What Inbox Owners (And Marketers) Need to Know About Inbox Previews

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a positive impression of email in a recipient’s inbox is worth a ton of engagement. Before anyone decides whether to open an email, they will first see a preview in either their inbox or their spam/junk folder.

This preview is a visual representation of:

  • If the sender has all forms of authentication
  • Who the sender is
  • Preview text
  • Subject line

The biggest red flag to note as you’re viewing an email in the inbox is if the sender is unverified.

For users of the desktop version of Outlook, if any methods of authentication are failing, you will see a little “unverified” indicator in your inbox preview next to the Sender Name. This is usually a red flag that it’s an email you should not open, but if you do open, DO NOT click on any attachments or any links in the email if they happen to reach your inbox. You’ll see more unverified emails in a spam or junk folder, but sometimes they can sneak through and make it into the inbox.

As a marketer, authentication is the most important thing to have in place before you click the “send” button. Authentication is a digital signature that gives permission for the email service provider (ESP) to send email on behalf of your brand’s domain. If you’ve had your ESP set up with authentication for a while, you will likely want to revisit authentication because newer methods have been introduced in the last year that your IT team may not know to put in place.

SPF, DKIM and DMARC are must-have forms of authentication that differentiate a legitimate sender from a spammer. Pro-Tip: If you were to right click on any email in your inbox preview in Outlook and click “View Source” you would see an area of the source code that says “Authentication” and if the authentication passes or fails.

If authentication doesn’t exist (=none) or fails (=fail) then the sender has issues they need to address.

If you’ve been sending email with an ESP for a while, you probably already have:

You should test your SPF record monthly. Your domain’s SPF record gets changed more frequently by IT teams. This means your emails could start landing in spam folders without your knowledge, leaving you wondering why open/click rates started declining.

If you’ve updated authentication within the last two years, you may have Domain Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC).

If you’re not a big retailer or you use many ESPs or partners to send email on your behalf, you may not have Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI).

Although BIMI isn’t a required form of authentication yet when it comes to getting delivered and routed to an inbox, it does help the recipient recognize your brand’s legitimacy when your official logo appears next to your Sender Name. If a circle with a “?” is shown, like on the inbox preview example above, that is the area for a verified mark certificate (VMC) which proves that the sender owns their logo. If there is a “?” then the sender doesn’t have BIMI and isn’t in your contacts or list of trusted senders.

Unless you’re in the midst of a rebrand that includes new logo design, it would be a good idea to start implementing BIMI/VMC now if you haven’t already and get a leg up on your competition during the most difficult quarter for email deliverability (a.k.a. The Q4 Curse).

Jenny Lassi • October 12, 2021


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