Email Sender Reputation Guide: How to monitor your IP score and avoid bad sending behavior


Email inbox providers like Gmail use your IP reputation — also known as IP score, sender score, or email sender reputation — to determine whether or not your email should be delivered to the inbox. If you want to make sure your emails don’t get sent to your contacts’ SPAM folders, the first step is avoiding common mistakes that damage the reputation of your sending IP address.

Experienced email marketers know that it’s not just about getting the job done. It’s about getting the job done right the first time. You don’t want to invest time crafting a beautiful, well-designed email campaign, hit send, and then have it land in the spam folder of your subscribers. That is not going to help you produce revenue and it will cause you to do double the work.

If you’re struggling with these issues, it means you probably need to work on improving your email deliverability, or the ability of your emails to reach the inbox. One of the main factors in determining email deliverability is the sender reputation of the IP address you use to send emails.

Email providers use several programs to monitor the behavior and assess the risk potential of every IP address delivering messages to their network. The factors these programs take into account in order to evaluate sender reputation include:

  • Quality of contacts to whom that IP address is sending messages
  • Level of engagement recipients show for emails from that IP address
  • Sending volume trends
  • Quality of content contained in the emails being sent by that IP address

Those are just a few examples among many other signals that email inbox providers look at when determining sender reputation and filtering for SPAM. Needless to say, you want to make sure the IP address you use to send emails has a good sender reputation.

3 easy ways to check your email sending IP reputation

If you’re having deliverability issues, one of the first things you should investigate is your sender reputation. If you use an email marketing service, you may be using a shared IP address with other users that have low-quality emails or poor engagement. It’s also possible that you unknowingly sent emails in a way that is viewed as spammy by some email inbox providers.

Whatever the case, start by benchmarking where you are now. There are several tools out there that will help you measure your IP sender reputation, so choose which one (or several) you think makes the most sense. Here are 4 to get you started.

1. Sender Score from Return Path

The people at Return Path are email deliverability experts, and they have a unique system for measuring email sender reputation that is called “sender score.”

Much like a credit score, the sender score of your IP address can be tough to improve and easy to damage. That one single number can be a solid gauge for determining how email inbox providers like Gmail or Yahoo are weighing the risks of letting your email through to the inbox or instead opting to relegate you to the dreaded spam folder.

To put this in perspective, Return Path put together a 2016 Sender Score benchmark report, showing deliverability rates. Small changes in your score make big differences in your deliverability. A score that drops from 83 down to 70 can see a deliverability decrease by approximately 20%. This will lead to a huge loss of revenue. You want to make sure the job is done right the first time, and that you have layers of security in place to protect your reputation.

To get a free assessment of your current Sender Score, just go over to SenderScore.org and plug in your IP address. If your score is not above 90, there is room for improvement.

2. ReputationAuthority from WatchGuard

WatchGuard specializes in threat management software and appliances, and ReputationAuthority is their network security service for monitoring and providing protection against malicious or unwanted email and web traffic. This service is used by government entities and large businesses to reduce unwanted network traffic.

If you want to gauge your IP score according to the ReputationAuthority software, type in your IP address to their IP lookup page and you’ll get a free assessment of your IP reputation.

The results include an overall score of either “Bad,” “Neutral,” or “Good” for your sending IP that is found at the top of the page. Below that, they give you a more detailed breakdown of your sending history data. There is also a score that ranges from 0 to 100 that is called the “reputation score.” But, unlike Return Path’s sender score, you want this reputation score to be lower. Typically, IP reputation scores below 50 on ReputationAuthority are “Neutral” or “Good,” which is where you want to be.

IP score results page with ReputationAuthority

3. Talos IP and Domain Reputation Center from Cisco

Talos Intelligence Group is part of Cisco and provides network security solutions for businesses. Similar to the previous two examples, Talos lets you look up your sender reputation by IP address for free on their website.

look up IP score page with Talos

The results show you the IP reputation score for both web traffic and email of the IP address that you entered. Scores can be “Good,” “Neutral,” or “Poor.” There is also more detailed information about sending volume history and related sender IPs.

6 common mistakes that hurt your sender reputation

Once you’ve checked your sender reputation using one or more of the methods mentioned above, you should know where your reputation stands with the email inbox providers.

If your IP sender reputation is lower than you would’ve hoped and you’re not sure why, it could be that you’re unintentionally sending the wrong signals to email providers by making common mistakes.

To help you avoid this moving forward, here are 6 common ways senders are damaging their sender reputation without even realizing it.

1. Collecting misspelled email addresses

It is so easy to collect invalid email addresses. On average 80% of invalid contact data is simply because of human error. Especially when the people are using mobile devices.

People who respond to emails via mobile devices often have a funny “excuse my typo” phrase in their signature line. One of my favorites on this list is “Sent from a mobile device. Erroneous words are a feature, not a typo”. Let’s not forget about the viral auto correct screenshots.

Typos can hurt your email sender score

Source: runt-of-the-web

Sure, these things are funny, but when it comes to spending money to collect new leads and getting invalid results — there is nothing funny about that.

So how does this impact your sender score?

