July 12, 2021

Email’s All About Reputation

The most overlooked part of email marketing is reputation (and recognition). Marketers labor over catchy subject lines, personalization, and the perfect design. None of which will help an email reach its audience if an organization has a poor reputation. And marketers are struggling to reach inboxes. According to a survey by Validity and Demand Metric, 67% of organizations have inbox placement rates (IPR) of less than 90%. And 50% have an IPR of less than 80% (2021).

Reputation is a double-barreled proposition. An organization’s domain reputation affects inbox placement (i.e., people actually receive the promotions). And it’s largely influenced by an organization’s (or brand’s) reputation and sending practices.

Emails are Only as Good as Their SENDER Name

For email, an organization’s domain reputation is equal to its brand reputation.

When filtering, mailbox providers look at three aspects of email: the source, sender reputation, and the email’s content.

  • Source is the origin of the email (e.g., IP address & domain).
  • Sender reputation is a score that determines whether a sender is a spammer. Complaints, blacklists, the volume of emails, spam traps impact a sender score.
  • Content includes HTML, subject line, URLs, images, text-to-image ratio, etc.

Domain = Brand

The sender reputation factors the reputations of both the domain and Internet Protocol (IP) address. A domain is an organization’s registered name on the internet (e.g., orgname.com). And an IP address is a logical number listed in the domain name system that sends mail for a domain name.

It’s helpful for marketers to equate their domain to their brand. A domain reputation represents the credibility of the sender. A domain is more important than an IP address for two reasons:

  1. Recognition. Domain names often include a brand name. For example, Pew Research Center uses info@pewresearch.org for its Weekly Roundup newsletter.
  2. It’s easier to change an IP address than a domain. Mailbox providers asses a domain reputation regardless of the IP address. Because of this, domain reputation has a wider impact on deliverability. If a domain has a bad reputation, changing IP addresses won’t improve deliverability rates.

The frequency and content of emails and how subscribers a retargeted impact a domain’s reputation. An organization’s domain is also important for detecting phishing emails.

The Email Envelope

  1. The sender name (or from name) is the organization name and carries the brand’s weight. It’s the most important part for convincing people to open. Folks need to have confidence in the sender’s name if they are to consider opening an email.
  2. The domain (or from) address’s reputation is key to reaching the inbox. It also carries the credibility of the brand.
  3. The reply-to address the email address that receives replies from folks who click “reply.” It needs to be a monitored address and can differ from the “from” address (above).
  4. The subject line is the line of text that tells readers about the content of the email.
  5. The preview is a snapshot of copy taken from the first few text lines of an email. It doesn’t display in every mailbox, but it provides more context about the message.

The Noes of Email Marketing

Two of the worst things marketers can do is buy (or rent) lists and mail to inactive (or dormant) accounts. Sending to purchased lists (even confirmed opt-in) leads to spam complaints, unsubscribes, and low engagement.

Negative reactions (e.g., spam complaints) cause deliverability headaches. In Email Marketing Rules, Chad White explains, “Spam complaints are the most dreaded because they can start to cause problems after your complaint rate exceeds 0.1%” (2016 p. 353).

Mailbox providers have taken a stance in response to an old marketing tactic of bloating lists with inactive addresses to drive down complaint rates. They emphasize engagement now.

Dormant and abandoned email addresses are poison to a list. Lists should contain people who have engaged with an email within the past six months. Sending to people who haven’t opened an email in six months will hurt a sender’s reputation. Sending to abandoned (or recycled) addresses will kill a sender’s reputation.

Segmenting off (or removing) unengaged addresses will not only help with list hygiene (and deliverability) but presents a re-engagement opportunity. If the addresses are active, marketers might be able to reengage some of these folks with a targeted campaign.

Also, remove addresses with typos (e.g., gmiall.com rather than gmail.com). Often these are trap addresses. Clear out role addresses. Addresses like support@organization.com or info@companyname.com these group addresses wouldn’t intentionally subscribe to promotional emails.

Next up in the series building engaged lists.


250ok. (2018). The 250ok deliverability guide. 250ok. https://www.validity.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Deliverability-Guide-2018.pdf

Return Path. (2020). The ultimate guide to email deliverability. returnpath.com. https://www.validity.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/the-ultimate-guide-to-deliverability.pdf

Roberts, J. (2020). The ultimate email deliverability glossary. Return Path. https://www.validity.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Ultimate-Email-Deliverability-Glossay.pdf

Validity & Demand Metric. (2021). The state of email marketing. Validity. https://www.validity.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/The-State-of-Email-2021-Benchmark-Report.pdf

White, C. (2017). Email marketing rules checklists, frameworks, and 150 best practices for business success (3rd ed.). https://www.amazon.com/Email-Marketing-Rules-Checklists-Frameworks/dp/1546910638/