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Pardot Troubleshooting: Email Deliverability

When a company purchases Pardot, it’s a safe assumption that the purchasing company has big plans for their email marketing initiatives. Pardot is not simply an email marketing tool, of course—it is a marketing automation platform. But while Pardot boasts many great features and tools, most users find themselves spending the majority of their time on email campaigns.

The most common of scenarios

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Your company purchases Pardot, and spends weeks working closely with an implementation team to build out your instance. Either in-house or alongside your implementation team, you create beautiful, responsive email templates. Once you’ve nailed down your segmentation and target audiences, you begin delivering these emails.

You have high expectations, but the results don’t deliver. Your open rates are much lower than you anticipated. You keep at it, but concerns are being raised. Maybe a customer reaches out to let your team know he didn’t receive the most recent product update, or someone who signed up for your newsletter expresses frustration that they’ve never received one. Once you’ve verified that these prospects were sent these emails, you’re left scratching your head. What gives?

There are many explanations for an email sent but not opened. But if the prospect verifies non-receipt, email deliverability is likely to blame.

Prospects will not open every email you send, but there are definitely clues to deliverability problems. If you think you have one, you’ll need to diagnose the cause behind it.

Diagnosing email deliverability problems

Email deliverability is especially tricky because in most cases, it’s not a technical problem with a clear-cut solution. Even so, there are a couple technical checklist items you should run through first.

Shared or Dedicated IP?

Many companies we work with send their Pardot emails through a shared sending IP. If this is the case for you, the sending reputation of that shared IP is probably not to blame. Pardot closely monitors their customers’ email sending practices to maintain good reputations across the board (something you’ve probably experienced first-hand if you’ve ever sent an email with a high bounce rate). You can always run a quick check on your shared IP sending reputation to quiet your suspicions.

If your company uses a dedicated IP, on the other hand, your sending reputation could be part of the problem. With a dedicated IP, you have full control of your email sending reputation—for good or ill. If you have a dedicated IP and have engaged in questionable email marketing practices (sent emails to a cold, purchased list, for example), it could definitely be a critical factor.

Email Sending Domain

Validating your email sending domain was probably one of the first steps you took during your Pardot implementation, but it never hurts to double check that everything is still in good shape. Mistakes happen, and sometimes the people who deal with DNS records do not understand the implications of their actions when they make changes or update records.

If you’re experiencing email deliverability issues, check your DNS entries in your Domain Management settings.

This is what you want to see.

Beyond the technical

Looking beyond obvious technical problems, it starts to get more subjective. If you’re not concerned about your sending reputation and your email sending domain is fully validated, you’ll want to evaluate both the type of emails you send, as well as the quality of their contents.

Email templates

Heavily formatted, image-rich email templates look great, but they don’t always perform that well. Streamlined, primarily text-based emails tend to perform a lot better (and end up marked as spam a lot less), but they aren’t as aesthetically pleasing. Some Pardot users can get away with more formatting than others; it really depends on your audience. Sending a variety of template types is helpful in determining which format performs better for you and your audience.

Some pretty drastic differences in open rates here.

If you do opt for a more heavily formatted template, be careful of your image-to-text ratio. Sending an email that is mostly comprised of images (with very little supplemental text) is a risky practice.

Email content

This is a big one. What are you putting into your emails, regardless of the way they’re laid out? Sometimes something that feels very innocuous, like an exclamation point, can hurt you. And while using words like “free” or “complimentary” often seem like a good idea (a free training session or consultation is obviously going to be more appealing if it doesn’t cost your prospects anything, and you naturally want to convey that benefit to them), it’s considered a risky practice to do so.

Take a look at the emails you’ve sent over the last week or month, and start by evaluating the content in the emails that had the lowest open rates. It can help to get a second pair of eyes on this kind of task as well; the person who wrote the content can struggle with seeing it objectively. Don’t forget about your subject lines and preview text, either; an otherwise perfect email can be ruined altogether by a bad or spammy-feeling subject line.

Render tests

Some editions of Pardot include Render Testing as an additional testing option. Render testing is an awesome feature for a lot of reasons (seeing how your email will display across different email clients and devices, for one), but it can also help you diagnose deliverability problems. It includes a handy spam analysis that, if nothing else, can provide you with some great clues.

Test, test, test

Whatever conclusions you reach about the source of your email deliverability problems, the only way to be sure is to go through exhaustive testing. If you have A/B testing available to you in Pardot, that makes the task simpler, but you can test different email template styles, sending options, subject lines, and email content either way. Test variables on the same audience whenever possible for the most accurate results.

Uphill battle

Resolving email deliverability problems is not something that’s going to happen overnight; there are simply too many factors at play. But building a solid understanding of those factors, addressing each of them, and then testing different solutions is the only real path forward.

Dealing with a Pardot headache you’d like to see us cover? Submit your troubleshooting topic below.

Jessica Hope

I consider myself a Marketing Cloud Account Engagement (Pardot) evangelist. I’ve focused almost exclusively on Pardot for the last seven years, and I've had the great honor of working in hundreds of accounts on every imaginable type of project. I spend most of my time working directly with clients to meet their every last Pardot goal, but I also enjoy writing about and/or training on all things Pardot.

Let’s connect to see where I can help. Email me at:

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