How Your Domain Reputation Affects Email Deliverability (And How to Improve It)

How Your Domain Reputation Affects Email Deliverability (And How to Improve It)

Have you ever wondered why your beautiful, inspired emails don’t seem to get any traction? It may not be a problem with the emails themselves.

Your domain reputation has a huge impact on your email deliverability.

Two ActiveCampaign deliverability specialists – Hanna Fray and Patrick Cappy – led a webinar to talk about all things deliverability – and just how much impact your domain reputation has.

Listen to the recording above or read the recap below to learn:

  • How to think about domain reputation
  • How domain reputation impacts your email deliverability
  • How to use domain reputation to improve email deliverability

How to think about domain reputation

As a sender, you are responsible for building and maintaining your domain reputation. And if you change platforms, your reputation will follow you – it doesn’t reset.

Domain reputation is the overall health of your banded domain as interpreted by mailbox providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL.

Think about domain reputation like a credit score. A “high” score means more emails in the inbox. A “low” score (as a result of negative sending history) will take time to build and repair over time.

Domain reputation is determined by many factors that influence customer engagement:

  • How many people are opening and clicking on your emails
  • Your spam complaint rates
  • How many people are using your emails as spam and reporting you to that mailbox provider?
  • Bounce rates? Do you have a lot of you know, invalid emails are hard bounces in your list? Are you seeing some you know, throttling or soft bounces based off flow rates application

How domain reputation impacts your email deliverability

Your domain reputation is either going to help or hurt your deliverability – and that impact is always changing.


High domain reputation = good deliverability

Low domain reputation = bad deliverability

Your domain reputation can impact:

  • Placement: Are your emails landing in the inbox or being filtered into other folders like Spam or Promotions?
  • Delivery: Are your emails being delivered? Are there delays or complete blocks?

You want your emails to land in a user’s primary inbox, so placement is important. But sometimes, messages land in places you don’t expect or don’t want them to be at all.

“Only 1 in 5 users have the Promotions filters turned on in their inboxes, BUT 45% of those users check the Promotions folder every day. So if your emails go to Promotions, don’t panic! It’s still going to the inbox. And the Promotions folder is always better than Spam,” says Hanna.

If you’re seeing delivery problems, you might be encountering a problem known as “throttling.” Throttling means anytime that you’ve got delayed sends, it’s likely that you’re just sending too many emails to a particular mailbox provider at one time.

Not all mailbox providers are created equal. There are two types:

  • Web-based: These include Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, AOL
  • ISP’s: These include Comcast, CenturyLink, Verizon

More throttling issues tend to show up with ISP’s.

How can you measure the success of your deliverability?

There are 3 primary ways you can measure the success of your deliverability:

  • Bounces: When people immediately leave a page
  • Unsubscribes: When people leave your email list
  • Open rates: How often people open your emails (on average)

If you have a high bounce rate, it could be that you’re sending messages to an old list. That can seem like a negative to many email providers and be enough of a reason to make them bounce.

As far as bounce rates go, there are 2 different types – hard bounces and soft bounces. One is permanent – you can never send to an address again after a hard bounce – and one is temporary. It can be due to your domain reputation, the content, your “From” email address, and a variety of factors.

Now get ready to hear something you probably didn’t think you would hear: you want people to unsubscribe.

Unsubscribes are going to happen; it’s just a fact. People can panic when they see unsubscribe rates skyrocket, but it’s not always as bad as a single number says. When you stop sending emails to people who don’t want them, you can focus on the ones that do.

But if a person tries to unsubscribe and you still send them emails, you’re going to see something that has a much more negative impact on your domain reputation – and that’s the dreaded Spam mark.

“Unsubscribes aren’t going to affect your reputation in any way,” says Patrick. “But if people try to unsubscribe and you still send them emails, they can actually report you as Spam. And that is going to be a black mark on your domain reputation, which can negatively affect you going forward.”

Just remember – an unsubscribe is much better than dealing with a Spam label.

The final measure of success is open rates. “An oldie but a goodie!” says Hanna.

If you have high opens, you likely have good engagement. People want your content, and you’re sending them smart, tailored content. But if you have low open rates, that’s likely indicative of low engagement.

“Oftentimes, we see senders assume that a low open rate means that there’s poor deliverability at play and that maybe the ESP (email service provider) is the one at fault,” says Hanna. “Although ESPS hold some of the stakes, domain reputation far outweighs any other indicators of what to do with your emails. And so usually that just means that you’ve got to work on that domain reputation to get that engagement up.”

As a general rule of thumb, ESPs like to see about 15% as an average good open rate, but it’s okay to be lower than that.

How to use domain reputation to improve email deliverability

If you don’t have any way to monitor your domain reputation, find that first.

  1. It gives you more consistency in message delivery:
  2. It helps you target specific audiences and increase engagement: more engagement equals better reputation
  3. Positive increase in key metrics: opens, clicks, website visits, etc. It’s a domino effect of better success and revenue for your marketing efforts

Maximum delivery means maintaining a positive domain reputation. The higher your reputation, the more ROI you’re going to see. How can you do that given all of the factors that influence reputation?

Here are 3 action items to take to boost your deliverability with a good domain 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

What kinds of free tools exist to help you monitor your domain metrics? A popular one is Google Postmaster. Even better, it’s free.

nphnegkze google postmasterGoogle Postmaster.

Google Postmaster helps maintain and track your domain reputation by monitoring:

  • Spam complaint rates
  • IP reputation
  • Pain points

You can also use seed testing tools, which is a tool that generates a list of fake email addresses for you to test send campaigns so you can validate campaign rendering and measure inbox placement.

“Just remember that while seed testing tools can provide good insights, our best advice is to use caution,” says Hanna. “You’re sending this campaign to fake emails so it only goes so far to help you make positive changes to your email performance.”

“These insights aren’t always gonna be indicative of your actual email performance. It’s not a 100% representation of your email marketing efforts. It’s simply there as a gauge that gives you an overall perspective of what could potentially be happening to your deliverability. Then you can make adjustment decisions.”

Making sure you have clean data is an important action. 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.

“Having strong signup practices is how you can help keep this data clean from the start. So be thinking about using tools like double opt-in or CAPTCHA just to help protect you from uninterested signups or bots that won’t help your engagement numbers reflect accurate data,” says Hanna.

Finally, customer behavior is a yardstick for you to be able to tell what changes you need to make. Are you seeing more spam folder placement? Recent spam complaints about recent sends? Certain types of communication receive better engagement than others? Certain opt-ins resulting in a higher amount of unsubscribes? Customer behaviors force you to look at your processes and make improvements.

In other words, it’s one of the keys to the good domain reputation castle. It can tell you what you should try changing about your email sending.

When you change something, try to only change one thing at a time. That way you can pay attention to any trends and metrics you’re keeping track of. Anticipate that it can take around 30 to 90 days for any changes that you make to take effect.

Why is domain reputation so important for deliverability?

Lori Vaughn, Director of Deliverability and Compliance at ActiveCampaign, has been around the block enough times to know that deliverability is highly impacted by domain reputation. Has it always been that way? Will it continue to be important?

“Yes. A domain reputation is highly important now. And it’s just going to get more important as we progress. If you think about email authentication, it’s really identifying and unifying domain-based behavior,” says Lori.

“Oftentimes you get a positive impact if your behaviors are positive and your best practices are positive. And unifying all of your domain reputations under one domain is a positive impact because you’re able to leverage that across all different places. So the authentication is going to be key moving forward.”

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