Your domain reputation has a big impact on your email marketing performance. Email service providers use your domain reputation to determine how trustworthy your emails are.

So, a poor domain reputation can cause your emails to end up in the spam folder, rather than the inbox.

And, if your domain reputation is bad enough, even your transactional emails—order confirmation emails, shipping notifications, and the like—could end up in the spam folder. In short, sending emails from a domain with a bad email reputation could make your business practically invisible in the email world.

Now, the good news is that your domain reputation would have to be really bad for this to happen. But any email delivery issues will negatively impact your email ROI. So you want your domain reputation to be as high as possible.

Of course, your domain reputation is just one thing that affects email deliverability. However, mailbox providers consider how well you follow email deliverability best practices when they calculate your sender reputation.

So, the factors that affect email deliverability interlock with the factors that affect domain reputation. It’s important you take a holistic approach to email deliverability and domain reputation maintenance. Otherwise, you could mistakenly damage your domain reputation and reduce your email deliverability.

With that, here’s what you need to know to check and improve your domain reputation, and ensure that mailbox providers trust your emails.

What is domain reputation?

Your domain reputation is like a credit score for your sending email domain. Email service providers calculate your domain reputation on a scale of 0 to 100. The closer to 100 your domain score is, the more receiving email servers will trust your emails.

However, domain reputation isn’t the only email reputation that mailbox providers consider. They also assign a reputation to your sending IP address.

Domain reputation vs IP reputation

An IP address is a number that identifies computers on the internet. Your IP address works a bit like an address that other computers use to find your computer on the internet.

When you send an email, email service providers use the IP address attached to your sending domain to determine where the email came from. So, your IP address gets an email reputation score.

Your domain is the name of your sending email server, which email servers can use to look up the IP address. Your domain also gets a reputation score.

Here’s why the difference between these two reputations is important:

The IP address for your domain can be changed. And, when the IP address changes, the IP reputation gets reset.

On the other hand, domain reputation gets attached to the domain name. So, your domain reputation will stay with your domain name, wherever it goes.

In short, it’s much easier to fix your IP reputation than it is to repair your domain reputation.

Since domain reputation is more permanent than IP reputation, many mailbox providers use domain reputation. But it’s not the universal standard, yet.

Additionally, you may need to use multiple IP addresses if you send a lot of emails. So, you still need to keep an eye on your IP reputation.

But, we’re going to focus mostly on domain reputation in this article, because repairing your domain reputation can be very challenging.

How does email domain reputation work?

Your domain reputation is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. But, how do email service providers calculate this number? And what affects domain reputation?

Mailbox providers are fairly secretive about the algorithms they use to calculate your sender reputation. If they gave out too much information, scammers could game the system and bypass spam filters.

But we do know what factors email service providers consider in their calculations:

  • Spam placement rate.
  • Read rate.
  • Deleted before reading rate.
  • Open rate.
  • Click rate.
  • Reply rate.
  • Forward rate.
  • Spam complaint rate.
  • “This is not spam” rate.
  • Hard bounces.
  • Spam traps.

Again, email service providers won’t say which of these is most important or how they weigh each factor. But their algorithms consider all of these factors when determining your domain reputation.

Also, you may have noticed that almost all of these factors are based on email recipient behavior. If your domain reputation gets too bad, it can be very difficult to recover from.

Your spam placement rate will go through the roof if all your emails start going to the spam folder. And it’s tough for people to positively interact with your emails if they’re in the spam folder. The best you can hope for is that a lot of people start marking your emails as “not spam.”

There are plenty of tools for performing a domain reputation check. If you’re having email deliverability issues, you can check your domain reputation to find out if that’s the problem.

How to check domain reputation

The thing about your domain reputation is that each email service provider (ESP) calculates their own reputation for your email domain. So, Gmail has one domain reputation. Yahoo! has a different reputation score. Microsoft mail has their own. And the list goes on.

