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Throwing Emails, But No Catches? Here's why.

email receiving issues

You send an email and eagerly await a response which never comes. Eventually you follow up only to discover that the recipient never received your email. You send another one as a test — and they don't get that either! We have all been there and it's very frustrating. 

It is understandable that your first inclination might be to contact your email provider to tell them that their email services aren't working properly. However, there is a good chance that it's not an issue at their end and understanding a bit more about how emails work can help at least shed some light on what might be happening. 

Sending and receiving an email is a bit like playing catch in the park.

'The Thrower' is your Email Service Provider (ESP).
'The Catcher' is your receiver's Email Service Provider (ESP). 
'The Park' is the internet. 'The Ball' is your email. 

So there's actually a few places for things to potentially go wrong here. 

  1. The Thrower might not be throwing the ball properly.
  2. The Catcher might not be catching the ball properly.
  3. There could be something else in The Park getting in the way.
  4. There might even be something wrong with The Ball! 

Let's work through that list. 

1. Is it a fault with The Thrower? If you can send emails successfully to other people then it is highly unlikely to be a problem with your ESP. If you contact them (i.e. could be us, ActiveHost), they will be able to check their email server logs and see evidence of the email in question being sent out successfully. And if that is the case — then it's effectively out of their hands. The ball has been thrown correctly, nicely and to the exact spot intended. 

2. Is it a fault with The Catcher? Maybe they're wearing thick gloves (spam filters) or maybe they were holding too many balls already (full mailbox). Maybe the catcher moved positions (inactive account). Maybe the park ranger caught the ball first (security scans). The vast majority of the time it is due to the thick gloves, the spam filters which is causing the email not to get through. Some email servers are more overzealous than others (i.e. Xtramail) and are notoriously bad at catching. Overly aggressive spam filters can intercept your email, mistaking it for spam based on keywords, sender reputation, or other factors. 

3. External things in The Park (the internet) which can disrupt a successful catch. Maybe there are too many people in the way (network congestion). Heavy internet traffic can slow down email delivery, making it seem like the email is lost. While not permanent, it can cause a delay in reaching the catcher. Lost in the Bushes (routing Issues): Occasionally, emails might be misrouted due to configuration issues on intermediate servers on the internet. This can cause delays or even failed deliveries. Maybe the ball was stolen by Swiper the Fox (malicious actors) who intercept emails in transit, especially if they are not secured with encryption.

4. Finally; The Ball. Since the ball is your email, this is a good place to check and be mindful of when sending emails. There are many things about a ball which might cause it not to be thrown or caught properly. There are things such as:

  • The Ball is too heavy (large attachments or images) Imagine the email being weighed down by a massive, cumbersome attachment. Large files can take longer to transmit and might exceed the recipient's server storage limits. Embedding large images directly into the email can be like wrapping the ball in a thick, bulky cloth. This can significantly increase the email size, making it difficult to send and receive, especially on mobile devices with limited data plans.

  • The Ball looks suspiciously dirty.. could be dog-poop! (looks like spam) This is a key thing. If you thought a ball coming at you might have dog-poop on it.. if ANYTHING gave you an inclination that it had dog-poop on it. You'd refuse to catch it. Nobody wants to catch a poop-ball — and nobody wants to get email spam. 

So, just as you should make sure that your ball is clean and doesn't look like it has dog-poop on it, you should make sure that your email is clean and doesn't look like spam. 

  • Focus on your Email Headers: Spam filters primarily analyse the email header information, which includes the sender's address, subject line, and other technical details. Craft subject lines that accurately reflect the email's content and avoid misleading or click-baity language. If your email address looks spammy and your subject line looks spammy— dog-poop.

  • Use a Reputable Email Address: Avoid using free email addresses for business communication. Use a domain-based email address associated with your company website.

  • Keep it Concise and Relevant: Focus on a clear message and avoid unnecessary attachments or large images. Large images and attachments — dog-poop. Use clear and concise language. Avoid excessive formatting, long blocks of text, and unnecessary graphics. This makes the email easier to read and less likely to be flagged as spam.

  • Multiple Images: Having several images in your signature, especially large ones, can increase the overall size of the email and make it look more like spam. External Hosting: If your graphic is hosted on a website with a poor reputation or one that's been flagged for spam, it could reflect poorly on your email. Broken Images: If the image can't be loaded (broken link), some spam filters might interpret it as a tactic to track email opens, which can be a negative mark.

  • Avoid ALL CAPS and Excessive Exclamation Points: These all look like dog-poop. Write in a professional tone with varied sentence structure to avoid sounding robotic or spammy.

  • Don't use large or multiple images as your email signature either!

Look after your reputation.

If you became known in the park for throwing balls with dog-poop on it, do you think many people would want to play catch with you? No, you wouldn't. It really doesn't matter if you ever did throw a poop ball — your reputation is everything.  

Likewise, if you haven't engaged in spammy practices and never ended up on spam lists. Then your emails are more likely to have a good reputation. 

Sender reputation, in the context of email, refers to the trustworthiness assigned to your email address or domain by email service providers (ESPs) like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo Mail. It's essentially a score determined by various factors that indicate how likely your emails are legitimate and desired by recipients.  A good sender reputation increases the chances of your emails landing in the recipient's inbox and avoiding spam filters. It shows ESPs that you're a reliable sender who sends legitimate emails that people want to receive.

Factors Affecting Reputation

  • Complaint Rates: The percentage of recipients who mark your emails as spam. High complaint rates significantly damage your reputation.

  • Bounce Rates: The percentage of emails that are undeliverable due to invalid addresses or full mailboxes. Frequent bounces can negatively impact reputation.

  • Engagement Rates: How recipients interact with your emails. High open rates and click-through rates signal a positive reputation.

  • Spam Traps: Email addresses specifically created to catch spammers. Sending emails to spam traps can severely damage your reputation. So if you have 'found' a list of email addresses from 'somewhere' — don't just email these addresses out of the blue. They might contain a spam trap and you're spam!


Never send bulk emails out to large numbers of people (80+) all at once using a standard email system. 
Doing so is will likely trigger spam filters and damage your domain reputation, sometimes permanently.
Your ESP can get blacklisted too so they may suspend your service. 

If you want to send out bulk emails you should be using a legitimate bulk email system such as our Activemail


In Conclusion.

Most of the time, playing catch in the park is an easy and simple exercise. But occasionally you miss-throw or your catcher has fumble fingers. Part of the frustration of email problems is a lack of understanding. By considering all the different players involved — you can troubleshoot potential issues. Most of the time it's not usually a fault with your ESP. Remember if you can send to other people successfully, then the problem lies elsewhere.  Above all else, keeping a clean email format, a professional tone and maintaining a good sender reputation can all help your message reach its destination and avoid getting lost in the internet park.

Of course, all this is assuming that your recipient is being honest to you about not receiving your email — and not just ignoring you. ;-) 



Posted in Email Marketing

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