How to Check Domain Reputation and Improve It

check domain reputation cover image with a figure holding a checkmark

Even if you sign on with a popular ESP, a domain with a poor reputation can drag down your campaign performance. This is why maintaining a good domain reputation is crucial for successful email marketing

In this guide, we explain what role domain reputation plays in your deliverability rate, how to find your domain reputation score, and how to improve it. Read on to achieve superior inbox placement rates!

What is Domain Reputation? 

Domain reputation in email marketing refers to the perceived trustworthiness and credibility of the domain name you use to send emails. It’s a crucial factor in determining whether emails sent from your domain will reach recipients’ inboxes or not.

Domain reputation in email marketing is essentially your sender’s trustworthiness as perceived by email service providers (ISPs) like Gmail or Yahoo. It directly impacts where your emails land in a recipient’s inbox or spam folder.

Think of it like a credit score for your email domain. A good reputation (high score) means ISPs are more likely to deliver your emails to inboxes, while a bad reputation (low score) lands you in spam.

IP and Domain Reputation: Why You Must Care

IP reputation refers to the perceived trustworthiness of the IP address you use for sending emails. Just like domain reputation, your IP reputation plays a crucial role in determining whether emails sent from your IP address will reach recipients’ inboxes or get flagged as spam.

You must care about both IP reputation and domain reputation because they directly impact the deliverability of your emails and the overall effectiveness of your email campaigns. 

This list explains every aspect of email marketing affected by these two factors:

  1. Inbox placement rates,
  2. Engagement metrics,
  3. Overall sender reputation,
  4. Brand image,
  5. ROI on email marketing efforts,
  6. Compliance.

Starting with the top point — both IP reputation and domain reputation influence whether your emails reach recipients’ inboxes.

The deliverability rates, in turn, affect email engagement metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. Emails that land in recipients’ inboxes are more likely to be seen and acted upon, leading to better engagement with your audience.

IP and domain reputation contribute significantly to your overall sender reputation. A poor sender reputation must be avoided at all costs, as it could sink your entire email marketing operation. 

And it’s not just your sender reputation at stake, but also your brand reputation. Consistently landing in recipients’ inboxes and providing valuable content enhances your brand image, whereas being marked as spam can damage your brand’s credibility.

Of course, the two biggest reasons to care about IP and domain reputation are ROI and compliance; your domain reputation directly affects your ROI and compliance demands you follow recommended practices to maintain a good sender reputation.

How is Domain Reputation Calculated?

The exact methods used to calculate domain reputation are closely guarded secrets by mailbox providers (ISPs) like Gmail and Yahoo — this is to prevent spammers from exploiting loopholes in the system.

However, we do know that mailbox providers use a mix of factors to assess a domain’s reputation, and these factors can be broadly categorized into two areas: sender behavior and recipient engagement.

The full list of factors that decide how mailbox providers view your domain reputation:

  1. Authentication: The presence of security protocols like SPF (Sender Policy Framework), DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), and DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance) records to verify the authenticity of emails sent from your domain.
  2. Engagement metrics: Email engagement metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and spam complaints play a significant role.
  3. List quality: Sending emails to a clean, opt-in list of recipients who have explicitly subscribed to receive communications from the domain helps maintain a positive reputation. Avoid buying email lists as they may contain invalid email addresses.
  4. Content: The content of the emails, including subject lines, body text, and images, should be relevant, valuable, and free from spammy elements.
  5. Consistency: Sending emails from the domain with a regular cadence and maintaining a good sender reputation over time.
  6. Compliance: Adhering to email marketing regulations such as the CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) can positively impact domain reputation. 

Following email best practices is a good strategy to maintain/improve domain reputation. At Campaign Refinery, we encourage our clients to always keep a recipient-first approach and follow the rules laid out by ISPs. Take, for example, the spam update from Yahoo and Google that came into effect earlier this year.

Google and Yahoo Spam Update for 2024

Google and Yahoo rolled out a new anti-spam initiative in February 2024 that targets bulk email senders (those sending over 5,000 emails daily). The main goals are to reduce spam and make unsubscribing easier for users.

Here’s a summary of the key changes:

  • Strict authentication requirements: Bulk senders must implement SPF, DKIM, and DMARC protocols to verify their email legitimacy and prevent spoofing.
  • Lower spam thresholds: Google enforces a stricter standard, requiring senders to keep spam complaint rates below 0.1% (ideally) to ensure emails reach inboxes.
  • Focus on unsubscribe requests: One-click unsubscribe options are mandatory, and email providers must process unsubscribe requests within 48 hours.

These updates aim to create a safer email environment for users by ensuring legitimate emails from reputable senders reach inboxes, while spam messages are filtered out more effectively. They also tell us what kind of factors big mailbox providers consider when assigning domain reputation scores.

