This post was originally posted on the DMA Email Marketing Blog.

Over the last decade or so, marketers have faced many challenges with deliverability (getting emails delivered to the inbox). Today, the most important factor associated with successful email delivery is entirely in your hands! As a marketer there are many different factors that you need to be aware of in order to successfully deliver email marketing campaigns; the most important of which is your Sender Reputation.

Sender Reputation

A Return Path study found that 77% of delivery problems were based on sender reputation. Your Sender Reputation is a measure of how trustworthy you are as a sender (like a credit score), and has a direct relationship with getting your emails delivered; If you do not have a good sending reputation, you will not get your emails delivered.

So what’s included in building your Sender Reputation and how can you ensure you keep a good Sender Reputation and the best chance of being delivered to your recipient? Here we are going to look at 5 key elements.

  • Infrastructure

Ensuring your technical infrastructure is in place so that receiving ISPs can identify that you are who you say you are, is the first element you should consider when starting your email programme as well as maintaining a good Sender Reputation.  You infrastructure is often the first thing that the ISPs look at when determining whether or not to deliver your emails and includes the following elements (there are others in addition so make sure you talk to your ESP):

Make sure you look at the following areas of authentication in particular:

– WHOIS contact information

The WHOIS database gives users a way to contact you should they want to provide feedback, unsubscribe or complain for example so it is important to make sure your contact information is up to date and clearly available.

– Reverse DNS

Reverse DNS determines the authenticity of a domain compared with the IP address it is originating from.

DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) + DomainKeys (only used by Yahoo!)

Your domain reputation starts with validating your domain by implementing DKIM authentication. Having a DKIM record is often a requirement to be able to apply for feedback loops.

– SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

Senders must publish an SPF record for their (sub)domain to prevent spam and spoofing by validating that they’re sending IP is allowed to send from that domain.  Most ISPs will check for a valid SPF record and if it is not present/valid, will often place the emails into the junk folder.

– Monitored postmaster@/abuse@ email addresses on your domain

This allows ISPs to contact you should any issues occur with your email programme so ensure that you have these set up and monitor them regularly.

  • Volume

Spammers have a tendency to send inconsistently and in high volumes. To ensure you don’t appear in the same way, it is important to consider the typical volumes you send and the consistency of your volume so that ISPs can learn your sending behaviour.

  • Spam Traps

Many ISPs will reclaim email addresses after a certain period of inactivity (one of the two types of spam traps that could appear in your list). By emailing subscribers that have been inactive for a long period of time, you run the risk of inadvertently emailing one of these reclaimed spam traps.

The other type of spam trap that could occur on your list has been set up by ISPs as a decoy email specifically designed to catch senders who obtain addresses through data harvesting. This may not even be something you are doing yourself, but if you are using a purchased list for example, you may inadvertently be buying this type of spam trap (purchased lists may also include spam traps created through inactivity).

To avoid spam traps, try following some of the below tips:

– Only email users that have explicitly opted in to receive email communications from your brand.

– Ensure that you are segmenting your database by activity recency and changing your messaging strategy for those who are inactive to try and re-engage them.

– Monitor external sources of data that you may be using to ensure data quality.

  • Complaints

Complaints are one of the biggest reasons for a drop in sender reputation and decreasing deliverability.  There are many reasons why people complain (press the ‘spam’ button) including receiving too many/too few emails (and not recognising the brand), a difficult unsubscribe process or they simply didn’t understand what they were signing up to and when emails would be received.

If you are generating complaints (and it doesn’t take many to start causing deliverability issues – just 0.3%/3 in 1000 recipients) it is a good indication that something is not hitting the mark with your email programme.  In order to minimise complaints, it is important to provide targeted, relevant campaigns and deal with the reasons why people have chosen to click the spam/junk button to register a complaint.

Try focusing on some of the following elements to improve your complaint rates:

– Set expectations at point of signup.

– Ensure that your emails are what people expect to receive and sent when they expect to receive them.

– Make it easier to unsubscribe than to complain.

– Remove unsubscribes from your list immediately.  If someone has given you the benefit of the doubt and unsubscribed from your mailings, they may not do this again if they continue to receive communications from you and may reach for the spam button.

– Send relevant, targeted content. Utilise the functionality available in most ESPs and the information you store about your subscribers to send triggered emails and dynamic content to plan and broadcast relevant email campaigns.

– Ensure that you unsubscribe anyone who complains

  • Unknown Users

Unknown users occur when a subscriber’s email address is not recognised due to reasons such as the email address simply doesn’t exist or a spelling mistake was made on signup; also called a hard bounce.

As a general rule, if an email address hard bounces, it should immediately be unsubscribed from future sends. Broadcasts with a high number of unknown users/hard bounces can contribute to a drop in Sender Reputation.

As part of your technical infrastructure you should have strong bounce processing procedures in place to remove these and other types of bounces.

In order to ensure the quality of your data, ensure that you are checking email addresses on signup, either through the use of double opt in or through email address validation. If you are using affiliate marketing or other 3rd party sources to collect your data, keep an eye on these sources to ensure data quality.

With Christmas approaching and the volume of email marketing broadcasts increasing, it is even more important to ensure you keep your Sending Reputation high to ensure you make the most of your campaigns with a high delivery rate.

How’s your Sender Reputation looking and what do you think you could do to improve it?

Leave a comment below and let us know!