Data Insights: Using Sender Reputation Data for Better Inbox Placement
Sender Reputation Data (SRD) is a metric that is used by Microsoft in its proprietary spam filtering software called SmartScreen that determines if a message should be delivered to the inbox or spam folder, or if it should be blocked. It consists of a panel of hundreds of thousands of users and these panelists are asked to determine if the filtering decision that Microsoft’s spam filter made was correct or not. This provides more accurate feedback since it’s nearly impossible for spammers to game this metric. Additionally, SRD minimizes the effect that subscriber complaints can have on one’s reputation and deliverability if subscribers are erroneously using the junk button, either marking an email as junk on accident or using the junk button to delete or unsubscribe from an email. In that sense, sender reputation data is not a complaint metric, but rather a feedback metric. In fact, at Return Path, we find the metric so useful that we also use it as part of our compliance efforts for Return Path Certification. If you’d like more information on the SRD metric, you can refer to two blog posts we wrote on the metric here and here.
For those marketers using our certification and deliverability services, you may have only thought about this metric as a negative metric, much like the complaint rate, which is the rate in which your subscribers vote as to whether or not your email is spam or not spam. It’s more important to look at SRD as a key indicator of engagement. With SRD, you get both the positive and the negative indicators that help show how well your mail program is according to a sample of your subscribers. If you look at the SRD rate in your Certified reports, look at it inversely to determine how positively your subscribers are viewing your email. One of our clients does just that. “Whenever I see our SRD rate at 20% in the certification reports, that tells me that 80% are viewing my program positively.” If their sentiment gets too negative, say below their benchmark of 80% positive votes, they know it’s probably time to take action. They look at what changed in their program, such as frequency, content, data source, and test and measure their results.
We recently had two clients that had a negative SRD rate in excess of 60%, and needed to lower it dramatically, or risk being suspended from the Return Path Certification program. They both analyzed their mailing practices and came up with two different ways to resolve their worsening SRD rate, improve their deliverability and turn their email program into something viewed favorably by their subscribers.
One of those clients was a social networking business. To bring their SRD rate to our certification standards, they decided to segment by mailing each message type from its own group of IP addresses. For example, transactional emails, like password resets, were sent from their own IP address. Member initiated emails were sent from another IP address and member-initiated invitations were sent from a different group of IPs. After going through this exercise, it was easy to see that their invitation mail stream, specifically their reminder email, had a disproportionate amount of negative SRD votes. They stopped sending the reminder email and their negative SRD rate dropped almost overnight to 20%. As a result, deliverability and engagement improved.
A publisher also saw that their SRD rates were in excess of 60%. They currently had a list size over 150 million subscribers. After doing some analysis, they determined that inactive subscribers represented a disproportionate amount of negative SRD votes. To resolve, they defined what active subscribers they wanted to keep and then dropped the rest. They went from over 150 million subscribers to just under 15 million highly active subscribers. Their negative SRD votes dropped from 61% to just 9.5%, or in better terms, over 90% of their subscribers viewed their email program favorably now. Not only did their SRD votes decline, but since the rate was well within the program limits, they experienced more consistent deliverability, as well as higher engagement through higher open and click rates.
The only way for any sender or marketer to find out their SRD rate is to enroll in the Return Path Certification program. You can use the “filter results” in Microsoft’s Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) as a proxy, but since so many other variables are at play with the “filter results” in that tool, it isn’t exactly the best method to use when trying to move your negative SRD votes lower since you can’t tell if your numbers are growing or shrinking. With Return Path Certification, you receive a daily report noting your SRD metric so it makes it much easier when measuring results since you are looking at your true SRD rate.
Have you experienced issues with negative SRD rates? What worked and what didn’t work for you?
About Tom Sather
Email data and deliverability expert Tom Sather has worked with top-tier brands to diagnose and solve inbox placement and sender reputation issues as a strategic consultant with Return Path. As the company’s senior director of research, Tom is a frequent speaker and writer on email marketing trends and technology. His most recent analysis of new inbox applications’ effects on consumer behavior was widely cited across leading business media outlets including the Financial Times, Ad Age, and Media Post.