The reason for this is because email service providers can only measure your domain reputation based on the emails they get from your domain. Email service providers can’t see the emails you send to other inbox providers.

So, when you run a domain reputation lookup, the tool will collect reputation scores from the various email providers and show you a sort of average score. It’s very useful information. But it’s possible that your domain reputation could be very good with most email providers, and very bad with one or two inbox providers. But more on that later on.

Here are some tools you can use to check your domain reputation.

3 Tools to check your sending reputation

There are lots of domain reputation check tools. But, you’ll be able to get the information you need from one of these four.

Talos Intelligence

Talos Intelligence is owned by Cisco, who provides much of the backbone infrastructure for the internet. So, their technology and domain reputation information are reliable.

Reputation Authority

Reputation Authority specializes in IP address and domain reputation issues. They’ve built a solid system for checking domain reputation.

Barracuda

Barracuda offers a simple tool based on proprietary reputation databases that they’ve built. The databases are monitored and regularly updated to ensure the reputation information is up-to-date.

Google Postmaster Tools

The Google Postmaster Tools focuses mostly on your Gmail reputation. But Gmail addresses are common enough that your domain reputation with Gmail can act as a good indicator of your overall domain reputation. We’ve got a post to show you how to set up Google Postmaster tools.

There are other sending reputation checkers. But many of them are owned by email service providers or spam filter services. So the information may be biased.

So, what is a good sender score? You want to be as close to 100 as possible. But you definitely want to keep your domain reputation above 70. 

Then, what happens if you check your domain reputation and it’s not so good? Or what if your domain doesn’t have any reputation, yet?

How to improve your domain reputation

Your domain reputation is mostly dependent on your email sending behavior. If you send quality emails that your subscribers want to read, your reputation should be in good shape.

But these are the specific things that you need to be mindful of.

IP address warm-up

If you get a new IP address, it has no reputation. And spammers often hop from IP address to IP address to dodge blacklists and spam filters. So, if you start sending tons of emails from a brand new IP address, it looks like spammy email behavior to ESPs and ISPs (internet service providers). 

The solution to this problem is to ramp up your email send volume over the course of a couple of weeks. Start with 100 emails and increase your daily outgoing emails incrementally each day until you hit your maximum number of sends each day. This process takes about 15 days.

That’s how to build domain reputation when you get a new domain and IP address.

Setup email authentication protocols

Email authentication protocols are methods for email servers to verify that your emails are not malicious mail or spam. Your development team or domain administrator can help you set these up if you need it.

SPF

SPF authentication helps verify that the email sender is actually who they claim to be. It’s sender identity verification. SPF protects email recipients from being tricked into thinking a malicious email is from someone they trust.

DKIM

DKIM authentication ensures that emails are not altered in transit. DKIM helps protect people from man-in-the-middle attacks and other malicious emails that involves changing emails as they travel from the sender to the recipient.

DMARC

DMARC authentication tells receiving mail servers how your emails should be authenticated. That way mailbox providers know which authentication protocols should be present. If an authentication standard is missing, mail servers know the email isn’t really from you.

Quality control your email lists

Spammers send emails to any email address they get their hands on. That’s why sending emails to invalid email addresses, misspelled emails, disposable emails, spam traps, and other unusable email addresses will negatively impact your email deliverability.

So, you must validate the emails on your email lists. That way it doesn’t look like you’re indiscriminately sending emails to any email address like a spammer.

Validating emails also improves your email performance because you won’t be sending emails that never get opened or read.

Also, establish sunset policies and regularly remove inactive subscribers from your email lists. Inactive subscribers send negative signals to email service providers because they never open or engage with your emails. Some inactive subscribers may even mark your emails as spam, rather than unsubscribing.

If you frequently send emails—on a daily or weekly basis—you should remove subscribers from your list after a shorter period of inactivity.  If you only send an email or two a month, you can give inactive subscribers more time to engage.

But, once you’ve established a policy for removing inactive subscribers from your list, strictly follow that policy. 