Hard bounces make up one of the largest portions of your sender score. If the email address you have collected is not legit, you will get a failure to deliver. Most email service providers including SendInBlue will not tolerate a high hard bounce rate because you are damaging their IP reputation.

As a best practice, you can use a solution for real-time email verification to check the email address before you accept it into your marketing funnel. This way if the user has made an accidental typo they will get see an error message. The user will now have a chance to correct their mistake before moving forward.

2. Working with data brokers

Businesses often turn to data suppliers when they need new leads and new customers.

It sounds like an ‘easy choice’ because you will be able to quickly grow your list. However, the bad news is that you are not growing your list organically. Working with data brokers will not help you improve your engagement rates and you shouldn’t buy email lists.

To have good email deliverability, and improve your sender score you need to have the users engage with your emails. This means they need to open and click messages you are sending.

If you are sending to contacts you have acquired through a list broker, you will not have built up any trust with these users yet. What makes you think they are going to engage? Chances are they won’t, leaving you with a higher chance of being marked as SPAM.

Spam complaints are a big part of reducing your sender score. Each complaint you get is like sending a message directly to the ISPs that their users do not trust your company. If you get too many spam complaints with a specific ISP, they can choose to just push all of your emails directly to the spam folder. Imagine if all your YAHOO recipients never see your message from an email blast because Yahoo has decided to put you in the spam folder.

3. Failing to clean your email list

Why are you keeping old data on your email list? It’s only costing you more money to keep uninterested contacts there.

As an email marketer, it is your responsibility to regularly remove unengaged users from your list. Users who are not opening or clicking on your content can lead to bigger problems in the future that will damage your sender score.

For example, if a user has abandoned their email account, they aren’t opening your emails. This will later lead to a hard bounce. They also might not be active with your email content because they already moved you into the spam folder without your knowledge.

Pruning your list is something you should be doing on a quarterly basis (if not more frequently). If you don’t feel ready to take the leap and delete a good portion of your contacts, learn how you can segment to achieve similar benefits.

Even if you do segment your list, it’s highly likely you still have contacts which you have not emailed in several months. If this is the case, you should at least do a quarterly database clean up to identify if any email addresses have gone dormant and might lead to a hard bounce the next time you send off an email.

4. Sending poor quality content

Never compromise quality for quantity. If you slap together a poorly created email campaign, users are much more likely to complain. We already covered how spam complaints damage your sender score, and poor content gives them a reason to complain.

Things to keep in mind when creating your email content:

  • Don’t oversell to your users.
  • Make your email template mobile optimized.
  • Don’t use spam words in your content.
  • Test all of your links.
  • Don’t use a bait and switch subject line.
  • Format your content for readability.

5. Sending emails inconsistently

This is often overlooked by email marketers, but your email frequency matters when it comes to calculating your sender score. You need some balance when you are creating your email content calendar. If you mail too often you are annoying your users and generating complaints. But if you mail too little you are missing out on sales opportunities.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have a consistent schedule, and mail random days and times of the week instead, your users may lose interest. Marketing Sherpa published a blog post around a study done by Return Path which claimed read rates declined as send frequency increased.

send frequency affects email sender score

As a rule of thumb, it is best to stay focused. You want to be clear up front with your users when they register to set up some expectations. This way you can indicate how many times per week they should expect to hear from you.

Another thing you want to keep in mind when considering your volume frequency is how your subscriber list is growing. A quickly growing list or adding users in bulk to your ESP doesn’t look good. It makes the appearance that you are purchasing data and not following best practices.

6. Keeping spam traps in your email list

Traps are one of the most dangerous things that can happen to your email campaign. One rotten apple can bring down the whole tree.

The problem with traps is they can directly lead you into getting blacklisted. Therefore, many marketers tend to jump ship from email platform to email platform because the black listings prevent their whole campaign from being delivered.

There are two main types of traps. Pristine traps are email addresses created by ESPs or blacklist organizers who post their email address up across the web. Most of them get into your list because they were “scraped” or “harvested”. You might not directly be scraping data from the web, but you never know if one of your data supplies has used these techniques.

The other type of trap is the recycled spam trap. These are email addresses that were once real but have been abandoned by the user. The ESP deactivates the account which should cause hard bounces for you so that you remove the user from your list.

After the email address is inactive, the ESP reactivates the account many months later. If that account is still receiving emails from you, you will be blacklisted because you have not been following best practices.

Time to Boost Your Sender Score

If you want to make the most out of your email campaigns, don’t take any shortcuts. Do the job right the first time. Make sure you are following best practices by keeping your email list healthy. Start with things that you do have control over, such as controlling the data that goes into your list.

Don’t just accept any data that attempts to register. Make sure you clean your email list on a regular basis and avoid working with data brokers. Your leads are precious and they deserve your time and attention. As your data quality improves, you can work on rebuilding your email sender score and improving your inbox deliverability.

About the author:
Krista Barrack is an email verification specialist at XVerify. She helps digital marketers improve email campaign success through data verification. Outside of the office, Krista also enjoys traveling, fitness, reading, and listening to podcasts.

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