ESP Reputation vs Domain Reputation: Two Different Things

While your ESP (Email Service Provider) plays a role in email deliverability with its sending infrastructure, its reputation doesn’t directly impact your domain’s reputation. 

However, your email-sending practices through your ESP can significantly affect your domain’s reputation.  Practices like high spam complaints or low engagement rates from recipients using your ESP will hurt your domain’s sender score.

This table highlights the differences and relevance of these two metrics:

AspectESP ReputationEmail Domain Reputation
DefinitionOverall trustworthiness of the ESPPerceived trustworthiness of the domain name
ScopeReputation of ESP infrastructure, IP addresses, and domainsReputation of the domain used for sending emails
Factors influencing scoreReliability of infrastructure, spam filtering mechanisms, compliance, customer supportSender authentication, engagement metrics, list quality, content quality, compliance
TakeawayIndicates the likelihood of emails sent through ESP being delivered to inboxesIndicates the likelihood of emails sent from the domain being delivered to inboxes
ExamplesReputation of Campaign Refinery, Mailchimp, Gmail, etc.Reputation of samplecompany.com, Apple.com, etc.
ESP reputation and Domain reputation are two very different things

You should know that a company with a good domain reputation can maintain good deliverability even if they switch ESPs. Wherever you go, your domain reputation follows! 

How to Track Domain Reputation

There isn’t a single, definitive way to track your domain reputation since the exact methods ISPs use are confidential. However, several tools and resources can provide valuable insights into your domain’s health and help you monitor its reputation over time.

If you’re wondering if there are ways to assess whether you have a reputation problem, these pointers can help:

  • Spam complaint rates: Most ESPs provide data on spam complaints. A sudden rise in complaints is a red flag suggesting a drop in your domain reputation.
  • Track your bounces: High bounce rates, signifying undelivered emails due to invalid addresses, can negatively impact your reputation. This is why Campaign Refinery clients love the automated list cleaner. Our tool detects and neutralizes all invalid emails.
  • Engagement metrics: Pay attention to open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribe rates.  Healthy open rates and click-through rates suggest recipients find your emails valuable, which reflects well on your reputation.
  • Search blacklists: Websites like MXToolBox or multiRBL.valli.org allow you to see if your domain is on any major blacklists. Being blacklisted is a strong sign of a poor reputation.
  • Look for delivery issues: If you receive feedback from recipients about emails not arriving or going to spam folders, it suggests potential reputation problems.
  • Industry benchmarks: Research average open rates, click-through rates, and bounce rates for your industry. Consistently falling below benchmarks might indicate a reputation issue.

A simpler method would be to check domain reputation using tools. While some are free, there are also paid versions that offer additional value.

Popular Tools to Check Domain Reputation

Before we share the names of popular tools, it’s important to point out that domain reputation checkers are not the same as email domain checkers. Some tools offer both services but it’s critical to be aware of the distinction between the two.

Email Domain Checker vs Domain Reputation Checker

These tools serve different purposes:

FunctionsEmail domain checkerDomain reputation checker
PurposeEvaluates your email-sending practices.Analyzes the credibility of your website’s domain.
What does it do?Looks at how you handle email communication, including aspects like authentication, sending patterns, and overall email hygiene.It considers the general behavior and history of your email domain.
When is it used?Used to ensure email infrastructure is correctly configured and optimized for reliable delivery.Crucial to assess sender reputation, and in turn, inbox placement.
Differences between Email Domain Checker and Domain Reputation Checker

While both are essential for email deliverability, they address different aspects. The email domain checker ensures proper email setup, while the domain reputation checker assesses your domain’s overall trustworthiness.

How a Domain Reputation Checker Works

Here are all the components that domain reputation checkers consider before assigning a sender score:

  1. Spam complaint rates,
  2. Spam traps,
  3. Engagement rates,
  4. Unsubscribes,
  5. Bounce rates,
  6. Blacklists,
  7. Sending history.

By studying these metrics, tools that check domain reputation are able to offer you a rough estimate of your domain reputation score.

Tools to Check Email Domain Reputation

Domain reputation tracking tools offer several advantages over manual methods when monitoring your sender score and email deliverability. They consolidate information from various sources like blacklists, mailbox providers, and your ESP, providing a comprehensive view of your domain reputation in one place.

