How Your Reputation Impacts Email Deliverability

Most marketers engaged in email marketing do not realize the important role their reputation plays not only on their deliverability, but also on the overall return of their marketing investment. Monitoring your company’s email marketing reputation and the reputation of your Email Service Provider (ESP) is vital to your business.

This eSuccessTIP will cover how to determine a baseline for measuring your reputation, how to fix potential problems, and what you can do to keep your reputation separate from the reputation of your ESP.

Why Should I Care about my Reputation?

The amount of unsolicited email that ISPs and corporate mail server administrators receive has forced them to adopt creative methods to reduce or halt spam delivery. While content filtering works to block spam, it also falsely labels many emails as spam and blocks them from being delivered to the recipient. As a way to combat this, users have been forced to abandon content blocking in favor of reputation based systems which have a much lower tendency to block conversational email. However, doing so may wreak havoc on email marketing campaigns.

Last year, email receivers broadly adopted various reputation-based systems that helped them determine whether the mail they were receiving was coming from a source that they, or more appropriately, their email clients deemed positive or negative. These reputation systems were not built around published protocols such as SPF or DomainKeys. Rather, they were built upon homegrown technology centered on a “This is Spam” reporting device. AOL was the first major email receiver to implement such a device and the virtual overnight success of the program prompted others, such as Yahoo, MSN/Hotmail, and Gmail, to follow suit.

Cactus Sky clients have seen deliverability rates increase up to 20% by simply paying attention to the problem and following some of the simple steps outlined here.

The Components of a Good Reputation

Email reputation is not determined by one single thing. It is the sum of many data points gathered over time. While various methods for reputation scoring are used today, the “Report Spam” mechanism has given email receivers the greatest amount of data by which to gauge the sender’s reputation. The same foundation of “User Generated Content” that fuels Web 2.0 sites like Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter helps email users determine the reputation of the sender prior to opening the message.

Email receivers use four specific components to measure the reputation of the sender. These include the number of complaints, number of bounces, number of messages sent, and the size of the messages.

If your reputation reaches a specific threshold, email receivers will begin to block messages from you. The thresholds are usually based on an algorithm of reputation measurement devices per message component over time. As such, the reputation might be computed using an algorithm of bounces from a particular sender IP address per hour or complaints from messages containing a certain link per minute.

It is important to keep in mind that each email receiver has different rules for determining reputation so the threshold for blocking messages will differ amongst them.

Message Header

Most recipients never see the header of a message. However, it is the first thing that is seen by an email receiver; and therefore, it has the first chance of being blocked. There are four major areas within an email header that should be checked prior to sending the message.

These areas include:

  • Sender IP address
  • Host name of sender IP address
  • Envelope header From or Return Path address
  • Reply-To and From addresses

The IP address that email campaigns are sent from is a critical component of the overall reputation. First and foremost, you should be sure that you are mailing from an IP address that is dedicated to your use only and is not shared by other customers of your ESP. If a typical list size is over 100,000, it makes sense to use two or more IP addresses.

In order to comply with Internet standards, the IP address needs to resolve to a DNS-based host name. It is important that the host name of your IP contains your domain name and not the domain name of the ESP.

The envelope header’s From address is the Return Path email address, and it is the first address given from the sending email server to the receiving email server. Some ESPs and in-house email marketing solutions will use the envelope header From address for automated bounce handling, so again, it is important that this address contains your domain name and not the domain name of your ESP.

Message Body

The message body is the part of the message that is most familiar to both the sender and the receiver. Although receivers primarily base reputation score on the message header, there are two main components of the message body that you must look at closely in order to maintain a good reputation.

To determine reputation, email receivers focus on:

  • Links
  • Images

It didn’t take long for email receivers to catch on to the fact that the primary role of a spammer was to send billions of pieces of unsolicited email containing links to sell things for a profit. As an anti-spam measure, email receivers now analyze messages that trip a complaint threshold for links contained in those messages. Receivers then put those links on a blacklist and block any messages that contain them. If you are using an ESP, it is important for you to make sure that the tracking links your ESP inserts in its messages contain your domain name and not the domain name of the ESP. This ensures that email receivers don’t mistakenly block your message.

Monitoring and Managing Reputation

There are several free tools available to monitor parts of an email’s reputation. However, few tools are able to put all the pieces together without cost. Manhattan-based Return Path offers both free and paid reputation monitoring. Return Path’s free service offers insights into reputation based on the sender’s IP address. Also, MxToolBox.com offers a free blacklist lookup tool. There are also several vendors that offer reputation-monitoring services for a fee. Those companies include Return Path, Habeas, and Pivotal Veracity.

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Peter "WebDoc" Martin
A digital marketing expert nationally recognized as the “webdoc,” and is the technology correspondent for ABC 7 News and SNN6 where he provides technology advice, website reviews and product news.
Peter "WebDoc" Martin

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ost marketers engaged in email marketing do not realize the important role their reputation plays not only on their deliverability, but also on the overall return of their marketing investment. Monitoring your company’s email marketing reputation and the reputation of your Email Service Provider (ESP) is vital to your business. This eSuccessTIP will cover how to determine a baseline for measuring your reputation, how to fix potential problems, and what you can do to keep your reputation separate from the reputation of your ESP. Why Should I Care about my Reputation? The amount of unsolicited email that ISPs and corporate…

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