Domain Reputation Issues and Preventive Measures

Overview

Domain reputation is the health of a domain as perceived by mailbox providers (MBPs). If your domain has a good reputation, the MBPs send your emails to the recipient’s inbox, assuming they are relevant and valuable. If your domain has a bad reputation, the ISPs may send your emails to the recipient’s spam folder or block your emails.
In the email universe, various factors determine a domain's reputation. For example, engagement and conversion rate, spam complaint rate, spam traps, unsubscribe rate, and bounce rate.

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Information

Domain reputation as in the data we get from Google Postmaster tool is only applicable for Gmail. This does not apply to other domains with their metrics to track sender health. For example, Microsoft has SNDS.

Following best practices and guidelines by MBPs, e.g., authentication setup, opt-in/consent management, and sending personalized content, is a good way to build a good reputation and directly impact your email marketing program’s ROI. Deviation from these guidelines can result in a negative impact of varying degrees. The next section describes what happens when your Domain reputation isn’t High / Medium.

Impact of Low or Bad Domain Reputation

Low Reputation

This indicates that Gmail has flagged the sender as someone who regularly sends a considerable volume of spam. All emails from domains or IPs with a low reputation will almost always be sent to spam.

Bad Reputation

This indicates that Gmail has identified that the sender consistently sends a high volume of spam. All the emails from domains and IPs with low reputations are sent to the spam or they are directly rejected i.e. they will not be delivered to the recipient.

If your domain reputation is low or bad, then your emails will not reach the Gmail recipient’s inbox. Hence those emails will not accomplish the goal of your email campaigns. You would only be sending emails without conversions.

So you must not let your reputation drop to Low or Bad and if it does happen, pause immediately, resolve all the issues, check all the compliance and best practices boxes, and then slowly resume and ramp up.

Reasons for the Drop in Domain Reputation

The sending behaviors listed below typically result in a bad or low reputation or a drop in gradual or sudden reputation:

  • When you sent higher volumes of emails instead of ramping up.
  • When you start sending to unengaged users from a new domain.
    Gmail, just like all other mailbox providers, rate limits the emails from a new IP and does not accept higher volumes from a new domain or IP. A warm-up is required to build a good reputation which slowly increases volume limits and acceptance rates. Warm-up is done by sending very relevant content to a small batch of most engaged users at a very slow pace (low RPM).
  • When you continue to send emails despite the declining open/clicks or uptick of spam complaints/unsubscribe:
    If you ignore the signals from recipients, Gmail will put your emails in spam to protect those users.
  • When you send a significantly higher volume without gradually upscaling. The sudden volume spikes almost always cause a reputation drop.
    A sudden volume spike always raises questions. First of all, you would not be ramped up to send such higher numbers. Secondly, from where did such a high number of email users suddenly come from? Did they consent to receiving emails?
  • A gap in sending patterns followed by the high volume of emails.
    IPs and domains tend to cool off after three weeks of inactivity. So they will slowly lose their reputation and ramped-up state. Any inactivity must be followed by a smaller send to the most engaged users and a gradual volume increase. Moreover, after a longer period of inactivity, you need to reaffirm the content and manage expectations.
  • Having fixed sending patterns, not accounting engagement.
  • Not suppressing inactive users.
    Take into account the signals from end recipients. If users are not interacting with your emails, your sending behavior (frequency, segmentation, content relevancy) needs to be changed. You mustn’t continue to send emails to them in the same pattern. Also, after a long period, if users continue to remain inactive, then they should be permanently suppressed.
  • Sending emails to purchased lists or users who did not explicitly sign up to receive emails.
    This violates the basic rules of list management.

Preventive Measures for Domain Reputation Issues

As a marketer, follow the instructions below to make your email campaigns noticeable, especially if your domain reputation is not high.

If your domain reputation drops from high to medium 

This indicates there’s room for improvement and things may have started to go downhill.

  • Pause all one-time email campaigns from the affected domain for 3 days. Use this time to figure out why the reputation dropped from high to medium. Continue sending event-triggered campaigns as before, unless there’s an issue with event-triggered campaigns.
    • Review your compliance status, list management, sending patterns, engagement history, and complaint rates.
    • Look at the trends from the last 3-6 months.
  • Add a frequency capping (FC) of one email to a user in 1 day.
  • Make sure to send at least 1 campaign per week.
  • You must not target customers who have not engaged in the past 6 months.
  • Create email campaigns with personalized content and send event-triggered email campaigns if possible.

When the domain reputation improves to High, revise the sending criteria for the unengaged cohorts as listed below:

  • For the cohorts of customers who have not engaged in the last 45 days:
    • Send targeted content.
    • Conduct surveys to analyze the lack of engagement.
    • Reduce the frequency of sending emails.
  • For the cohorts of customers who have not engaged in the last 9 months:
    • Suppress the customers permanently.

If your domain reputation drops from high/medium to low

This indicates your sending behavior is already suspicious.

  • Pause all one-time email campaigns from the affected domain for 10 days. Use this time to figure out why the reputation dropped to low. Continue sending event-triggered campaigns as before, unless there’s an issue with event-triggered campaigns.
    • Review your compliance status, list management, sending patterns, engagement history, and complaint rates.
    • Look at the trends from the last 3-6 months.
  • Add a frequency capping (FC) of 1 email to a user in 3 days, or less.
  • Make sure to send a maximum of two to three email campaigns per week. And a minimum of one email per week to most engaged users.
    Note: Most engaged customers are customers who opened the email campaigns at least twice in the last 30 days.
  • Create email campaigns with personalized content and send event-triggered email campaigns if possible.

When the domain reputation improves to Medium, revise the sending criteria for the less engaged cohorts as listed below:

  • Expand the audience criteria to include other openers and app/site openers.
  • Increase the send frequency if required.

If your domain reputation drops from high/medium/low to bad 

This indicates that Gmail has already flagged you as a bad sender and all your emails are likely going to spam if they are delivered at all.

  • Pause all email campaigns (one-time, event-triggered, flows, business events) from the affected domain for 20 days. Use this time to figure out why the reputation dropped to bad.
    • Review your compliance status, list management, sending patterns, engagement history, and complaint rates.
    • Look at the trends from the last 3-6 months.
    • Look at volume spikes, spam complaints, inactivity, invalid users, and so on.
  • Make sure you are compliant and cover all the best practices for list management.
  • Add a frequency capping (FC) of 1 email to a user in 7 days.
  • Try re-confirmation email to confirm consent.
  • Make sure to send a maximum of two email campaigns per week. And a minimum of one email per week to super-engaged users.
    Note: Super-engaged customers are customers who opened the email campaigns at least 5 times in the last 30 days.
  • Create email campaigns with personalized content and send event-triggered email campaigns if possible.

When the domain reputation improves to low, revise the sending criteria for the less engaged cohorts as listed below:

  • Expand the audience criteria to include other openers of the last 30 days.
  • Increase the send frequency to 2-3 campaigns per week if required.
  • Resume smart triggered campaigns.

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