Use any of these tools to get an idea of your domain reputation:

  • Google Postmaster Tools: If you send a high enough volume of emails, Google Postmaster Tools offers valuable insights into your domain’s reputation with Gmail. It provides metrics like sender score, spam rate, and encrypted traffic. It’s shortly going to be added to Campaign Refinery’s analytics dashboard.
  • MXToolBox: This comprehensive toolbox offers a free domain reputation check. It looks for blacklistings and provides information on how other email providers might view your domain.
  • Talos Intelligence: This tool from Cisco allows you to check the reputation of your domain and IP address. It offers a reputation score and details on why your domain might be flagged.
  • IPVoid Domain Reputation Check Tool: This tool allows you to verify if a domain name is classified as potentially malicious or phishing by multiple well-known domain blacklists such as ThreatLog, PhishTank, and OpenPhish. It’s useful for quickly assessing whether a domain has a potentially bad online reputation.
  • API Void: API Void offers a domain reputation check tool that leverages its Domain Reputation API. This tool allows you to assess the trustworthiness of a website or potential sender based on its domain name.

Most ESPs offer advanced features to give you information about your domain, including domain reputation monitoring and tracking — so you may not need a separate tool. 

What to Do if Your Domain is on a Blacklist

If you discover your email domain is blacklisted, know there are steps you can take to get delisted and improve your reputation.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to tackling this situation:

  1. The first step is to identify the blacklist — many blacklist providers offer free lookup tools on their websites but you can also use resources like MXToolbox or MultiRBL.
  2. Most blacklist providers will explain why a domain is flagged; common reasons include spam complaints, phishing attempts, malware distribution, and use of open relays.
  3. Depending on the cause of blacklisting, you will have to fix the underlying issue. We have shared a table on that below.
  4. The next step is to submit a delisting request. Their website will usually have a clear process for this. Be prepared to provide evidence you’ve fixed the problem.
  5. Be patient and monitor your domain reputation over time.

Fix the root cause of blacklisting:

Cause for BlacklistingThe remedy
Spam complaintsReview your email marketing practices. Send relevant content to engaged subscribers and avoid spammy tactics like misleading subject lines or excessive sending frequency.
Phishing attemptsEnsure your email authentication protocols (SPF, DKIM, DMARC) are properly configured to prevent spoofing.
Malware distributionScan your website and email systems for malware and remove any infected content.
Open relay useIf you manage your own mail server, tighten security measures to prevent unauthorized use.
Prevent blacklisting with these solutions 

Remember, good list hygiene can drastically reduce spam complaints and bounces. Also ensure you obtain explicit consent before adding people to your list.

The Ultimate Guide to Improving Domain Reputation 

Follow this exhaustive list of best practices, and we assure you that your domain reputation will be on track soon.

  1. Implement SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. These email authentication protocols verify your legitimacy as a sender and prevent spoofing.
  2. Regularly remove inactive subscribers, invalid addresses, and spam traps (inactive addresses used to catch spammers). A clean list reduces bounces and shows ISPs you value engaged recipients.
  3. Always obtain explicit opt-in permission before adding someone to your email list; this demonstrates respect for recipient privacy and reduces spam complaints.
  4. Focus on sending valuable, informative content that resonates with your audience.
  5. Craft clear, concise, and engaging subject lines that accurately reflect your email content. Avoid clickbait tactics or misleading information.
  6. Refrain from excessive sending frequency, misleading subject lines, all-caps content, or excessive exclamation points. These tactics raise spam flags.
  7. Personalization in greetings or content can improve engagement and make your emails feel less generic.
  8. Track open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribes — a consistent decline in engagement can negatively impact your reputation.
  9. If you’re using a new domain, warm it up — start with a low sending volume and gradually increase it as you build trust with ISPs.
  10. Segmenting your email list allows you to target specific audiences with relevant content, potentially boosting engagement.
  11. Periodically check if your domain is blacklisted and take prompt action to get delisted if necessary (refer to previous section for steps).

Domain reputation is an ongoing process, but with dedication, you can establish yourself as a trustworthy sender and achieve successful email marketing campaigns!

Peak Sender Reputation: Campaign Refinery Shows You the Way

At Campaign Refinery, sender reputation is one of our top priorities. We believe that following email best practices and adhering to ISP guidelines will bring us the best results. 

And we can confirm it works! We have the best deliverability rates in the industry and that’s because we know exactly how IP, domain, and sender reputation work.

Here’s how Campaign Refinery helps email professionals achieve their goals:

  • To prevent abusive behavior that may impact other customers, new accounts have to go through an approval process. 
  • We require all clients to implement SPF, DKIM, and DMARC before they can begin sending email campaigns.
  • Our automated list cleaner removes spam traps, blacklisted IDs, role-based emails, seeder and burner accounts, and more. This ensures no emails are sent to invalid email addresses, which affects sender reputation. 
  • We insist our clients use valid email address lists and have a strict policy against spam.
  • At Campaign Refinery, we strictly prohibit sending cold emails and purchased lists.
  • We constantly monitor client metrics to ensure no spam is sent from our servers
  • We may terminate accounts that consistently display poor stats, like open rates below 10%, bounce rates over 10%, or complaint rates over 0.1%.

We understand email like no one else does. If you want to experience elite email performance, apply to be a Campaign Refinery customer today!

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