How does online reputation affect email marketing?

Posted by: Jarrang

A recent Return Path study shows that email sender reputation, and not content, is the major factor in whether your email reaches the inbox.

So what is your reputation? How does it affect your ability to get into the inbox? This article aims to answer those questions, and give you the tools to ensure your reputation isn’t affecting your email marketing.

Using an analogy…

Think of a nightclub. There are bouncers on the door checking everyone who is allowed through (these are the spam filters). Last time you came you caused trouble and upset their customers, so this time they’re going to let you through but they’re keeping an eye on you.

Others are on ‘Pub watch’ (blocked as spam), they’re not getting in at all because they’ve consistently caused so much trouble, they might be allowed back in but only when they can prove they’ve dramatically cleaned up their act.

Then there’s the VIPs, who happily breeze past the bouncers and everyone’s delighted to see them arrive. These are your certified senders guaranteed to deliver.

Ok, so it’s obvious but it’s useful to visualise who’s who: each of these “visitors” to the nightclub/email inbox have a reputation based on previous behaviour.

Relating email reputation to online reputation

The world of email clients (Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook etc) and their spam filters (Norton, Postini etc) work very similarly to each other. Sender reputation is how they view you and decide whether to let you into their club or not, based on their opinion of your sending behaviour.

Your previous behaviour and reputation is made up of a number of variables including:

  • How effective your infrastructure is: the email service provider (ESP) you use
  • How good the structure of your email is: validation to web standards
  • How clean your data is: how many bounces you get or unsubscribes or marks of spam/junk
  • How many people you are sending to
  • How often you send campaigns and how well they are received: engagement, open rate, click rate

According to deliverability experts Return Path, 83% of the time sender reputation is the cause of filtering. So, a good online reputation is crucial for delivery of your email campaigns.

How to assess and improve your reputation

The problem you face as a marketer is knowing your own reputation. Without investing significantly in the likes of Return Path, your only way of ensuring a good online reputation and email marketing deliverability is by adhering to best practice across every aspect of your email campaigns.

Our five top tips to ensure a good online reputation:

  • Get your Sender Score rating, a free tool from Return Path that allows you to see your domain’s reputation compared to other senders. Simply add your web address (or the domain name you send from) and the tool rates your reputation compared to other senders and gives you a grade from 1 – 100. You should be aiming for something in the 90%s to ensure good delivery.
  • Invest in a good email service provider (ESP) who can ensure a good infrastructure. Added bonuses are ESPs who can supply a dedicated sending domain and (not always necessary but sometimes useful), a dedicated IP. Some ESPs have shared IP addresses, which means that when you send campaigns your emails are coming from the same IP address as other senders. If any of those others have poor reputation, it could affect your own. This is why investing in a good ESP is essential for good deliverability.
  • Ensure your email structure is spot on: coding for email is vastly different from coding for the web. If your developer isn’t an expert in email coding, then it is likely your email will have errors in the structure. Spam filters will judge you on this structure. True spam tends to be poorly structured and doesn’t adhere to web standards – so you don’t want to inadvertently put yourself in the same class with serious spammers.
  • Keep an eye on your frequency and interaction. Emailing every day is fine, as long as you have good response rates. If however you are emailing every day and getting poor response rates and high marks of spam (from people fed up of hearing from you), then your reputation will be down graded. The greater volume you send, the more under scrutiny you are – so if your database is 400,000 you’ve got to be far more careful than if you’ve only got 1000 for example.
  • You may consistently get 30% open rate of your emails, but is it always the same 30% or different people each time? How many of your subscribers have never opened an email or have become ’emotionally unsubscribed’ over the last year? Knowing engagement rates will allow you to react accordingly (with re-engagement and advocacy strategies) instead of continuing to send to possibly unengaged recipients who do nothing but churn away at your online reputation if you continue to send. Good ESPs such as Jarrang will be able to give you a report on engagement.

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