Use a double opt-in to reduce unsubscribe rates

Unsubscribe rates look bad to email service providers because it indicates that you’re sending emails that people don’t want.

Use a double opt-in to screen new subscribers. It reduces unsubscribes by discouraging people from subscribing just to get your lead magnet and immediately unsubscribe.

A double opt-in also weeds out unmotivated subscribers who are unlikely to become buyers. So a double opt-in makes your email lists more profitable, too. 

Send high-quality, relevant emails

Let’s go back to the original factors that affect domain reputation from before. Almost all of them are metrics that measure how subscribers respond to your emails.

The best way to improve your domain reputation and keep it high is to send good emails that people will actually open and click on. Subscribers might even forward your emails, if they’re really valuable.

All the other email deliverability best practices are technical in nature. They ensure that your emails appear legitimate to the computers that handle your emails. But ultimately, your emails must appear legitimate to people. Sending emails that are valuable to your subscribers is the best way to maintain a good sender reputation.

How to improve a bad domain reputation

If you’ve made some mistakes, and your domain reputation is low, it can be tough to correct, since your domain reputation can’t be reset.

However, there are a few steps you can take if you need to repair a bad domain reputation.

Check feedback loops

Most email providers provide a feedback header that gives you some information about why your email wasn’t placed in the inbox.

Check this header to get information about the cause of your deliverability issues. It may be a technical issue that’s easy to correct, rather than a sender reputation issue. This will help you pinpoint the problem and avoid sending more emails that could damage your sender reputation.

Also, the feedback loop will tell you if you have a bad sender reputation with a particular email provider.

Establish a subdomain for sending email

First, get a subdomain that you use only for sending email. Subscribers will begin to recognize and trust your email subdomain and will hopefully mark your emails as not spam if your emails end up in the spam folder.

Also, you can get a dedicated IP address for your email subdomain. This can reset your IP reputation (but not your overall domain reputation). So you’ll at least be starting with a fresh IP address reputation. A  dedicated IP address also protects your email program from reputation damage caused by emails that are not related to marketing or customer communication.

Send only transactional emails from your email subdomain

This shouldn’t be permanent. We’ll explain why in a moment.

But transactional emails get excellent open rates and click-through rates, since they have a very specific purpose and people want to get receipts and shipping notifications.

Again, sending transactional emails increases the chances that people will indicate that your emails are not spam.

If your reputation improves and your emails eventually stop going to spam folders, you can start sending marketing emails from your email subdomain.

Also, once you’ve used your transactional emails to build a good sender reputation for your email subdomain, you should get a new IP address for sending transactional emails. Be sure to warm the new IP address up properly and follow the email reputation best practices to protect your transactional email IP address.

The goal is to send your marketing emails from one IP address and your transactional emails from a separate IP address. That way, even if you make some deliverability mistakes in your marketing email program, your transactional emails will still make it to the inbox.

Keep your send volumes low

You have to send more than 100 emails a day for email servers to even notice that you’re sending emails. So you need to stay above that 100 emails per day threshold to have an effect on your sender reputation.

But don’t go full bore on your email sends. If most of your emails are going to the spam folder, you could be doing more harm than good by sending a lot of emails.

The goal of sending fewer emails is to cherry-pick who you send emails to. This helps minimize negative signals to email service providers. That way you can slowly ratchet up your sender reputation by getting positive subscriber responses.

That’s it. Recovering from email deliverability mistakes and repairing your domain reputation can be challenging. But it’s possible to rebuild your good reputation.

However, even if your domain reputation is good, follow these best practices to ensure that you don’t mistakenly cause damage to your domain reputation and protect your email deliverability rate.

…Because better email deliverability means more profit from every email you send. 

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Author       
Mike Arsenault
Mike Arsenault is the Founder & CEO of Rejoiner. He works with 350+ online retail & eCommerce companies like Hydroflask, Footjoy, GUESS, and Big Chill to help them grow faster using lifecycle email. He also once lived aboard a 36' sailboat in Boston.