5 Things That Influence Your Email Sender Reputation

The holiday season is approaching, which means you’re busy crafting the perfect emails in hopes to drive up sales.

But what if your emails don’t make it to the inbox? Deliverability concerns often get pushed aside, but Return Path reported that 20% of legitimate, non-spam emails will never reach the inbox.  You want to avoid being in that 20%. According to Return Path, you hold a lot of power needed to control that, as most deliverability problems are based on sender reputation. We’ll look at the five main factors that affect reputation and what you can do to help yourself.

1. The Number of  Emails You Send

You won’t be surprised to hear that spammers send emails in large numbers. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) flag large volume sends because of this, making it harder for businesses to get through.  Not only will you be flagged by the subscriber’s ISP, your own ISP may flag you for violating send limits.  Here are the limits listed for a few of them:

  • GoDaddy – 100 emails/day
  • Gmail – 500 emails/day
  • Comcast – 1000 emails/day

The solution around this is to use your own mail server, or an email marketing service provider (ESP). One thing that ESPs do is ensure that you can send all the emails you need to without it hurting your sender reputation. You won’t be able to go from 0 to 50,000 in one day, but you will be able to gradually build your list up to however many subscribers you wish to send to.

2. How Many People Mark Your Email As SPAM

You’ve all probably noticed, and even used, the little button in your outlook inbox that lets you mark an email as “Spam” or “Junk.” It deletes the emails while making sure other emails from that sender don’t end up in your inbox again. But you may not realize all that goes on in the background. The sender’s ESP will note that you have clicked this button and report it, and ISPs keep track of the information for deciding where to place emails from that sender in other people’s inboxes.

If a lot of people are complaining about your emails, that indicates something is wrong. If you use an ESP, you can see how many complaints an email got. Subscribers who complained will also be unsubscribed from your list so they can’t do it again.

But what an ESP can’t fix is WHY the subscriber complained, which is up to you.

So what can you do?

  • Make sure you set proper expectations – you should be upfront about what you’re going to send to subscribers. The sign up form, thank you pages and welcome email are all excellent opportunities to discuss your content and frequency.
  • Send only relevant content – if you tell them you’re going to send them gluten free recipes, don’t throw in an email about your soap products. You may want to mention other aspects of your business in a side box in one of your regular emails, but it should never replace the content subscribers are expecting.
  • Have subscribers confirm to be added to your list- The best way you’ll be able to make sure you have legitimate, interested subscribers is if you have them click a link to confirm they want to be on your list. You won’t get 100% of the email addresses submitted to confirm, but you will eliminate invalid emails and people signing up solely for an incentive or bonus gift.
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe – Make sure the option to unsubscribe is easily visible for the subscriber. ESPs will automatically add an unsubscribe link on the bottom of your email, but you can make it even easier by including one at the top as well. If subscribers aren’t sure how to unsubscribe, they’re most likely going to mark your message as spam instead. While this will end your emails to them, it also impairs your emails getting to other subscribers who are still interested.

Taking these steps will reduce the likelihood of complaints.

3. Spam Trap Email Addresses

ISPs often set up decoy email addresses to act as traps for spammers. These email addresses are never published or shared anywhere. Spammers obtain these addresses by data harvesting and selling to others. If you’re emailing to one of these “trap emails,” it indicates you aren’t properly managing your list.

If you have purchased a list, you’re in greater danger. Purchased lists also often contain inactive, useless email addresses that will only slow you down by causing bounces, which we’ll talk about next.

Here are other ways to avoid getting spam trap emails:

  • Only add subscribers who have specifically requested to receive your emails – if you’re not sure how you got an email address, don’t add it to your list.
  • Direct people to sign up on your web form.
  • Monitor your list and remove inactive subscribers. If you’re tracking your campaigns open and clicks, you can routinely go through and delete subscribers who haven’t opened or clicked in an email in 3 months, 6 months or whatever you feel comfortable with.
  • Use confirmed opt-in – again, the easiest way to ensure it’s a good email address.

NOTE:  The problem with spam traps is not that you need to learn how to identify and remove them from your list, but rather you should be obtaining email addresses from people who specifically request to be added… and spam traps don’t belong to people. In general purchasing lists is frowned upon and never a great strategy for building lists.

4. High Bounce Rate

There are two types of bounces that can occur:

  • Soft bounce: The email can’t be delivered due to a temporary issue such as a full inbox.
  • Hard bounce: The email can’t be delivered due to a permanent issue such as a closed account.

ISPs are most concerned with hard bounces. This is similar to the spam trap problem, only these email addresses aren’t tools the ISPs are using.

Because of the similarity to spam traps, you should follow the same steps to avoid having a high bounce rate. An ESP will unsubscribe bounced email addresses for you, but even having one email come back with a lot of bounces can negatively affect your deliverability.

5. Are You Who You Say You Are?

Email authentication acts like a signature on a credit card receipt – it verifies your identity and allows you to claim responsibility for the mailing. Spammers try to forge the email “signatures” and make it look like the email is coming from someone else. Authentication helps to prevent that and tells the ISP that you really are the sender you’re claiming to be.

You should pay special attention to Sender Policy Framework, or SPF. You can edit your domain’s SPF record via your web host. Sender ID and DomainKeys Identified Mail are also important for authentication.  Some email service providers do the authentication for you.