Why Email Sender Reputation Matters and How You Can Improve It

Sender reputation - businessman hand using smart phone and give five star symbol icon for feedback review satisfaction service rating of product. Satisfaction Concept.

If you’re a marketing professional who runs email campaigns frequently, here’s an easy question for you: What’s the most critical part of running an email campaign well? There are a few answers that many of us would automatically choose — the subject copy, or maybe excellent design; you might even insist it’s all about personalization.

In our opinion, it’s ensuring that your email lands in your customer’s inbox in the first place. Aka — email deliverability.
And you know what’s essential for deliverability?
Your email sender reputation!

As an email marketer, it may be a term that you are already familiar with, but there’s a chance you may not know how critical email sender reputation is to the success of your campaigns. Depending on this metric, your emails will reach one of the three locations — the inbox, the spam folder, or, in a worst-case scenario, the mail provider’s trash bin.

We’re going to look at how to check email sender reputation, how you can improve it, and the best practices you can implement to avoid getting your emails booted into the dreaded spam folder. 


Email Sender Reputation: What Is It?

Email sender reputation is the trustworthiness or credibility of a sender’s domain or IP address, and this metric is tracked by both email service providers (ESPs) and internet service providers (ISPs). Based on various factors, you are assigned a score — and this number plays a crucial role in email deliverability, which is the ability of an email to reach your customer’s inbox (instead of being marked as spam or rejected outright).

Email service providers like Gmail, Microsoft or Apple have various safeguards in place to ensure that irrelevant or malicious emails don’t reach their customers. And we think that is fantastic — imagine how much more problematic the email marketing landscape would be if spammers were allowed to indiscriminately mail people with low-value content! 

Both ISPs and ESPs have different methods of measuring your reputation and they assign email marketers a score, commonly known as an email sender score, to measure your sender reputation. This score is what determines whether your email is eligible to make it to the inbox. As we mentioned earlier, if your sender score is poor, it will be deleted automatically by the spam filters of the ESP or even the ISP.

Next up, let’s look at why you should care about poor email sender reputation and address it urgently.


The Effects of Poor Email Sender Reputation

If you view email marketing as just another part of your marketing operations, you are truly missing out because it translates to incredible ROI when executed properly. Good email sender reputation is one of the most basic principles of Campaign Refinery; we understand how critical it is for consistent email deliverability. 

Poor sender reputation can have detrimental effects on your overall email marketing efforts, so let’s take a look at some of the rough consequences you could face because of it:

  • Marked as spam: One of the most immediate effects of a poor sender reputation is that your emails are more likely to be marked as spam by ESPs and ISPs. This means that the beautifully crafted newsletter you poured hours into may not be seen by anyone!
  • Higher bounce rates: A poor sender reputation can lead to a higher rate of email bounces — this includes both soft bounces (temporary delivery failures) and hard bounces (permanent delivery failures). And that further damages your sender reputation. At some point, your own ESP may take action against you, as they wish to defend their domain reputation.
  • Limitations in reach: If your emails are constantly routed to the spam folder or they keep bouncing, you’re missing out on opportunities to engage with your target audience. This means you’ll miss out on potential conversions, sales, or communication opportunities.
  • Dip in open rates: Low sender reputation means your emails rarely make it to your customers’ inboxes, but when they do, recipients may be hesitant to open emails from senders they don’t trust. This directly reduces the effectiveness of your email campaigns.
  • Damage to your brand reputation: If your customers see you as spammy, it can severely damage your brand’s reputation and credibility. Your customers will view your company as untrustworthy or unprofessional.
  • Blacklisting: In extreme scenarios, if you keep running email campaigns without addressing your poor sender reputation, it can lead to your domain or IP address being blacklisted. And if you make it to a blacklist, it means that your emails will be automatically blocked by many ESPs and ISPs.
  • Wasted resources: If any of the above is happening, and your emails are marked as spam consistently, you are pretty much wasting time and money on email marketing actions that are not yielding results. This leads to a poor ROI for your email marketing campaigns.

Having these damaging effect in mind, you need to stay aware of the importance of email sender reputation. 

Curious to see what can cause your sender reputation to drop? Keep reading!


The Factors That Bring Down Your Email Sender Reputation

Different email providers use different algorithms to decide which sender is a potential spammer, and while we may not have accurate information on the algorithms, we do know which metrics decide your score. It’s a mix of the following:

  1. Domain reputation 
  2. IP reputation
  3. Consistency/volume of emails sent
  4. List quality
  5. Bounce rates
  6. Engagement scores
  7. Spam complaints
  8. Security/Authentication
  9. Unsubscribe rates

Keeping a sharp eye on all of these is crucial to building and maintaining a strong sender reputation. From the list above, domain reputation and IP reputation are the stats you need to pay the most attention to. We’re going to deep-dive into what these two terms mean; before that, let’s examine the remaining items on that list.

