With billions of emails being sent globally every day, competition for the inbox is more aggressive than ever. According to Validity, 1 in 6 messages sent never reach the inbox. As mailbox providers get more secure and sophisticated — consider Google’s machine learning and rule-based algorithms, for example — domain reputation is now more important than ever. In fact, domain reputation is one of the leading factors that mailbox providers use when determining where to place your messages.

There has always been some debate as to which reputation is more important, IP or domain. While both your IP and domain reputation can impact your deliverability, domain reputation is key to delivery success. Many email senders think that their Email Service Provider (ESP) can pull strings, make changes, and influence delivery and placement at mailbox providers.

That is simply not the case.

ESPs can and will take great steps to ensure that the reputation of their IPs stays as high as possible, even in shared environments, but the common denominator between your sends and your recipients inbox is your domain.

Your domain reputation is not dependent on your ESP. Sometimes shared IPs/domains can influence placement and delivery, but the onus is on you, the sender, to keep your domain reputation intact.

In this post, we’ll explain:

  • How domain reputation works
  • How to build and maintain a positive domain reputation

What is domain reputation?

Domain reputation is the overall “health” of your branded domain as interpreted by mailbox providers. Your reputation is determined by various factors such as engagement, spam complaint rates, spam traps, and bounce rates.

How does domain reputation work?

Think of your domain reputation as a “credit score.” A higher score (from good email practices, data, and engagement) means more consistent inbox placement — and more eyes on your emails. If your domain has a negative history (spam complaints, low opens, higher-than-acceptable bounce rates, spam trap hits), then your score goes down. As a result, you’ll run into issues like spam folder placement, increased throttling, or even blocks from the mailbox provider.

Can I fix my domain reputation by switching ESPs?

You can’t avoid negative domain reputation by switching ESPs or using different sender addresses. The reputation will follow you, even if you change ESPs, and create more problems down the road for your email campaigns. It is best to invest resources in rehabilitating your domain reputation.

Will a new domain fix my sender reputation?

While it may temporarily wipe the reputation slate clean, if you continue down the same road using the same business practices, a new domain will only exacerbate your current sending issues. When you use a domain with little or no sending history and reputation, you’ll be subject to increased filtering. With a new domain, you need to put your best foot forward in order to establish a good sending history and reputation. Following best practices from the start will make life much easier in terms of inbox placement when sending campaigns.

How long does it take to rehabilitate domain reputation?

Rehabilitating domain reputation is not an overnight process. Depending on the severity of the deliverability issues, reputation resets can take anywhere from a couple of weeks, to multiple months. How long it takes to rebuild your domain reputation depends on your negative metrics (spam complaints, hard bounces, low engagement, spam trap hits) and sending history.

A good timeline for improving your domain reputation would be around 30-45 days, but is dependent on the changes you have implemented to your business practices and how those changes are perceived by mailbox providers.

How to maintain positive domain reputation

How can you maintain positive domain reputation given all of the factors that influence reputation?

  1. Monitor your domain reputation metrics and inbox placement with third-party tools
  2. Keep your data clean
  3. Pay attention to your recipient behavior

1. Monitor your domain reputation metrics and inbox placement with third-party tools

While there are several third-party tools you can use, we’ve found that for general monitoring, the following tools provide good insight with minimal leg work to get set up:

Google Postmaster Tools: ActiveCampaign data shows that Gmail/GSuite addresses represent more than 60% of an average email sender’s contact list. By setting up Google Postmaster Tools, you get access to metrics such as spam complaint rates and reputation by domain and IP. This will help you gauge the overall “health” of your domain and see reputation shifts in real time, so you can make adjustments to your sends accordingly. Here is some more information to help guide you through the setup process.

Seed testing tools: You can use seed testing to validate campaign rendering and to measure inbox placement, which can provide insight on pain points (specific domains, content flags) that you can address to help bolster your reputation and, subsequently, inbox placement. We’ve created a help article with recommendations on various vendors to help keep you on top of your deliverability.

2. Keep your data clean

A negative domain reputation can come from something as simple as too high of a hard bounce (invalid email) rate over time. It may be tempting to email everyone on your list as much as possible, but using little or no segmentation or not having a sunsetting protocol in place to remove inactive recipients can have consequences for your reputation.

Furthermore, you need to have strong sign-up practices in place such as double opt-in to help prevent false and potentially risky data from entering your lists and causing reputation issues down the line. ActiveCampaign has a tool which can help you track, tag, and separate your contacts to help you focus your efforts on specific segments and devise a complementary sending strategy. To learn more about tracking contact engagement, check out this help article.

Over time, recipient addresses can be used as spam traps or honeypots, and sending to those addresses can negatively impact your reputation even further. Having good data gives you a better chance of reaching more recipients, and can help build stronger engagement. For a deeper dive on engagement, and how to keep reputation high with good open rates, we put together an article on email engagement and deliverability.

For more specific information on email verification vendors and their services, we suggest looking into Kickbox, BriteVerify, and ZeroBounce.

3. Pay attention to your recipient behavior

If you are worried about domain reputation, it’s important to keep an eye on how your customers respond and interact with your emails. Are you seeing more spam folder placement? Recent spam complaints about your sends? Step back and look at how your sending practices align with our Email Deliverability: Best Practices guide. Make the changes you need to be aligned with practices, and, over time, you should see your reputation improve.

For more information on email deliverability, visit our help center.