The ultimate goal of any email campaign is to engage willing recipients with relevant content in order to intrigue the recipient to learn more about your product or service. The first hurdle along the road seems to be the easiest, ensuring that your mail is delivered for the recipient to read. This is both the most pivotal and misunderstood part of the process, and delivery issues can stop even the best campaign in its tracks before it can even get started.
Email Reputation is largely misunderstood for a few reasons:
- Reputation stems from two distinct sources: IP reputation and domain reputation.
- After passing these first two metrics, ISPs have their own black box metrics with which they rate content and decide whether or not it should be delivered to the inbox or not.
- Finally, there are personalized engagement metrics that influence if the email hits the inbox or the spam folder based on how that recipient has interacted with emails like that in the past. The impact of these metrics are intentionally kept secret to stop spammers from gaming the system, but following best practices and understanding each step will help ensure the success of your campaigns.
When you send an email out of SharpSpring, the message is transmitted via one of our shared IP addresses. ISPs look at the reputation of IP addresses by looking at the amount of traffic coming over that IP and the amount of “bad” traffic that is sent over them. SharpSpring’s compliance team works tirelessly to enforce best practices and to monitor our IP addresses to ensure their health to maximize delivery, but the health of our IP pools is affected by all of the senders that share these pools.
Spam traps are an essential way that ISPs track IP reputation (as well as domain reputation which we will discuss below). Email best practices dictate that recipient lists should be recipients who have opted in to receive your emails and have validated their address.
In order to enforce this, ISPs create spam traps, email addresses that are either new or recycled from old, unused email accounts that do not sign up for email. When someone sends an email to one of these addresses, the ISP knows the sender came across the email address via shady practices. This can include purchasing lists, scraping sites for emails addresses, or even reusing old, out of date lists that have not been properly maintained.
Every spam trap that is hit affects the IP and domain reputation of the sender. Not only do ISPs create and maintain these spam traps, but third party blacklists also monitor their own spam traps. If these spam traps are hit, the IP can be blacklisted and made public for ISPs and email firewalls to filter out IPs that are known to send spam.
As you can see, hitting these spam traps affects your reputation as well as the reputation of the other senders in your shared pool. This is one of the many reasons SharpSpring does not allow use of purchased lists. We encourage list cleaning and sunset policies to keep our pools as clean as possible. Again, our compliance team monitors trap hits closely and are quick to respond to these issues.
The above metrics that affect IP reputation also affect the particular sender’s domain reputation. Historically, spammers were simply able to send email from a particular IP until that IP achieved an unusable reputation, then change IPs in order to have a fresh start. Now ISPs track reputation by IP and domain, so that senders with a bad domain reputation will experience subpar delivery rates regardless of the IP addresses they send over.
This side of reputation means that you have a direct stake in the quality of your sends. By following email best practices, you ensure not only the health of our IP pools, but the long term health of your domain as well.
Recipient and ISP Filtering
After passing the preliminary test of sending from an acceptable IP and domain, individual mailboxes will inspect the mail and apply their own settings. At this stage, the mailbox will scan the contents of the email and decide whether it should be accepted, rejected, or filtered into spam. The details of how the email is rated is kept secret by ISPs, but there are some general guidelines to follow to minimize this filtering:
- Keep your HTML well coded.
- Ensure you have a low image to text ratio in your email. 80% text to 20% images is a solid metric to follow.
- Revise your email’s vocabulary to be conversational and educational, instead of sales driven
- Avoid suspicious or spammy additions to your email. For instance, stay away from exclamation points or all capitalized letters
- Review that your email’s links are not blacklisted by any major blacklists. There are numerous tools like MX ToolBox to help you out.
- Confirm you have SPF and DKIM properly configured to authenticate your emails
It is also worth noting your recipient may have filters of various strictness. For instance, some government organizations will block all sends that are not from a whitelisted set of IPs. Other organizations will block any email that is labeled as a bulk send and either bounce or filter them directly into a spam box. It may be worth reviewing your bounces to identify companies or domains that may have these strict filters in place.
Along with filtering emails based on bad content or bad send history, engagement plays an important role in which emails are delivered to the inbox. If a recipient has gone for a period of time without opening your emails, their mailbox may begin putting them into spam, although the email itself has not triggered any of the above issues.
Remember, as a sender, you have very little insight on what happens in the inbox once your email arrives. You know if it was opened, but how long did the recipient keep the email open? Did they scroll to the bottom? Did they delete the email or mark the email as spam soon after opening? ISPs, specifically Gmail, use all of these metrics to track how individuals are interacting with their email to rate it for spamminess or if the recipient wants to receive future emails.
For this reason, it is very important to keep your lists up to date and to consider a sunsetting policy. A sunsetting policy states after how many attempted engagements with no interaction do we unsubscribe this sender. By continuing to send to uninterested parties, you risk the recipient’s inbox considering these emails as potential spam, or even having that email address turned into a spam trap which you continue to hit, further damaging your reputation.
Email marketing is the lynchpin of any content marketing strategy, but an email that ends up in a recipient's spam folder might result in losing a potential lead.
Spam, bounce and unsubscribe rates need to be within an acceptable range. At most, your spam rate should not exceed .1 percent, depending on the ISP, anything above the acceptable rate will have consequences. The bounce rate should be below 10 percent. The unsubscribe rate should be below 1 percent.
While there are many specifics that are kept hidden to stave off spammers, there is a lot that we can do to better our delivery rates. The above are just a few of the basic best practices and tips to keep in mind for your campaigns. We also suggest researching other sources of information, specifically resources like M3aawg to read more about industry standards and wide spread best practices.