More Factors Affecting Sender Reputation:

  • Email consistency and volume: If you aren’t sensible about the frequency of your email and how consistently you email your customers, it’s going to affect your email sender reputation. So, not only do you need to commit to sending emails regularly, but you also need to ensure you don’t send them multiple offers or start sending more emails than normal. ESPs keep an eye out for sudden changes in email volume, so beware.
  • Quality of your email list: You might think you got a great deal on an email list you recently purchased, but buying lists from unknown online sellers is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. These lists are notorious for both invalid emails as well as spam traps (email inboxes that are set up to detect spammers), and there is no way you can manually check these. You would have to comb through the data using an email checker service. Customers of Campaign Refinery don’t need to worry about that, as automated list-cleaning is a feature we offer to all our clients
  • Email bounce rates: Bounce rates refer to the percentage of emails that are returned as undeliverable to the sender. As both ISPs and ESPs track hard and soft bounce rates, these are pretty bad for your sender reputation. This is why it’s critical to track them and take these email addresses off your list promptly. 
  • Engagement scores: Low open rates can be indicative of your email customers finding your content boring or spammy, whereas high open rates indicate that you’re on track. An even better indicator of your email content being relevant would be clickthrough rates (CTR). In short, a dropping open rate (or poor engagement) can be a red flag to ESPs, bringing down your sender score.
  • Spam reporting: This one is fairly straightforward — if your email recipients keep marking your emails as spam, it’s a matter of time before the ESP or ISP starts sending your emails to the spam folder.
  • Unsubscribing customers: It may not be as harsh as being marked as spam, but if a lot of recipients unsubscribe from your emails, it can send a signal to the mailbox service to bring your sender reputation down.
  • Email marketing regulations: Protocols like Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) exist to help prevent email spoofing and phishing, so it makes sense for you as an email marketer to implement these. Configuring and maintaining these authentication protocols boosts the trustworthiness of your brand’s email communications.


Now, on to two important pillars of email sender reputation — your domain rating and your IP rating. Note that while both these factors are evaluated separately (you can have a good IP rating and a poor domain rating, and vice versa), they both need to be fairly high to ensure good email deliverability. 


Domain Reputation Explained: How it Affects Your Email Sender Reputation

Domain reputation isn’t just the credibility of your website — it’s the overall trust score of your domain. This number is formulated based on the history of emails sent from your domain, as ESPs analyze the sending patterns of previous campaigns and the engagement scores on those emails. Accordingly, mail providers assign an email domain spam score to a domain.

You could be wondering if campaigns run by other employees of your company affect you,  and the answer is — yes. As long as someone is sending low-quality emails from your domain, this brings down your domain reputation or domain score, which then negatively affects your email sender reputation. This is why your company’s email marketing strategy needs to be uniform across the board — there needs to be a quality check on all email campaigns, regardless of which department is running it. This also applies if your domain is used by multiple small businesses; any of their irresponsible spamming is going to hurt you as well.

How Campaign Refinery Tackles Domain Reputation

At Campaign Refinery, we want to work with the most interesting businesses on the market — once you’re onboarded, you can rest assured you’re in the company of expert email marketers so you can enjoy the full benefits of a great sender reputation. We also insist that our clients authenticate their domains. This keeps their domain and IP reputation numbers high, which in turn leads to outstanding email deliverability: our clients report an instant open rates increase of up to 37%, with their reputation as high as ever.


Understanding IP Reputation

Like your domain score, IP reputation is another metric you need to be aware of. If ESPs have observed your IP sending lots of emails recklessly, you can bet this will reflect on your email sender reputation. So, if you share an IP with other people who aren’t as cautious as you, now is a good time to get an exclusive IP address for your emailing activities.

This does not mean that a new IP address comes with an excellent IP reputation. As there is no data for ESPs to assign an IP reputation score to you, you have to be careful in the email campaigns you run at the beginning so that you consistently get good scores and build the reputation of your IP address.


How to Check Your Email Sender Reputation

Google Postmaster Tools homepage screenshot

A surefire way to know that your sender reputation might be getting tarnished is if you are seeing changing patterns in your post-campaign reports. This is why you need excellent tools that give you excellent insight into how your email marketing is performing. If you observe dwindling open rates or drops in email deliverability, it’s as good a time as any to check your email sender reputation. Due to low engagement, mailboxes may be sending some of your emails into the spam folder, which can bring your open rates down further.

