Email Infrastructure and Service Providers

Deliverability 101: Be a reputation hero!

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In the dark and grimy streets of Email-Marketopolis lurks a sinister presence. The very name strikes terror in the hearts of all citizens — Email Reputatron!

…Ok, so maybe there’s no evil artifact or space lizards trying to take over. …Ok maybe there’s nothing really nefarious at all. That was a little dramatic, but there’s definitely an aversion to this topic I aim to clear up. Email Reputatron is really just email reputation and it’s not scary at all.

Email deliverability and reputation affect one another, both positively and negatively. Email reputation is a comprehensive assessment of your sending practices and infrastructure. This measurement is commonly determined by how closely you follow the standards established by each mailbox provider (MBPs).

MBPs use sender authentication, domain and IP health, mail volume, metrics (think bounce percentage), and user engagement to create a reputation filtering system. If the system is working, then senders with a poor reputation will see their mail sent to the spam folder or outright rejected, while senders with a good reputation will land in the inbox.

Let’s break these different elements down in a trip to Email-Marketopolis.

Sending IPs and domains are like the city streets. Subscribers can’t get what they signed up to receive if the throughways are blocked or broken. Similarly, an unsuspecting recipient won’t open their doors to just anyone.

Authentication is your hero costume, the identity your average Jane sees and recognizes. Your recipients aren’t the only ones looking for you, though. An MBP’s filter may also recognize your outfit and have their own opinion. In order to get your emails through, you’ll need to earn both their trust and your reputation.

Reputation begins from the ground up: Start with choosing the right type of sending environment. Speak with your ESP about the potential benefits of a dedicated IP (or several) or a shared environment.

Once you make a choice, consider what types of mail stream(s) you currently deploy. If you send marketing and transactional mail, consider the benefits of using subdomains to split this traffic out and silo mail stream reputation. Your next step is to make sure each one of those setups are properly authenticated.

Fully authenticated? Now your costume is made—what’s next?

Let’s take a look at some ways you can improve your email reputation:

Data Collection and Opt-In

Subscriber trust starts at the source. In this case, we’re talking about list sources. Opt-in sources will have differing levels of impact on email reputation, as they often carry different levels of health and potential engagement.

A purchased list has the opportunity for old addresses, dead domains, and a high potential for complaints, as these addresses have not explicitly consented to receive mail. Compare this to a double opt-in (or confirmed opt-in) process where a subscriber’s interest is solidified by expressing direct and confirmed interest and consent.

This world isn’t binary, though. There are many different forms of list growth. What is important is understanding the nature of how a subscriber first interacts with you, that interaction may shape how your email is treated in the future.

Personalization vs. Customization

Think of your subscribers’ inboxes as your own personal inbox. Remember each address is a person and personalization of an email marketing campaign can (and likely should) be more than adding a first name merge field.

Engagement-Based Segmentation

There are many tools to help identify different levels of interest from your subscriber base. These can be utilized to dig down into who your subscribers are and how they interact with your mail.

Build dedicated lists to test out a new campaign, isolate your most meaningful devices to inform design, and learn about your own subscriber demographics. You can even rebuild a poor reputation by isolating your most engaged subscribers. After all, every hero needs a fan base.

List Hygiene

Lists age and need maintenance. Work through engagement analytics to segment out older and unengaged recipients. Use a re-engagement campaign in conjunction with a sunset strategy to remove these addresses.

Filters learn from the behavior of their users. If someone in your list never interacts with your mail, they could be causing more harm than good. We have some pretty good tips to better understand list hygiene here.

Infrastructure Health Monitoring and Performance Metrics

Bounce codes, bounce rates, complaint rates, seed test placement, blacklist hits, spam trap counts—these are all relevant sources of information to monitor over time and act upon to keep your sending reputation high.

These reactive metrics allow you the opportunity to act quickly and save the day when something goes amiss. Use bounce messaging to identify your issue. Monitor your list sources when high numbers or spam traps and/or complaints occur.


Remember: It’s ok to say goodbye. Not every subscriber will stay a fan forever. Sometimes you’ll want to let them go. Make sure when they do leave, the option to unsubscribe is clearly visible. An unsubscribe will have a less harmful impact than a spam complaint.

You’ve been tasked with earning the trust of the citizens of Email-Marketopolis. Keep an ever-watchful eye, stay cool, and remember it’s up to you to be a reputation hero.