By: Jake Hoiby, Sr. Manager - Email Deliverability | 10/22/2019
Email deliverability issues can be complex, so how do you know if have an issue with your sender reputation? A poor reputation may result in low deliverability, junk folder placement, lower than normal open rates, bounce messages that refer to volume limits or reputation, a compliance notice from your provider, and of course if your sending domain is blacklisted by an anti-spam/anti-abuse service. Of course it’s not that simple, as most of these issues have other potential causes as well that aren’t strictly reputation related. For example, you could have a great sender reputation and still experience low open rates on a campaign due to an unappealing subject line. Additionally, email that is blocked or junked could be due to improper/missing authentication or the use of spam keywords. Because of this complexity, it’s hard to say if a delivery issue is solely due to reputation, but you can make sure your reputation is squeaky clean to eliminate it from the equation. So for the purposes of this guide, let’s assume you’re sending properly authenticated, engaging, non-spam content at consistent volumes, and let’s focus on the remaining factors of sender reputation. If you need a primer on sender reputation, check out this article for an overview and definitions.
If you are experiencing delivery issues due to reputation, this means inbox providers and/or blacklist operators have identified your email sending behavior profile as similar to others who send spam to the provider’s network. Each provider uses their own method to develop your reputation profile, and it isn’t something they’ll share with you, however you can build your own model to get an idea of how they view your sending behavior. You’ll need to identify and change areas of your behavior profile that correlate with spam before you can rebuild your reputation.
Other basic deliverability factors aside, most reputation issues are due to at least one of three major symptoms that correlate with spam: excessive spam complaints, excessive hard bounces, and sending to spam traps. So what exactly is excessive?
Treating the symptom doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, and what’s worse, you may no longer be able to recognize there is a problem. For example, if you had excessive complaints at Yahoo.com, you wouldn’t want to just remove Yahoo users from your list - you would still be hurting your reputation everywhere else, whether you knew it or not. Instead, take a look at these common root cause behaviors and how they correlate with the three major symptoms:
As you can see there is a lot of overlap between root behaviors and symptoms, and in most cases you won’t even be able to measure spam trap hits, so it’s not easy to pick out a single solution. Even though you may not have identified the exact problem, it doesn’t mean there is no reasonable course of action. If you experience any of the three major symptoms, the best approach is to address all of the potential causes by evaluating and improving your marketing practices across the board. Resolving just one of the above causes will not get you back into the good graces of the inbox providers. Taking a methodical approach will yield the best results, and the order is important, especially if you’re running any kind of automation as contacts are constantly moving through your marketing pipeline.
If you continue to see symptoms, go back to step one and start again. This process is essentially an exercise in self behavior modification in which objectivity is critical. Your goal is to not only resolve the symptoms, but to change the core behavior profile that caused the reputation issue in the first place.
Sender reputation issues can be costly to your business - reallocating resources to handle the repair, losing email contact with customers and interested leads - these unplanned effects can impact your bottom line, especially if your revenue stream is dependent on email marketing. After spending time to repair your reputation, it’s worthwhile to invest a little more time to protect your reputation going forward and prevent these kinds of issues from occurring again. Implement industry standard best practices into your marketing process in a permanent manner, and make sure anyone who handles your marketing operations is aware of how to manage your sender reputation and how it impacts your business. It won’t just help you maintain trust with recipient inbox providers or get your email into the inbox, it’s also smart business.