Below is a list of tools you can use to get a better idea of your sender reputation. These will also give you insight into your IP reputation, plus you can also check email domain reputation.
Before you rush to use any of them, note that they simply provide a rough estimate of your email sender reputation score, and different mail providers evaluate sender reputation in different ways. The best option from this list would be Google Postmaster Tools, as it’s operated by Google, and in most cases, a vast majority of your email list will be Gmail accounts. And that is exactly why it’s going to be an integrated part of the Campaign Refinery dashboard very soon!

  1. Google Postmaster Tools
  2. Barracuda Central 
  3. Smart Network Data Service (SNDS) by Microsoft 
  4. Talos Intelligence by Cisco
  5. Sender Score

Of course, the most effective way to measure your reputation would be to study the performance of your email campaigns and take a closer look at the bounce rates and engagement scores.

The next step would be to fix your email sender reputation, which you can do by following the steps below.


How to Improve Email Sender Reputation: A Simple Guide

There’s no shortcut or a simple trick to resolving an issue with your sender reputation, so we recommend you do this the right way. If you follow the steps below, you should see the results in time. 

  • Study your email campaign reports: Step one would be to have a good idea of how your email campaigns are performing. Study open rates, user engagement, CTRs, and conversions, and also study the spam reports and unsubscribe rates.
  • Switch up your IP address: Avoid shared IPs as much as you can. There is no way you’re going to improve your IP reputation by sharing it with a bunch of other people. And when you land a new IP, follow a good strategy to build its sender reputation. 
  • Domain reputation fixes: Use your own domain if possible. You can exit your current domain, if necessary, and then slowly warm up the new domain by sending out emails to your most engaged users.
  • Use a good quality email marketing platform: This isn’t just a plug for Campaign Refinery — we genuinely do our best to ensure that all our clients are top-quality businesses, which in turn ensures our deliverability rates remain high.
  • Keep your lists clean: This is a critical one. Not only should you organically grow your email lists, but you must maintain them as well. Remove inactive users if you notice their engagement has been dormant for 4-6 months. Remember: Emailing 500 interested recipients is better than carpet-bombing 5,000 users with information they don’t want. 
  • Provide value: Your content needs to be something that your customers wish to keep receiving. Always keep the content relevant and interesting. Study engagement metrics to understand what works and what doesn’t.
  • Use excellent copy: Hiring cheap (and hence, inexperienced) writers means that your copy is of low quality, and there’s a strong chance your writer will end up using spam trigger words that will catch the attention of spam filters. 
  • Audience segmentation: Personalized content is something you should strive for, and a great way to do that is to segregate your email lists based on the data you have on your recipients. Only send your customers emails that apply to them, because while they may be interested in one aspect of your business, another aspect might drive them to hit the Unsubscribe button; and on a bad day, the “Mark as Spam” button.
  • Implement authentication protocols: Another great way to build online trust in your emails is to implement security protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC on your sending domain.

Best practices to keep your email sender reputation high

Once you’ve applied all the steps we’ve listed above, here are a few rules to keep in mind to ensure your email sender reputation doesn’t drop again:

  1. Always keep IP and domain reputation in mind while crafting your email campaigns — and keep an eye on what emails are sent from both your domain and your IP.
  2. Always study the engagement and open rates for your email campaigns to see what they’re telling you.
  3. Be consistent in both volume and value.
  4. Always take feedback from your customers.
  5. Ensure that you onboard recipients who are truly interested in receiving emails from you — the best way to do this is by letting them know what they’re signing up for.

We’re sure you’ve now come to appreciate how critical email sender reputation is for the success of your campaigns. At Campaign Refinery, we take care of the heavy lifting for you. By truly understanding the value of sender reputation, we decided to address it at the root level — which is why we only work with the best customers we can. This way — everyone wins.

Besides using Campaign Refinery as your email services partner, there are other ways to amplify your email marketing ROI. In our free guide for businesses, “The Inbox Formula”, we’ve covered the most effective, tried and tested techniques that will help you achieve higher CTRs and open rates. Written by our founder and email expert, Travis Ketchum, this free guidebook covers best practices for email campaigns, offers industry insight, and even explains some common blunders email marketers make.

You can download “The Inbox Formula here!”

Let us know how it works for you and — happy emailing!

Written by Pradeep Menon

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