Understanding your e-mail reputation

Reputation is an interesting phenomenon within the e-mail industry. But what does the term really mean? And, is it only your reputation that can affect your delivery rates?

Before we dive into your mailing reputation, let’s take a trip down memory lane to high school. What kind of reputation did you have? Were you the star football player who all the girls wanted to date, or were you a drummer in the band who easily made friends with everyone?

You could try to put forth a type of persona, but in the end, your reputation was based on what you did – your performance in school, who your friends were, and everything else you were involved in. Even if you didn’t truly understand your reputation, you still had one.

E-mail is the same way.

As the e-mail industry continues to grow, the receiving organizations continue to get more and more spam into their systems. I have heard various reports that 90% to 99% of all e-mail sent into various ISPs’ systems is what they consider true spam. This means the e-mail industry must continue to work on creating new ways for the ISPs to know, and identify, who the “good” senders are, as compared to the not-so-good ones.

In the beginning of e-mail marketing, most e-mail was blocked due to either too much volume coming into the receiver’s system, or specific content that was flagged as spam for words such as “free” or “Viagra.” As the industry continued to progress, most ISPs began to build reputation systems based on the IP address that a company was sending from. Because every sender had to use an IP address to send its mail, it was a common factor that the ISPs could focus on while building these reputation systems and authentication methods.

An authentication method is simply a way for a sender to identify himself as the business or entity sending the mail. Think of it as a driver’s license; it is really there just so others can ensure you are who you say you are.  The first forms of authentication were IP-based, such as SPF and SenderID. While these are still used by some ISPs today, many are moving towards a newer form of authentication: domain based. With the creation of Domain Keys and DKIM authentication methods, more ISP are basing their reputation systems off a sender’s domain, or sub-domain, rather than an IP address.

So what does this mean for you, the marketer? It could mean a lot of things depending on how your current systems are set up. As more ISPs implement these domain-based reputation systems, the use of shared IPs will become irrelevant. Because reputation can be based on domains or sub-domains, it potentially won’t matter if you are sharing an IP or using a dedicated one, because the ISP will only look at your sending habits and your sending statistics, not anyone else’s on that IP address. This is an important point for most marketers to remember. For years, everyone asked for a way to be judged on what they do, without worrying about what others around them are doing. Now the industry is finally moving towards that.

Another important item to consider: as the e-mail industry continues to move towards domain-based reputation systems, building a reputation on a new IP will become less time consuming. As more of these ISPs build their reputation systems off the DKIM signature, it will allow senders to simply utilize the same domain on an additional IP with little to no time needed to warm it up. As businesses grow, this will become more important.

Remember: when you are thinking about your reputation, it is all about who you are, and what you do. As the industry evolves, it will focus on that more every day.

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