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.

In this post, we’ll 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 sending 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.

The first thing to consider is that sending reputation is composed of two major factors:
1. Reputation of the sending IP
2. Reputation of your sending domain

1. The reputation of the sending IP

When sending email via a service such as Campaign Monitor, our customers use one of our sending IPs. We see deliverability rates of above 98% and we monitor and maintain our sending IPs to ensure great rates of deliverability when sending through our platform. Our IPs have a strong sending reputation which is one of many reasons that sending email via a platform such as Campaign Monitor is advantageous to you as a sender.

2. The reputation of your sending domain

Your sending domain reputation is equally important as this is tied to the domain you are sending your emails from. This aspect of your sending reputation will follow you wherever you send with that domain so it’s important that you 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.

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 and 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 affect and 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 – simple right? So let’s walk through 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 can inevitably damage your sending reputation.

Tip: 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.

Age matters

The age and previous sending history of your list are 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 consistently

Remember to send consistently and regularly to your subscribers. If you do have a list that has laid dormant for a long period, we recommend verifying your data.

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 (more on that below) nor will you be able to build your reputation as a sender. Expect a much higher bounce rate as well. Spoiler alert – this is something you want to avoid!

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

Not only is authentication a strong step towards improving your email deliverability but 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. Or 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 – 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 ramping down the frequency of your sends to those people.

Use a preference centre 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. Sending reputation is as much a case of seeing strong results as well as eliminating the causes of poor performing sends – so use what you know about your subscribers and the campaigns that perform well to consistently see success with your sends.

Wrap up

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.