Why Reputation Matters In Email Marketing & How You Can Change Yours
How many of your emails are reaching your customers' inboxes? According to columnist Tom Sather, it may be fewer than you think.
When is the last time you cursed the amount of spam reaching your personal inbox? If you are using one of the major webmail providers (Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Outlook.com), it’s likely been a very long time.
Over the years, email providers have gotten pretty sophisticated with their email filtering, moving away from filtering spam based on content rules and keywords, to looking at sending behaviors that correlate to spamming practices.
This filtering is referred to as reputation filtering. While less spam in the inbox is good news, the bad news is that permission-based marketers still struggle to reach the inbox, often because they’re running afoul of the same rules that spammers break.
What Makes Up A Reputation?
Reputation scores are assigned to every IP address, just like every person also has a credit score. If no email is being sent over an IP address, the reputation score is zero, which tells the email providers to treat new emails being sent from these IP addresses like a dog on a short leash (much like how people with no credit history are given small amounts of credit when first applying for credit).
Besides mailing history, email providers and spam filtering companies also look at subscriber complaints, how many non-existent addresses a sender is mailing to, how many decoy accounts or spam traps receive email from an IP address or domain, and many other factors.
Taken altogether, these signals provide a pretty good predictor if email is spam or not. Email marketers can see what their email reputation is by looking up their Sender Score. Sender Score is a proxy for one’s email reputation and indicates one’s potential to reach the inbox, or spam folder.
How Much Spam Is Really Out There?
I recently looked at over 100 billion IP addresses from around the globe to understand how much of the world’s current email volume was spam, and to see how businesses and brands are performing compared to the best-of-the-best senders. In 2012, 90% of all of the world’s email was spam.
Today, 72% of the world’s emails are deemed unfit to reach the inbox. While that is a considerable drop in spam volumes, the majority of all emails being sent are still indeed spam. In fact, any Sender Score of less than 71 is most likely egregious spam, and nearly 20% of those are in the highest range from 91 – 100. 10% of all messages sent in the world have a score somewhere in the middle, from 21 to 70, and most of these messages are blocked or filtered.
The 20% of messages that do reach the inbox are more likely to be complained about, have a high bounce rate of “unknown users,” and are sending to decoy email addresses, or spam traps.
Looking at the top three bands shows that the reputation gap is widening. Senders with scores between 71 – 80 have an abysmal inbox placement rate of 58%, and senders between 81 – 90 had an average inbox placement rate of only 79%.
The second tier’s complaint rate was 5 times worse than the top tier. The third tier’s complaint rate was 11 times worse than the top tier. The third tier also had three times as many unknown user bounces, and sent to nearly twice as many spam traps.
What Can Marketers Do About A Sub-Par Sender Score?
If you do find your Sender Score in the second or third tier, focusing on reducing complaints, spam traps, and invalid addresses will do wonders in your ability to reach the inbox.
If you’re in the top tier of the Sender Score range, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve. In a previous column, I discussed the perils of thinking a high Sender Score equates to high inbox placement. The top Sender Score band actually includes a large amount of legitimate mailers, likely even your business’ emails.
The ultimate goal for all email marketers is a Sender Score of 99 or above. This elite club has the luxury of a 98% inbox placement rate, reaching nearly all of their subscribers.
A score between 95 and 98 has a respectable 92% inbox placement rate, but that still means that nearly 1 in 10 emails never reach their subscribers. Scores between 91 and 94 perform even worse with only 87% of all emails reaching their intended recipients.
The best of the best have a complaint rate of 0.03%. Those in the 95 – 98 range have a complaint rate nearly six times higher at 0.17%. Scores between 91 and 94 have complaint rates 11 times higher than those at 99 or 100. Sending to invalid addresses (unknown users) was also a differentiator.
The top of the top tier saw only .5% of their email addresses invalid compared to a 1.7% and 2.3% rate for the next two tiers in the 91+ Sender Score range.
Not reaching the inbox is fatal error for email marketers, and it happens to the best, on average, 2% of the time.
While your Sender Score may be in the 90s, it doesn’t mean that subscribers love your email and don’t mark your email as spam, that your email list is clean, or that you’re acquiring valid subscribers.
Running an email marketing program is easy. Running a good email marketing program takes work.