It starts with reputation

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J.F. Sullivan
J.F. Sullivan

Vendors are doing their best to get marketers to take seriously the issues of monitoring and maintaining online reputation. Within the once-tiny industry of e-mail deliverability, there are now more companies springing up to give you a snapshot of your online reputation than photographers following Paris Hilton.

Why is that?

In reality, much of what people refer to as reputation is not new. It has existed for years, mostly in the form of anti-spam blacklist services. As anti-spam techniques became more complex and mature, the concepts of whitelists sprung up as a form of positive reputation.

In more recent years, ISPs have also been developing their own metrics for reputation in the form of collected user complaints. This “feedback reputation” has been dangled over the heads of senders for years now, like a Sword of Damocles ready to slice and dice the mail of any sender flagged by the ISP's users.

A number of anti-spam content analysis vendors have also begun repositioning themselves as being in the business of helping senders enhance and improve their reputation through a variety of add-on tools.

Lest anyone wonder, we at Habeas confess that for the last several years we have been aggregating and maintaining a reputation data network. Our database contains reputation information on several million receiving systems and networks, allowing us to build a detailed picture of how senders are perceived by receivers around the world.

If reputation is truly a lot of old processes wrapped in a trendy new name, why all the sudden fuss?

Simply put: Senders are beginning to lean more and more heavily on reputation data in order to make the kinds of delivery decisions that mean life or death for e-mail marketing campaigns.

One of the events that crystallized the issue was Microsoft's recent announcement that it will begin throttling the connections of new senders, not by whether they were on a whitelist, but solely by the established reputation of that sender.

Microsoft's assessment of senders' reputations incorporates a number of factors, including individual and aggregated views of sending volumes, complaint rates and a variety of technical and infrastructure characteristics, all measured and assessed over time.

Why should you care about how ISPs view your e-mail reputation? It really boils down to whether you are interested in maintaining the relationships you enjoy today with your customers.

In this new world of e-mail reputation, all the old rules apply with regard to message content and construction. But whereas you might have found blacklists, whitelists and other reputation information to be little more than an inconvenience or an annoyance in the past, the future is going to be very different.

Your customer relationships are going to start with that reputation, or your customer relationships won't be relationships at all.

(This article first appeared in the 2007 issue of Essential Guide to E-Mail Marketing.)

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