sending emails in batches allows you to optimize server resources and avoid overloading your email-sending infrastructure.
  • Batch sending helps you monitor and analyze engagement metrics uniquely; you could build a strategy off your learnings.
  • If you’re using a new IP address to send emails, gradually increase the volume of emails you send in batches over time.
  • Batch sending allows you to conduct A/B tests more effectively by comparing different versions of emails across smaller groups of recipients.

Batch sending offers several advantages; it’s important to use it strategically to avoid hurting your email deliverability. Sending too many emails in a short period, even in batches, can raise red flags with spam filters and impact your sender reputation negatively. Find a balance and avoid sending excessive emails.

Campaign Refinery: Go Straight to the Inbox

Deferred emails are a problem. 

As are bounces, blacklisting, poor sender reputation, and failed deliveries. At Campaign Refinery, we’re all about avoiding these pain points and ensuring rock-steady, consistent delivery with each email campaign our clients send.

And that’s not all  — we’ve mastered inbox placement, too. Campaign Refinery has the best deliverability rates in the industry, and this is all thanks to our commitment to doing email right. 

Here’s why our numbers are so good:

  1. Our email infrastructure and technologies are cutting-edge. 
  2. We also have strict policies in place to ensure our reputation does not take a hit. The same goes for our clients.
  3. All our features are built around optimum email performance. All our tools work as intended and our platform has zero bloat.
  4. We require all clients to get authentication protocols implemented on their domain.
  5. We have a warm-up process to help our clients build their IP reputation.
  6. Campaign Refinery constantly monitors activities to ensure open rates, unsubscribes, and complaint rates are within an acceptable range.
  7. Invalid emails on your list can affect your sender reputation; this is why we created an automated list cleaner that removes all invalid entries.
  8. New customers have to apply to join Campaign Refinery — this ensures we don’t accidentally onboard any spammers, which could damage our reputation and that of our clients. 

So rest assured — partnering with Campaign Refinery means you’re working with the best!

If you have ambitious email marketing goals, Campaign Refinery is exactly the place to be — apply to be a customer today!

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