Email Deliverability in Ghost CMS: Avoiding Spam Filters

Jannis Fedoruk-Betschki
Jannis Fedoruk-Betschki 01 December 2023

Yes, you've probably heard it countless times times: build an email list. It's your most important marketing asset as a small business owner or blogger. Yes, it's true – and Ghost CMS makes it extremely easy to send out newsletters, right?

But here's the catch: sending emails is one thing – ensuring they actually arrive in your subscriber's inboxes is another.

And this is where email deliverability comes in. It's a term marketers came up with to say "I want to make sure that as many emails as possible are being delivered".

Key Principles of Email Deliverability in Ghost CMS

I don't want to get too technical here – if you're looking for in-depth technical analysis, here's a link for that.

I rather want to focus on getting a general understanding of what email deliverability means for your email list, so you have some practical tools at hand.

At its core, email deliverability is about making sure your newsletters land in your subscribers' inboxes, and is not lost in the maze of Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo's spam filters. Our mission as newsletter creators is to tick as many of the right boxes as possible – even if we don't know all the rules of the game.

Because reality is: nobody really knows how Google & Co. filter out spam. Some factors – mostly the technical ones – are known. But a lot of it is just based on observation.

Known Factors of Email Deliverability

Think about the "Nigerian prince" spam emails. You know, a supposed Nigerian prince offers you a huge amount of money. All you have to do is transfer a smaller sum to their account beforehand. If you're unfamiliar, NordVPN has put together a collection of examples of this scam.

These kind of emails are a classic example of what not to do. They are filled with words and phrases that are red flags for email filters. "Donation", "million dollars", or "requires initial investment" – just to name a few of them.

So, when writing content for your email list, be mindful of the pitfalls of spammy language, since these are the easiest factor to filter out for inbox providers. If you want to double-check some of the words you use, Active Campaign has created a list of words that are known to be considered spammy.

Technical Insights: Boosting Email Open Rates with Ghost CMS

The beauty of the internet is that its core technologies are open to everyone. This also goes for email. But "everyone" is not just you, me, and your colleagues at work. It is also spammers and scammers. That's why inbox providers are extremely careful about where your emails actually come from.

They check things like your IP address and the domain you use to send emails from. Configuring these things correctly isn't black magic – but it does take some tech knowledge.

If you want to know more about these things, have a look at this HackerNoon article. It describes three mechanisms that help verify your emails are legit: SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.

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As of 2024 DMARC will become even more important. Read more on this topic here.

Now, you could do all of this yourself – and simply send your email newsletters in Ghost CMS with your Gmail account. But this won't last for long. This is what the Ghost team says about using standard email protocols (like SMTP) to deliver your email newsletters:

Sending a bulk email to many recipients using basic SMTP will result in your IP address being instantly blacklisted and marked as spam by all mail providers. You should never, ever send bulk mail using basic SMTP, which is why Ghost does not support it.

Source: https://ghost.org/docs/faq/mailgun-newsletters/#why-cant-i-just-use-smtp-mail-config-to-send-email-newsletters-with-ghost

How Ghost CMS Handles Newsletters

To avoid sending emails using basic SMTP, the Ghost CMS team, has decided to integrate Mailgun as a bulk email provider within Ghost. Yes, we can debate whether Mailgun is the "best" bulk email provider, but I generally think that the decision not to send newsletters through SMTP is a great one.

Now, transactional emails in Ghost – such as password resets, magic links for your members to log in, etc. – are still sent through SMTP. And that is perfectly fine. These are one-to-one emails, not one-to-many.

The big advantage of using Mailgun is the fact that they have specialised in email delivery. They make sure that the IP addresses stay clean, guide users through the tech set-up of their domains, and much more.

Within our Deliverability Service, our customers see an average of 97.4% delivery rates compared to the industry average of 85% and non-deliverability service customer average of 94%.

