Misfit email series: The consequences of bad email templates

What happens when you don't play close enough attention to your email templates? Mailgun dives into the details -



Like life, email has its consequences. Is it possible to send a million messages on a brand-new domain on its first day? Technically, sure. Will it go well? No. Volume and frequency are one obvious example, but there are consequences to all aspects of email; more and more, recipient ESPs are cracking down on email templates. Spammers are getting more and more accurate when crafting deceptively good-looking content, so the standards for the good people of Email-land are raised higher and higher. What might have been passable even fairly recently is now no longer acceptable, but how does this affect you?

What's the worst that could happen?

Okay, so maybe not the zombie apocalypse, or speeding up the inevitable heat death of the universe. However, you work really hard and put a lot of time and money into making email a thriving extension of your business. Why waste time, money, effort, and sanity if you don't have to?

Best practices aren't just preferences of email snobs, or that one elusive ISP just coming up with another way to give you grief. Best practices are based on continually-tested actions that are proven to get good results. Templates are a key part of these practices, and making sure they're above board is another step taken in optimizing your email configuration. 

Email is all about trust. It's a series of non-binding handshake agreements; permission that has to be regularly verified. When people actively want your mail, they're opening, clicking, and, depending on your type of mail, converting your sending into the purchase of goods and services from your site. 

While we have a good deal of information on how to comprehensively start to build this trust overall, what we're focusing here is what is proven to happen when email templates aren't handled with care. 

1. The Biggest Issue - Permanent Failures/Hard Bounces 

The first step for successful email is getting through to the recipient server. In Mailgun, this is what the event "delivered" means; a 250 OK message received back from the other side, saying, essentially – "received." Does this mean you're in the inbox? No – not yet. 

This is like a Medieval castle allowing a parcel in through their gates. Has the King received it? No. Will they? Well, hopefully. But has the castle (remote location) received it from you, and taken it into their environment? Yes. 

If your templates are done in such a way that has obvious errors in its code, or are a radical shift from what is the standard for your industry's demonstrated best practices, you're not likely to get through this initial test. Rather than the 250 OK message, the message is dropped forever. The gatekeepers have rejected your parcel, and the drawbridge is staying up to keep you out. 

Medieval metaphors aside, it's important to know your brand and what the standards are for your particular industry. It all comes back to what the customer has come to expect from senders within your industry. What works for a fashion site is not going to be great for a farming machinery store. You don't want your responsibly-gathered, double opted-in, carefully validated list for your quality SaaS company bombarded with dancing banana emojis, it just doesn’t land with your audience.

2. The Lesser Issue - Spam Placement 

Everyone's favorite hurdle - staying out of the spam folder. Staying out of the spam folder goes back to trust, and keeping that trust by doing your due diligence when crafting your email templates. If you don't utilize best practices with your templates, you might be able to get past the initial hurdle of the castle gatekeepers and get a "delivered" message. Good for you. 

What happens next? Each ISP does it slightly differently, but essentially, a series of checks and tests. Their system analyzes the message to see how it holds up to a number of standards and whether it scores high or low for each. One of the key elements being checked? Your email template. 

Does it match mail whose templates are well-crafted, that users are consistently engaging with, and can overall be demonstrated as wanted? Or - does it fail to live up to the standards of these filtering mechanisms, and will it be doomed to that dungeon that is the spam folder, perhaps never to be seen or heard from again? The choice is theirs, but the keys to success are in your hands. Making sure your email templates are intelligently composed and well-crafted is just another way you can demonstrate to recipient servers that you are to be trusted.

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3. Lower Click Rates / Higher Complaint Rates

Spam is no longer just considered to be sensationalized, poor-quality trash mail; it's any mail that's unwanted. How do recipient email servers judge what's wanted? By the engagement of its users. Does Yahoo as an organization hate your business? No. Is Yahoo keeping careful, exhaustive track of how your domain and IP's sending is treated by its users? Definitely! 

Their job is to make sure people get the mail they want, and don't have to wade through the mail they don't. When your email templates aren't made well, other aspects of your sending might be able to get you past the gatekeepers, past the spam folder dungeon, and right into the lap of the King of the castle. 

But when they open the mail and see a horribly designed template, are they going to be moved to trust you, click that link, to really get your business goal achieved? No. No they won't. They might even love what you're selling, but put yourself in their shoes - if you get a message of a product you like, but something's off about the way the message looks, would you blindly trust the link presented to you?

Mailbox providers make it easy for recipients to get rid of suspicious looking mail with the spam button, and if your message looks suspicious, expect a one-way ticket.

4. Reputation Drop - Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls

Lastly, bad email templates will affect your domain's reputation negatively. When you send emails that follow best practice and look great, it builds trust with your recipients and the ISPs. However, if you fail to do either of those things, you run the risk of hurting your reputation. 

Plus, many providers fall under the umbrella of a much larger provider (for example, all the many domains that fall under Yahoo), and they're logging the negative information from one domain and passing it along to their other domains across their system. To continue our little Medieval metaphor, if you have a poor sending reputation, not only will this castle not let your parcel in – but allied castles will refuse your parcels entry as well.

Back in the real world, what does this mean for you? Money down the drain, time wasted, and effort with no return. Also, now you have the need for some additional serious work to repair what's been done to your reputation, which will only cost you more time and money.


Email is all about permission. When you follow best practices and send with email templates that are well made and designed nicely, you build trust. This trust is what we're looking for in all aspects of sending, and email templates are just another facet where we're keeping the ultimate goal of trust in mind.

 If you’ve made a few mistakes in your templates this holiday season, don’t resign yourself to email failure just yet. Every sender makes a few of this easy to miss mistakes from time to time, especially during this time of year. For the next month, Mailgun will be overviewing some common mistakes senders make and their potential consequences. Through this series, we hope you’ll be able to keep yourself out of the inbox, and off of the island of misfit emails.

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