Article first published in July 2016, updated May 2019
As an email marketer, you know that successfully delivering an email campaign and seeing a strong ROI is not as simple as pressing “send” and hoping for the best.
The success of your email campaigns is largely dependent on a number of factors that need to be considered, monitored, and maintained over time in order to get the best results.
If you forget about maintaining your email list health, use non-permission based data, or let the quality of your email content slide, you can damage your email deliverability in a way that can be difficult to repair.
Read on to explore what your email sending reputation is, what affects it, and how to repair it if it’s not so great.
What is an email reputation?
How do spam filters and receiving mail servers keep up with the cumulative effect of your email campaign sends over time? The answer is sending reputation, and having a good or bad sending reputation can greatly affect whether or not your emails are successfully delivered.
Your sending reputation is tied to the domain you are sending your emails from.
As a result, your sending reputation will follow you wherever you send with that domain and, as such, this is why it’s important to you, as a sender, to take responsibility for and work on protecting and improving your sending reputation wherever possible.
How to tell if you have a bad sending reputation
A surefire way to find out the health of your sending reputation is to look at your results over time. The longer the period of time and the more email sends you can look at, the better.
What you’re looking for are patterns, trends and irregularities. The industry standard for open rates is at least 20%, so, if your open rates are significantly lower than that or have been dwindling over time, that’s a strong indicator that your sending reputation may be on the decline.
Steadily declining open rates are one of the clearest indications that your sending reputation is in need of repair, and this can be a problematic cycle to get into. Mail servers notice the lack of engagement with your emails and may block, bounce, or route your emails to junk automatically. This, in turn, leads to even lower rates of engagement that damage your sending reputation further and the cycle continues.
A damaged sending reputation most clearly manifests as poor or declining open rates, and it can also influence the decision of some receiving servers to bounce your emails.
The Campaign Monitor support team is well positioned to explore high bounce rates or low opening rates with our customers to help determine what the cause may be before recommending a course of recovery.
How do you get a bad sending reputation?
A bad sending reputation is often a cumulative effect of the results of your email sends at receiving servers. As you might expect, seeing poor results with high bounces, low opens, and high spam complaints will damage your sending reputation.
Conversely, if you see strong results at receiving domains, with high open rates, plenty of clicks, low bounces, and low spam complaints, this has a positive effect on your sending reputation.
As such, working to make your data compliant and successful not only influences that specific email campaign, but also the possible success of all your future email sends.
Understanding that every decision you make when it comes to data sources, list quality, and content can have ramifications both positive and negative for your future email sends is the first step to taking control of your sending reputation.
The basics of building a strong sending reputation
The simple truth is that, to build a strong sending reputation, you need to see good results from your email campaigns. Read on to discover some of the basics that can help set your emails up for inbox success.
Send to permission-based email lists
The first step is to ensure that you send to opt-in, permission-based lists. Sending emails to a purchased or third party list damages your sending reputation in a way that is very difficult to reverse, which is why any good email service provider does not permit sending to purchased or rented email lists.
Only send email to lists of your own customers or subscribers who have directly and expressly opted in to receive your emails.
If you are using general contact forms or competition forms to source recipients, ensure that there is an opt-in checkbox so that those people can give their permission to be added to your mailing list.
Sending to permission-based lists is the simplest part of managing your sending reputation. If you send to lists where opt-in is not in place, you will inevitably damage your sending reputation.
To help you grow quality email lists, we created an entire guide that provides everything you need to know about building a quality list to power your email marketing.
The age and previous sending history of your list is also important. If you haven’t mailed a list in years or it has been dormant for more than 12 months, you do not want to send to it, as you could encounter engagement issues.
Most ESPs (including ourselves) have policies in place that outline what constitutes a mailable list. This benefits everyone.
Send from your own domain
Send your emails using an email address at your own domain. The success of your email sends is tied to the reputation of your sending domain.
If you mail from a free domain address such as Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail, you won’t be able to authenticate your sends, nor will you be able to build your reputation as a sender. Expect a much higher bounce rate as well.
Send targeted and relevant content
Send targeted, relevant content using segments and dynamic content. Sending to opt-in lists that are properly managed is the foundation of a strong email offering, but not all of your content is going to be relevant to all of your subscribers.
By sending highly targeted emails using dynamic content that is relevant to your various subscriber groups, you should see improved subscriber engagement. We saw a 13% increase in conversions when using dynamic content.
Those kinds of improvements in open rates and clicks, in turn, translate to positive gains for your sending reputation.
Authenticate your emails
Authentication is a strong step towards improving your email deliverability, and authenticating your sending domain can also be a huge boost for your sending reputation.
Receiving servers will note the legitimacy of your DKIM signature, and being a trusted, authenticated sender will have a positive effect on how receiving domains will handle your emails.
