Questions and answers about sending reputation

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Questions and answers about sending reputation
Questions and answers about sending reputation

A study by Return Path indicates that more than 80% of delivery problems are caused by reputation. But there is still confusion as to what reputation is, where the data come from and how to manage your reputation for better deliverability. Below are three common questions that marketers ask about reputation.

1. What is a sender reputation and how do ISPs and other e-mail receivers monitor it? Your ending reputation is made up of a variety of factors, primarily complaint rates, unknown user rates, spam trap hits, infrastructure issues and sending stability.

Spammers tend to do badly on these measures. Your job is to not look like a spammer by performing well on these measures. Every major receiver has a slightly different way of determining and measuring reputation. They begin with their own data — what they see on their network. Some ISPs also use proprietary reputation data aggregators to see how a sender behaves with other receivers.

2. How can I manage my e-mail reputation to ensure high deliverability?

It really comes down to the top five factors that are most likely to get you blocked. These are:

  • Complaint rate: Isolating why your subscribers complain about you is crucial to bringing this number down. We find the following factors to be the most common: Weak or no permission; content that isn't valuable or relevant; too high or low frequency; and subscribers' inability to recognize the e-mail.
  • Unknown user rate: If you have a high unknown user rate you need to review your bounce processing rules and make sure you are removing “unknown user” hard bounces after two attempts.
  • Spam trap hits: You can see if you are hitting some spam traps through Microsoft's Smart Network Data Services. Unfortunately, while this and other publicly available tools can tell you if you have spam traps, there isn't any way to identify which e-mail addresses they are. Instead, you need to isolate the parts of your list most likely to harbor spam traps and suppress those parts of the list.
  • Infrastructure: There are specific ways that ISPs like to see a mailing system set up in order to have some confidence that the e-mail is legitimate. If you use a reputable e-mail service provider, you shouldn't have infrastructure issues. If you are sending your own messages, you should consider reaching out to a deliverability expert.
  • Sending stability: Once you have established a good reputation for an IP address, don't move to a new server.

3. How can I determine my reputation? There are a number of public sources of reputation data. These include Microsoft's SNDS, DNSStuff, CipherTrust's TrustedSource, Ironport's Senderbase, and Return Path's Sender Score.

George Bilbrey is vice president and general manager of Return Path's Sender Score. You can reach him at


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