Your domain reputation is like your online credit score.

But what do we mean by that? Let’s break it down.

First, let’s talk about what domain reputation is.

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.

No credit can be worse than bad credit

You’ve probably heard the phrase, ‘No credit is worse than bad credit.’ It originated as first-time borrowers realized that they couldn’t get approved for loans or lines of credit. That said, in the email marketing world, it means that a brand new domain will temporarily have a harder time “being approved” for inbox placement by mailbox providers.

You might be sending from a brand new domain if:

  • You just opened your business
  • Recently rebranded
  • Have merged with another company

Now you might be thinking, well, a new domain is not something I can avoid, so what do I do to build my online credit score/domain reputation?

Here are some recommendations:

  1. Properly opt-in and gain consent from your contacts
  2. Follow anti-spam legislation
  3. Provide a clear path to unsubscribe or manage preferences
  4. Send to engaged contact segments
  5. Regularly clean your lists
  6. Sign up for monitoring tools
  7. Enable double opt-in
  8. Enable CAPTCHA

If you follow the above recommendations, you should see your email inbox placement and overall domain reputation build quickly and stay positive long term.

How do I get a perfect domain reputation?

With a credit score, it’s nearly impossible to achieve that perfect 850 — even if you’ve never missed a payment, have no inquiries, no missed payments, and have active lines of rotating and installment credits.

So I’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news is, it’s not possible to have a perfect domain reputation. The good news is, nobody has a perfect domain reputation. So breathe easy and set your email placement standards lower than 100%.

Just like missed payments and too many inquiries can severely lower your credit score, these behaviors can negatively affect your domain reputation:

  • Spam complaints
  • Abuse reports
  • Sending to purchased lists
  • Mismanagement of unsubscribe requests

Can switching Email Service Providers (ESP) reset my domain reputation?

The short answer is no. ESPs do not have any influence over your domain reputation. That would be like Chase, who issued your credit card, having influence over your credit score. Only the cardholder, or email marketer, can truly influence domain reputation.

Your domain’s reputation begins from the first email sent and never starts over. It’s similar to how any lines of credit are forever tied to your social security number — there is no way to hide or remove those from your credit report.

My domain reputation may be bad. What now?

Your credit score can be majorly impacted in seconds, but it can take up to 7 years for bad behaviors to fall off a credit report. Fortunately, the time it takes to repair your domain reputation isn’t nearly as long.

You can immediately start implementing the positive behaviors mentioned earlier and start to see results in as early as 30 days. It may take up to 90 days before your reputation is fully back on track, but don’t give up!

How exactly is my domain reputation calculated?

Credit bureaus such as Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax provide some insight into how your credit score is calculated, but not a step by step analysis. They are intentionally vague to protect creditors from being misguided in the credit application processes.

The same goes for how mailbox providers decide what to do with the emails you send. Larger mailbox providers such as Gmail and Outlook do have guidelines that you can follow, but again it’s intentionally vague to protect their customers from spammers.

As if that wasn’t enough, every mailbox provider uses a different set of criteria and machine learning behaviors to determine your email’s placement. You might get approved for a 20K line of credit at Discover, but then find that you are denied a card at American Express. So you might be performing extremely well at Gmail, but Microsoft is still sending your emails to spam. Overall, senders that practice good sending habits will be treated well by all mailbox providers.

How do I make sure my domain reputation is good?

There are thousands of credit monitoring services out there that consumers can subscribe to that provide alerts when there are any new inquiries, new accounts, or changes in your credit score.

Similarly, there are reputable domain monitoring companies that can inform you of any fluctuations in your reputation, make you aware of spikes in spam/abuse complaints, and also monitor any misuse of your domain. While there are many tools available, a few we recommend are explained in further detail here.

My emails were performing well and all of a sudden stopped. Why?

It sounds like you finally hit your ‘credit limit’ — in email marketing terms, your sending behaviors finally hit the arbitrary metrics that cause widespread filtering. Think of it not as a ‘sudden change’ but rather a slow build to a peak that wasn’t visible.

Once the number of factors that influence your domain reputation — like spam complaints or abuse reports — reach the mailbox provider’s internal cutoff or ‘credit limit,’ you will be denied for future purchases (aka email placements). This means your email placement will likely be subject to increased filtering into spam or other folders — or potentially not delivered at all.

How do I protect my domain reputation against fraud?

You wouldn’t be too thrilled if your identity was stolen and multiple lines of credit were opened in your name, right? The same goes for spammers or phishers using your domain to send fraudulent emails. Domain monitoring tools are a great start, but there are other ways to protect yourself before a breach occurs.

First, you can ‘sign the back of your credit card.’ What do we mean by that? You can enable DKIM authentication. DKIM (Domain Keys Identified Mail) is essentially a signature that any sender can apply to their email messages. This signature makes clear that the purported sender of the message is, in fact, the sender of the message.

For example, a company called “Dog Bandanas” will sign their messages with the dogbandanas.com domain to confirm that the message was actually sent by “Dog Bandanas.” You can learn more about how to set up DKIM here.

Unfortunately, sometimes cashiers don’t check the signature on the back of the card. A deeper layer of security would be to ask the cashier to check the ID of the individual presenting the credit card for the purchase. This would be similar to enabling a DMARC policy for your domain. DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) is a standard that builds on top of DKIM. It allows the domain owner to create a policy that tells mailbox providers what to do if email fails SPF and DKIM checks.

Think of it as additional security questions when logging in to view your credit report. It’s important to consider these additional security measures if your domain is in an industry that’s more susceptible to phishing attacks.

What about subdomains?

If you want to create subdomains to send specific areas of communication from your domain, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Taking out additional ‘lines of credit’ — or, in this case, creating new subdomains — is not like starting over with a new domain.

You can’t escape any previous bad sending behaviors that took place with your parent domain. Some mailbox providers might treat subdomains as separate entities, but the most sophisticated mailbox providers like Gmail will average the domain reputation of your parent domain with those reputations of your subdomains.

For more information on email deliverability and domain reputation, check out our answers to these 9 email deliverability FAQs.