Reputation is an interesting phenomenon within the email industry. But what does the term really mean? And, is it only your reputation that can affect your delivery rates?
Before we dive into your mailing reputation, let's take a trip down memory lane to high school. What kind of reputation did you have? Were you the star football player whom all the girls wanted to date, or were you a drummer in the band who easily made friends with everyone?
You could try to put forth a type of persona, but in the end, your reputation was based on what you did, how you did in school, who your friends were and everything else you were involved in. Even if you didn't truly understand your reputation, you still had one.
Email is the same way.
Companies often ask me what their email reputation is. Unfortunately, that's not always easy to answer with 100 percent certainty. So, how can you improve something if you don't know what it is? To start, you need to understand what most of the ISPs look at as part of your reputation.
Some of the most important things to monitor when you are worried about your reputation are the same things I have talked about in my previous best practice articles. First and foremost, make sure you have a clean list. If you are sending to a lot of people with unknown user accounts, you probably have a reputation as a sender that doesn't care about list hygiene. If you are receiving a large number of complaints, you probably have a reputation as a spammer. And, finally, if you are not using the latest authentication methods, you probably have a reputation as a sender that doesn't care about its brand.
So back to the high school analogy: What effect did your friends have on your reputation? Probably more then you really thought back then. For me, part of my reputation had to do with the fact that I played drums and the types of people I hung out with because of that. So what did people think of me, how did they perceive me before they actually got to know me?
Again, email and your sending reputation is a lot like high school: It's largely determined by who you associate with. Let's say you send out a newsletter in which you are promoting a partner program. While the partner seems like it would be a good sender and have a good reputation, you haven't actually done any research to find out. I have worked with many customers who have been negatively affected by this scenario.
The interesting thing about email marketing is that it doesn't matter how small the partner might be in your overall marketing efforts, it can still have a negative affect on you. One past client simply used a redirect URL from another company/partner that caused it to be blocked at several major ISPs. Since the client had been using the same system for several months, it knew the blocking was caused by the way all of the ISPs were treating it. The lesson learned is that you have to continuously monitor your reputation, and that of your partners.
So how do you monitor these reputations if no one can give you a definitive answer on what they are?
There are several resources you should use to monitor your reputation. But remember to check the domains and IPs of your partners, too.
- Check blacklists and blocklists on a regular basis. There are a number of blacklist checkers you can evaluate by using your IP addresses or domains. Popular ones are Spamhaus and SpamCop, but there are many others.
- Google groups/ NANAE: Review the several different groups that monitor SPAM and poor email practices within Google groups. The most commonly used is NANAE (News.Admin.Net-Abuse.Email)
- SenderScore.org: By simply creating a user account, you are able to put in any domain or IP and get your score. This score aggregates a large amount of data from ISPs and other organizations to help determine what kind of sender you are. When looking at your Sender Score, understand that it is much like a high school grading scale: 90 to 100 is an A.
- Track your key performance indicators: As discussed many times in the past, make sure you track your complaint rates, unsubscribes and inbox delivery rates. By tracking these on a regular basis and creating trending reports, you will be able to see any changes before they drastically affect your marketing programs.
Remember, as much as you are glad to be out of high school (although it would be fun to go back with the knowledge we have today), the rules around reputation remain the same: It is based not just on what you do, but also who you associate with. So, make sure you monitor all your actions, and those of your partners. No matter how much a partner might be paying you for the benefit of being part of your program, or how good of a brand you think it has, it is better to be safe then sorry. Good luck and good sending.
Spencer Kollas is director, delivery services for StrongMail Systems. .