The Truth About Email Reputation
By George Bilbrey
Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think it is; the tree is the real thing.
In email, Character is Reputation. And, while reputation has become the latest buzz word in the email industry, often it is difficult for marketers to find the road to an improved reputation with so many catchphrases clouding the space. The truth is, every marketer who sends email has a reputation, whether they know it or not, whether they actively manage it or not. That reputation dictates if their email reaches the inbox.
There are no shortcuts. You can’t just publish SPF records and stop. You can’t just pay more to get unwelcome email through (at least we hope things never get to that point, despite AOL’s Goodmail announcement this week). You can’t just send whatever you please, whenever you please, and expect your deliverability team to “make a call” and remove a block. However, following the best practices that build you reputation isn’t hard, and it’s likely what you want to be doing anyway to improve response rates and grow your file with active subscribers.
Reputation is so important, and so powerful, it’s no wonder that every email vendor, consultant and hardware manufacturer on the planet is starting to use the “R” word to describe their offering. We see a new use of it every day. This makes for very confusing jargon for marketers to decipher and decide what to focus on. Let’s clear things up.
Findings from a study of one major ISP by Return Path’s Sender Score reputation management service shows there are three primary reputation factors that directly correlate to email deliverability. Our study showed that while repuation can be based on a wide spectrum of factors and can be confused with other industry terms, 90 percent of delivery issues were affected by three factors that really matter — the THREE B’s of Reputation:
- Bounces: Often it is a hassle to do regular cleaning of email lists or removing those bounces after an email campaign. However, ISPs gauge a marketer’s merit in part by their list cleanliness. By doing everything possible to get valid email addresses up front, marketers will avoid having unknown users along the way. Knowing unknown user rates is essential to delivery success.
- Blacklists: Sure, everyone has heard about them, but does anyone really care about blacklists? In reality, most receivers of email reference blacklists in order to filter a segment of the email they receive to curb unwanted mail. By finding out what lists they are on and doing everything to get removed, marketers will dramatically improve their email deliverability.
- Backlash: Many think that when customers click on the “This is Spam” button it won’t affect email reputation. Unfortunately this is a common misconception. Complaints drive 70 percent of email deliverability issues. Determining if users are causing emails to be blocked and by finding the sources of complaints, marketers can begin minimizing their complaint rates at ISPs.
Use whatever service you need to help get your reputation in order and to keep tabs on it, but the onus is on you to be vigilant about keeping it pristine. If you don’t know what your reputation is with ISPs, find out with a free Reputation Assessment. It is the one thing you can do today that will give you actionable data you can use to fix your reputation, get more email delivered, and increase program response.
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About George Bilbrey
George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He is a recognized expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). In his role as president of Return Path George is the driving force behind the ongoing innovation of our products and services. Prior to Return Path, George served as Director of Product Management at Worldprints.com and as a partner in the telecommunications group at Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.