Today I’d like to follow up on Friday’s post on reputation with a deeper dive into what it takes to build and maintain a great reputation as an email marketer.

Your sender reputation is one of the most–if not the most–important aspects of your email marketing program. It takes a long time to build a solid reputation as a sender, and it takes ongoing vigilance to maintain it.

There are several factors that significantly affect your reputation: The frequency and volume of your emails over time, and how you handle bounces and unsubscribes.

Say you’ve just moved from one Email Service Provider (ESP) to another. This is a big change, and you have to adjust your email program in incremental steps. Why can’t you just send to your entire list right away? In a word: History. Your domain already has an established reputation, and so does your former IP space. That means you need to ramp up slowly when sending emails from your new one.

VOLUME:  Suddenly increasing the number of emails you send can impact your reputation by signaling to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or  ESP that your list has grown significantly, seemingly overnight. The receiving domain’s judgment about your list management practices may trigger unwanted filtering of valid users. Spam messages tend to rapidly balloon in both volume and frequency – and you definitely don’t want to be associated with anything remotely connected to spam, so change your sending patterns slowly.

FREQUENCY:  ISPs are looking for consistency. It’s important to maintain steady list growth and a distinct sending pattern. For example, if you normally send 20,000 emails every Wednesday, and you want to begin sending 75,000 emails every Thursday, slowly and incrementally change your sending pattern from Wednesday to Thursday, and gradually ramp up your volume over a period of weeks or months.

BOUNCES: Many ISP mail servers are known to block or bar a sender email domain because they have repeatedly sent emails to non-existing email addresses within their domain. As you might imagine, using old or neglected lists will generate dramatic increases in bounces, and send up a red flag to the receiving domains that you may not be following best email marketing practices. Continuing to bounce to these addresses by not removing them from your list, or adding them back in them at a later time, further aggravates this issue and can cause damage to your sender reputation. Worst of all, you run the risk of having your IP address blacklisted, and then none of your messages will be delivered. Why take the chance? Make it a point to remove all invalid addresses from your list right away.

UNSUBSCRIBES:  As you know, you’re legally required to include an unsubscribe link in all messages that are not transactional in nature. If a recipient unsubscribes from your list, failure to remove that recipient from future campaigns is a violation of the CAN-SPAM act. This significantly increases the likelihood that the recipient will mark future messages from you as spam, which directly and negatively impacts your sender reputation.

IN SUMMARY:  Follow the practices below and you’ll be well on your way to building and sustaining a great reputation as an email marketer:

  • Make sure your subscriber has to consciously choose to opt-in to your mailing list (no pre-checked boxes on the sign-up form, etc.)
  • Tell your recipients how often they’ll receive emails from you – and stick to that schedule
  • Schedule your emails appropriately – often enough to stay on the recipient’s radar, but not so often that you overwhelm their inboxes
  • Mete out your mailings in such a way that the receiving domains become accustomed to your mailing frequency and volume over time
  • Avoid using old, unmaintained lists, or lists of dubious origin
  • Immediately attend to all bounces and unsubscribes, removing the recipients from your list