Why Domain Reputation is Critical to Email Marketing and Getting to the Inbox

The time and money you invest in email marketing is wasted if your messages don’t get to recipients’ inboxes. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the case when you’re having your domain reputation (also known as sender reputation) fueled.

A bad domain reputation leads directly to bad email marketing results.

What is Domain Reputation?

Domain reputation is a term used to rate what Google (or other email service providers, ESPs like Outlook, Yahoo, etc.) think of your sending email domain (e.g. yourcompany.com) . It is measured on your sending history – specifically how recipients dealt with the messages you’ve sent in the past.

When recipients open your messages, click links in your messages, put them in folders, forward them, or reply to them, the Google algorithm identifies these behaviors as positive engagement indicators and your domain reputation increases.

However, if people negatively engage with the messages you send (e.g. report them as spam, block you as a sender, delete them without opening them, etc.) or if they don’t engage with your messages at all by Never open or delete them. Then your domain reputation will drop.

Email service providers like Google want to make sure you’re only sending messages that other people want you to. A lack of or negative engagement with your messages shows them that you are not sending content that others want, and thereby degrades your domain’s reputation.

As your domain reputation goes down, so does your email deliverability. More and more of your messages are being sent to spam folders rather than inboxes, which means your campaigns are failing.

Your domain reputation is yours

When you send email marketing campaigns from a shared domain, you have very little control over your domain reputation. However, if you are sending campaigns from your own domain (e.g. yourcompany.com) or a managed domain that is only used by you, you are in complete control of your domain reputation.

In other words, sending from your own domain means:

  • You are 100% in control Your domain reputation.
  • You are 100% responsible for changes in your domain reputation.
  • You are 100% responsible to monitor the reputation of your domain and take action to improve it when it goes down.

Note that any messages you send through your domain will be included in determining your domain reputation. If you are sending your business email and email marketing campaigns from one or more platforms, all of these messages can damage your domain reputation.

How to Establish a Good Domain Reputation

To establish a good domain reputation, you need to send highly relevant content to hyper-targeted lists. The more personalized your content is so that it can be customized for the respective recipient group, the better.

Gone are the days of sending a generic message to a mass list. This leads to a lack of engagement and your domain reputation will go down. Ultimately, more of your messages that you send in the future will be moved to the spam folder instead of the inbox. You don’t want this to happen!

Hence, the first step is to establish a positive domain reputation with email service providers, especially Gmail, which is used by more businesses every day.

If you are just starting out with a new domain, if you have not sent any messages from your domain in more than 30 days, or if your domain reputation is not high, you can use a domain warm-up or you can build a good domain reputation work to increase it organically over time.

What is a domain warmup?

A domain warmup is used to get a lot of positive engagement for your email messages in a short amount of time. The goal is to show email service providers that you’re sending content that users actually want.

Domains warm up can be three phases, six phases, or more, depending on how bad your current domain reputation is. Assuming you’re just trying to build a reputation for a new or dormant domain, a three-phase warm-up is usually enough to build a positive reputation.

The first phase of a domain warm-up phase sends a message to a small number of internal contacts (such as friends, family, and co-workers). These should be people who can notify you in advance and ask them to open the message, click the links, put it in a folder, forward it, and so on.

In the second phase, a message is sent to a larger number of contacts – preferably people who have dealt with your messages in the past. When you reach a certain open rate (e.g. 20%), you can move on to phase three where you increase the number of contacts and wait again for a 20% open rate. If you don’t get the 20% open rate, repeat the phase until you do.

The picture below shows what a three-phase warm-up process might look like.

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Organically establishing a positive domain reputation

You can also build a positive domain reputation organically. The process just takes longer. Instead of getting lots of positive engagement quickly in a consolidated warmup, you need to consistently send relevant content to specific recipients over time.

If you send relevant content to the right people, the engagement and with it the reputation of your domain increases.

How to monitor and protect your domain reputation and stay away from spam

Once you’ve built a good domain reputation, you need to monitor it and carefully protect it by sending relevant messages that people actually want in order for them to be positive about those messages.

Yes, it is faster and easier to just send one message to everyone. However, using links today can cause problems later when email service providers send all of your messages to spam.

Remember, if you’re sending from your own domain or a managed domain that only you use, it’s up to you to monitor and protect your domain! Follow best practices to avoid spam flags, focus on targeting and sending relevant content to increase engagement, and your domain reputation should stay healthy.

If you see signs of your domain reputation declining, take steps to fix it with a domain warmup or organically. Only you can get your domain reputation out of a hole if you have it there.

Use the Google Postmaster Tools to monitor your domain standing and more

With so many cannabis and hemp companies using Google as their email service provider, it makes sense to prioritize monitoring your domain reputation and spam for Gmail. Fortunately, Google has a handy free tool to help you with this – Google Postmaster Tools.

In the simplest case, you can set up the Google Postmaster Tools for your domain. Once your account is set up and you’ve followed the steps to verify that you own your domain, you will have access to a wide variety of data, including information about your domain reputation and spam.

Domain reputation monitoring in the Google Postmaster Tools

With the Google Postmaster Tools, the domain reputation is divided into four levels: High, Medium, Low and Bad. This is how Google defines each level:

High domain reputation: Has a good track record with a very low spam rate and complies with Google’s sender guidelines. Emails are rarely flagged by the spam filter.Medium domain reputation: Known for sending good email, but has occasionally sent low volume of spam. Most emails from this entity have a fair deliverability rate, unless the spam levels increase noticeably.Low domain reputation: A significant amount of spam is known to be sent on a regular basis, and emails from this sender are likely to be marked as spam.Bad: A history of sending an enormously high volume of spam. Emails from this entity are almost always rejected or marked as spam in SMTP.

The bottom line is that a high reputation is great. A medium reputation is good. A low reputation is bad and worrisome, and a bad reputation is very bad and a big problem.

As long as your domain reputation is high or medium, you can be sure that most or many of your messages will be delivered to recipients. However, this is not the case if your domain reputation is low or poor.

This is why it’s so important to monitor your domain’s reputation so that you can make adjustments to fix issues before it’s too late. A low domain reputation is difficult to repair (but not impossible). It’s even more difficult to fix a domain with a low reputation. In fact, this requires an extremely intensive correction process that is much more time consuming and strict in its requirements than domain warming up.

The image below shows a real new domain that an email marketer didn’t warm up. Instead, they immediately sent email campaigns to lists. After the warm up didn’t complete, the domain’s reputation began to decline rapidly, and in less than 60 days the reputation went from high to bad.

This is how seriously Google takes engagement and how important it is to protecting your domain reputation and future deliverability of your email campaigns. In this case, the sender moved from all messages that ended up in the recipients’ inboxes to all messages that went to spam or were blocked.

Spam monitoring in the Google Postmaster Tools

You can also use Google Postmaster Tools to determine the number of users reporting your messages as spam. While you can’t see exactly which recipients marked your messages as spam, you can use the aggregated data to monitor your spam rate.

Email service providers take spam complaints very seriously. After all, there is no more reliable way to identify email senders who are sending messages they don’t want than for recipients to mark those unwanted messages as spam.

So use the spam rate data provided in Google Postmaster Tools to ensure that spam complaints don’t suddenly rise. Observe whether there are any correlations between spam complaints and intrusions in your domain reputation. All of this data will help you understand how your domain reputation is changing over time so you can proactively protect it more effectively.

Important information about domain reputation, email marketing, and spam

Remember, email sent from domains with a positive reputation will go to the Inbox, while messages sent from domains with a negative reputation will be sent to (or blocked) spam. Monitor your domain’s reputation to protect your email deliverability and email marketing investments.

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