We’ve all been there. Your boss wants better ROI from the email channel—and she wants it now. Maybe your first instinct is to send a few extra email campaigns, or create more personalized content, or improve your creative. While those things might move the needle in the short term, taking a closer look at your fundamentals could provide significant long term gains.

Think about this: if email doesn’t make it to the inbox, brands lose the opportunity to connect with customers and ultimately make a sale. So the seemingly simple act of reaching the inbox is incredibly important. Yet in 2016, more than 20 percent of legitimate email failed to reach its intended target.

What can you do to make sure your email isn’t part of that useless 20 percent? Make sure you pay attention to these three important fundamentals.

Mailbox providers need to know who you are.

A consistent sending identity helps mailbox providers to pinpoint the source of an email, which is the first step in confirming that mail should be delivered to the inbox instead of the spam folder. There are several things you can do to establish and maintain a strong sender identity:

  • Don’t change your IP address unless it’s absolutely necessary. Spammers often bounce from one IP address to another to escape reputation issues, so mailbox providers see this as a red flag. Sending from a consistent IP address provides evidence that your email is legitimate.
  • If you do set up a new IP address, be sure to warm it up first. Sometimes there are valid reasons to set up a new IP address, but you have to start slow. Begin by sending a small amount of mail to only your most engaged customers to build up a positive sending reputation, then gradually increase your sending volume.
  • Authenticate your email. Mailbox providers view authenticated email as more trustworthy, and are thus more likely to deliver it to the intended recipient. Authenticate your email program by implementing standards like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC.

There’s no substitute for a great reputation.

Sender reputation is an important factor in determining whether a sender is legitimate. While each mailbox provider uses its own formula for measuring sender reputation, certain factors consistently play a role in the calculation—spam complaints, spam traps, blacklists, etc. The following steps will help build and sustain a positive sender reputation:

  • Know your own reputation. Sender reputation is not a constant. Every email you send could impact your reputation, either positively or negatively. Use free tools like Sender Score to check your reputation regularly, and keep a handle on how mailbox providers view your email program.
  • Keep a clean email list. Make sure your email list isn’t a reputation liability! Sending to spam traps and unknown users is sure to cause reputation issues, so hard bounces should be suppressed or removed from your list immediately. You can also use an email validation service to ensure that every email on your list belongs to a real subscriber.
  • Take advantage of feedback loops. When subscribers mark your email as spam or send it to the junk folder, it sends a clear signal that your email is unwanted and future messages should be filtered. Sign up for feedback loops, offered by most mailbox providers, which will send notifications when complaints happen so you can address them appropriately.
  • Check for blacklists. Mailbox providers consider blacklisting in their reputation calculations, and may block your mail altogether if you’re on a blacklist. So it’s important to know immediately if you’ve been blacklisted and where. Check your IP address using a blacklist lookup, and understand the process for delisting.

Engaged subscribers are your greatest asset.

Loyal customers are critical to business success, but they can also help to ensure your email gets delivered. Major mailbox providers like Microsoft, AOL, Gmail, and Yahoo are beginning to evaluate subscriber engagement as part of their filtering decisions, as it allows them to determine whether email is welcome at the individual subscriber level. Keep your subscribers engaged with these tactics:

  • Segment your list and personalize your content. Your subscriber list includes a wide variety of individuals. Every subscriber has unique preferences, so treat them that way! Segment your list and create unique content for each group. Also keep in mind that there are many ways of segmenting (by life stage, past purchases, etc.).
  • Learn from experience. Analyze past campaigns to learn what resonated with your subscribers, and what fell flat. By evaluating what worked and what didn’t, you can begin to identify campaign elements that are likely to spark engagement.
  • Test everything. It’s easy to test nearly every aspect of your email by making small changes to see what resonates with your subscriber base. Need some help figuring out what to test? Here are 50 unique ideas.

Your email program will never reach its full potential if your messages don’t reach their intended target. Get back to basics with these tips and make sure you’re hitting the inbox. Your boss will thank you!

About the Author: Jen Ribble is a marketing professional with more than 15 years of experience in the tech and financial services sectors. She currently leads PR and content marketing efforts for Return Path, the world’s leading expert in email deliverability.