Language and deliverability

Taken, as I have been of late to reading about the topic of language and linguistics I paused to think how the topic might relate to deliverability, often seen as a deeply technical subject. It is my hope that the metaphor of language may be useful to those that consider deliverability a deeply technical subject.

Just as the English language evolved from Proto-English to the Modern English we use today the definitions of actual words and their usage has changed and evolved. How does this relate to deliverability? Allow me to explain – depending on who you talk to deliverability can, and historically has been defined differently – rather, inconsistently. Certain actors may define deliverability as the number of emails for which bounce codes are not returned; personally I prefer to think of this as an accepted rate and not perfectly helpful and far from an accurate success measure. At best it gives an indication of what may have been received by the ISP’s. A further challenge for those technically minded is that these bounce codes vary and aren’t always reliable in terms of interpreting where the email message was ultimately delivered to – if at all. The definition of deliverability calculated from number of email sent, less the bounces could also be more accurately reported as ‘received’ as in received by the receiving server – i.e. not rejected.

However if you follow with the language and linguistic theme and specifically English accents ‘Received Pronunciation’ (which is sometimes known as The Queen’s English, Oxford English or BBC English) has historically been seen as a standard for ‘correct’ pronunciation. In my mind whilst ‘accepted’ and ‘received’ are in the vocabulary it creates confusion in respect of deliverability and they are far from perfect or correct. For me the preferable definition is a measure of delivered to the actual inbox. It is far more reliable than using the aforementioned bounce codes and more indicative of success.

Just as from the 16th Century onwards there was a movement to standardise the English language, particularly spellings which varied mostly because of many regional dialects. Creating uniformity was aided, in part by dictionaries of varying quality. With the release of the next iteration of the DMA’s ‘Email Benchmarking Report: Half 1 2010’ data on inbox placement is available for the first time. It is my hope that for email marketers this will have a similar effect as Johnson’s Dictionary had on the English language in the 18th Century – namely to provide the definitive and pre-eminent definition.
Whilst I expect that just like those dictionaries available before the publication of Johnson’s other definitions of deliverability won’t disappear overnight it is my hope that this document and the incorporation of this new data point will help email marketers by defining deliverability to the inbox as an important success metric and the most correct way to define deliverability.

This blog post was originally written for the DMA (UK) Email Marketing Council blog and can be viewed here.

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