Source: https://www.mailgun.com/blog/email/understanding-email-deliverability/

The address the elephant in the room: yes, using Mailgun to deliver newsletter to your members is an additional cost you have to factor in. But here's the good news: if you're self-hosting Ghost, you can still send plenty of newsletters for free, and use Mailgun's pay-as-you-go pricing model afterwards. Here's a Ghost forum post on that.

Apart from that, there are also managed Ghost CMS hosting providers, such as Magic Pages, that include a certain number of email newsletters every month.

What If An Email Still Lands In Spam?

But even with using a bulk email processor, such as Mailgun, emails can sometimes be rejected or land in spam. Ghost has your back though, making sure that your email list stays clean and delivery rates high.

In early 2023, Ghost introduced a new feature – automatic list cleaning. If email newsletters to a specific member continue to fail over and over again, Ghost will automatically disable them from receiving further messages.

If Ghost CMS is a little over-eager, you have full control and can simply enable it again with a few clicks. More on that in the changelog article from Ghost.

How Magic Pages Ensures High Email Deliverability in Ghost CMS

Here at Magic Pages, we take care of all the tech set-up so that your emails arrive in your subscribers inboxes. But how do we do that?

It pretty much starts when you set up your Ghost CMS instance. If you choose to use a free .mymagic.page subdomain, all the tech stuff mentioned above (SPF, DKIM, DMARC) is automatically taken care of for you.

If you decide to use your own domain, Magic Pages will guide you through these steps.

Screenshot of Magic Pages' dashboard, showing DNS settings to set up for DKIM, SPF, and a link to information on DMARC
Screenshot of Magic Pages' dashboard

We show you the correct DKIM and SPF records to set up and give you resources to configure your DMARC record – basically the instructions for inbox providers on what to do with an email that doesn't fulfil the criteria set in DKIM and SPF.

If you need help with any of that, we're just an email away.

The tech behind Magic Pages email delivery

In the screenshot above you can clearly see that Magic Pages isn't using Mailgun for email delivery, but Amazon SES. Amazon SES is one of the biggest email service providers out there and is used by many companies like Duolingo, Grab, Netflix, or Reddit.

When we set up Magic Pages, we wanted to ensure high deliverability and affordable prices for our customers – which is why we ended up with Amazon SES.

Since our launch in April 2023, Magic Pages has sent thousands of emails. Our technical set up allowed us to keep our bounce rate relatively low at 0.16% (as of November 2023). This is significantly below the average of 0.30%, according to the latest statistics publised by Mailerlite.

Practical Tips for Better Email Deliverability in Ghost CMS

We've talked about the tech and strategies behind successful email deliverability, but how does this translate into actionable steps?

  1. Mind Your Language: Remember the Nigerian prince example? Avoid using words that are commonly flagged as spam. Be conversational but professional in your emails.
  2. Personalize Your Emails: People (and inbox providers!) love feeling special. If you can, use your subscriber’s name and tailor your content to their interests. This not only engages them but also moves your email away from looking like a mass spam attempt. In Ghost's editor you can use the `Email content` card for that, which has `Hey {first_name, "there"},` set as default content.
  3. Engage Your Audience: Ask questions, encourage replies, and interact with your subscribers. Engagement can improve your email reputation, as providers see that people are interested in your content.
  4. Clean Your Email List Regularly: Ghost’s automatic list cleaning is a great start, but also go through your email list regularly. If there are members in your list that haven't opened your emails in a year, is there really a point in keeping them?
  5. Check Your Tech Setup: With Magic Pages, we've got you covered on the tech front, but if you're self-hosting, ensure SPF, DKIM, and DMARC are correctly set up. This is crucial for email authenticity.
  6. Monitor Your Metrics: Keep an eye on your email analytics. High bounce rates or low open rates can be red flags that something needs tweaking.

Conclusion

Wrapping it all up, email deliverability in Ghost CMS doesn't have to be a daunting task. Most things are pretty straightforward and Ghost itself takes care of a lot of it for you.

If you're not looking to self-host, a managed Ghost CMS hosting provider, such as Magic Pages, is a great alternative to ensure your emails will actually arrive in your subscribers' inboxes.

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