How to fix a damaged sending reputation
The first step to fixing your sending reputation is to figure out what may have gone wrong as well as when it went wrong.
When looking at your campaign reports, look for patterns and irregularities in your key metrics: opens, bounces, spam complaints, clicks, and unsubscribes.
Spikes in complaint rates, bounce rates, or very low open rates that are associated with an upload of new data can be a red flag, and steadily declining open rates or poor performance with a new template are also things you can look for.
If you have certain lists that are experiencing high bounce rates or spam complaints, take another look at your permission and list management. Was your list sourced with ironclad opt-in? Has it remained dormant for periods of 6 months or more?
Sometimes, your sending reputation can be damaged as a result of prolonged sending to unengaged lists (for example, if your lists and content haven’t changed in a long time but your open rates have dropped from 20%+ to 10%).
This may be an indication that it’s time to consider a course of re-engagement or using more targeted, dynamic content to ensure relevancy.
Campaign Monitor customers can use our advanced segmenting tools to build segments showing engagement levels. With this data, you can target unengaged recipients with a re-engagement campaign or consider decreasing the frequency of your sends to those people.
Use a preference center to give people control over the number and kinds of emails they receive and use data from other channels, such as social media or purchase history, to get a clear picture of engagement across your whole range of marketing.
For those subscribers who are completely disengaged, a re-engagement campaign will help you reach out to them and give them a chance to confirm that they still want to receive your emails. It’s a great way of filtering out any subscribers that no longer want to receive your emails.
By identifying, targeting, and then removing completely inactive recipients, you will see a smaller, though much more engaged list. By sending to a list full of subscribers that want to receive your content, you can improve engagement and help repair your sending reputation. Remember that list quality is more important than quantity.
Lastly, you can use your engagement segments to identify your most active subscribers and prioritize sending to these recipients.
If your sending reputation is in serious disrepair or you are switching email service providers, you may want to send a strong signal to receiving inboxes by sending to your most active segments as part of a longer ramp-up plan.
By looking at your sending history in this kind of detail, you should be able to see what is working well and use that as benchmarks for your future email sends.
What is a good sender score in 2019?
After you perform an email reputation check, a good sender score in 2019 should be around 90. At a score of 90, it means your domain is receiving a minuscule complaint rate and hitting almost no spam traps.
The lower your sender score goes, the more likely you are to end up in spam folders and not be seen. A bad sender score can occur as a result of bad customer feedback from your emails or emails that contain spam-sensitive language.
Getting people to consistently interact with your emails is another way to grow your sender score. However, this is getting more difficult than ever, due to the number of options that people have when online.
To get someone to take time away from their other activities and focus on an email, you truly need to offer something special.
How can I improve my email reputation in 2019?
To achieve a great open rate and click-through rate in 2019, thereby gaining you a great email reputation, you’ll need to adopt some of the most popular trends.
If you rely too heavily on what came before, you’ll only get left behind, as technology continues to revolutionize email marketing. Moreover, if you get left behind, your email reputation suffers.
Here are a few ways to ensure that you have the best email reputation possible in 2019.
While personalization has always been important in email marketing, it’s only become more so in recent years. People are simply far more likely to interact with an email that feels directed at them, as opposed to a mass email with no clear recipient in mind.
It’s the difference between talking to a crowd and having an intimate one-on-one conversation.
To achieve this one-on-one feeling, you may consider using software or HTML to address your recipients by name, include content specifically designed for them based on their behavior, and make use of real-time email automation.
Source: Pretty Good Emails
An eye-catching subject line
Subject lines are your first impression on the reader. They’re essentially your pitch for why the reader should open your email, as opposed to immediately deleting it or sending it to spam. As such, this moment is incredibly important not just for that one email, but for your entire email reputation.
The tone of your subject line should always reflect the sensibilities of your target audience. If your brand is recreational, don’t be afraid to add humor.
Another excellent option for subject lines is to ask a question. This incites curiosity within the readers, and they’ll immediately apply the question to their own lives.
Don’t be mistaken for spam
Spam filters have gotten more sophisticated as the years have gone on, but they’re still not perfect. In fact, if you’re not careful, your emails could easily be sent into the spam folder.
In addition to making sure your IP reputation remains clean, be sure to avoid language like “free” and “buy.” While these might sound innocent, spam filters read these words as spam.
To guarantee that you bypass the spam filter, you may want to consider asking your mailing list to add you to their address book. If you’re in each other’s contacts, the spam filter won’t be an issue.
Your sending reputation is a decisive factor when it comes to the delivery of your emails. By complying with permission policies and best practices and carefully monitoring your email list performance, you’ll be well positioned to develop and maintain a strong sending reputation.
When things go wrong, use our robust reporting features and the guidance of our team of specialists to identify and resolve any issues swiftly to ensure that your sending reputation is on the road to recovery.