Sender Reputation, the key to your place in the inbox

Why does email deliverability matter?

A simple question with a simple answer:

If your email lands in the junk folder, or gets lost in a black hole, then you won’t make any money from it. It goes deeper than this, of course. A sender that regularly ends up anywhere but the inbox will experience a snowball effect on their sender reputation – it will steadily and rapidly get worse.

In Email Marketing your sender reputation is paramount. It is this that determines where your email will end up; the inbox earning revenue and brand awareness, or the junk folder costing you dearly.

In the early days of email marketing it was assumed that the Email Service Provider was in full control of a client’s email deliverability. Whilst this was never really the case, it is even less so in current world of email.

There is no silver bullet. You must work to maintain good email deliverability rates, there are no shortcuts.

But don’t be put off, whilst there are many factors that contribute to your sender reputation, all of these are manageable. The technical factors should be managed and maintained by your ESP, but the strategic and tactical side of the equation is in the hands of the client, with the ESP supporting them at every turn.

Your ESP will ensure that the sending infrastructure is optimised and fully authenticated – SPF, Domain Keys and DKIM should all be in place before a single email is sent.

Once email authentication is configured and tested the ESP will work with the client to ensure that best practices are employed to maximise sender reputation.

So, what is Sender Reputation?

In short it is the analysis of your sending behaviour – frequency, volume, consistency, data quality, and audience engagement.

No one wants spam in their house, and ISPs are no different. To make sure that their users’ only get the messages that they wanted to receive the ISPs deploy an array of filters and analysis to make sure only good senders are allowed into the hallowed halls of the Inbox.

What steps can you take to make sure that you are on the inside looking out?

Sender Reputation is wrapped up in data quality. You must strive for a clean customer list, consisting of engaged recipients that gave you permission to send them emails. Your customers must want and expect to receive your emails.

  • Your data collection methods are a significant factor in the initial inbox placement. Don’t assume permission, ask for it, and better still learn how to earn it. You will be earning permission to send emails throughout your relationship with your customers.
  • Transparency is key, tell subscribers what they are signing up for, and be honest, they will experience the reality very soon.
  • Once you have been granted permission to send your first email to your new subscriber make sure that the content delivers on your earlier promise. An engaged audience will increase your sender reputation, driving up inbox placement rates.
  • Keep your hard bounce rates low. A high level of unknown users or bad mailboxes sends a message to the ISP that your list is not regularly cleaned. An unclean list sets the alarm bells off at the ISP.
  • Avoid Spam Trap addresses in your list. A spam trap can either be an old mailbox that is being used by the ISP to monitor senders’ data hygiene or a mailbox that has never been used to register anywhere online. Either way, a message received here implies poor database management policies of the sender – whether through lack of cleansing or poor data collection methods.
  • Maintain good levels of audience engagement. The ISP wants to see that its users are interacting with the emails that they receive. Messages that are opened, clicked, moved from junk folders into inboxes, etc. show the ISP that the sender is responsible for desired mail and therefore unlikely to be a spammer.
  • Don’t give your recipients an excuse to report you as spam or reject your messages. By serving compelling content you will ensure that your customers are engaged with your messages, but it is just as important to make it easier to unsubscribe than report as spam. Keep your content relevant and your unsubscribe process clear, clean and simple.
  • Be consistent and regular with your broadcast volumes. Sender Reputation needs to see regular and consistent volume of traffic, spikes and troughs make it difficult to gauge quality and engagement. The ISP will always err on the side of caution, so don’t give them any room to doubt your good name.

This may seem like a long list of rules to follow in order to reach the inbox, but in reality it boils down to a simple matter of:

Send your customers what they want, when they want it, and they’ll love you for it.

How to create a great welcome email

Okay, so you understand that you must welcome each of your new customers into your email programme, but how do you make sure that you are making the most of this opportunity?

Here are some pointers, each of which takes advantage of the increased engagement rates of welcome emails to increase your future inbox placement rates.

Always send the Welcome Email in real time.

Speak to your Email Service Provider about their API suite, or use forms to trigger automated emails. And remember, it’s all about brand awareness. Don’t send plain text auto-responders, instead bring the Welcome Email into the brand family. Exploit this first point of contact for future brand recognition.

  • Thank them for signing up for your newsletters and remind them why they received this message.
  • Show them how to add you to their safe list.
  • Make it easy for them to manage their subscriptions with a preference centre.
  • Showcase what your email programme has in store for them – use real examples of earlier newsletters. They’ll recognise the next one when it lands, boosting your chances of engaging them.
  • Give them the opportunity to share your email with friends/colleagues via your social bar, include a recommend a friend option too
  • Do you have a soft sell you can include in your welcome email? A first order discount or free shipping will go along way to building the relationship.

And finally, keep it short. You need to strike the balance between smoothing the path for the future and overwhelming your new members.

And now?

Well, leave them alone for bit, let the wonders of the new world sink in. But not too long, the new customers should now be at stage one of your welcome series.

A week after they’ve signed up, stage two will be triggered. Their interaction with this message will determine the next phase.

Once they have journeyed through the welcome series they will be pumped and primed, ready for the full offering.

That’s where the real fun starts…

Do we need another post on email subject lines?

My answer to that question is of course yes.

In the well documented crowded inbox only the strong will survive. It is essential to dedicate part of your email campaign planning process to crafting the best subject line that you can. The email subject line is a powerful thing, in conjunction with the Mail From it should be thought of as the headline for your content. The right headline will draw readers in to your article. In the same way the right subject line will drive recipients to open an email. The From Line reinforces who you are and goes some way towards explaining why your message has landed in your customer’s mailbox. The subject line shows them why they should pause and read on.

Is there a perfect subject line?

If we agree that content creation is an art-form, then it follows that there can’t be a one size fits all answer to this question. This doesn’t mean that you should give up searching and just plump for the safe bet. A few simple pointers can move your email subject lines from the mundane to the truly compelling, urging your readers to open their emails.

A compelling email subject line will reinforce your brand, engage your customers and improve your email deliverability.

Elements to play with

Subject line Length

Research on subject line success will always look at the length. And it will always show that there is no ideal length. The type of message and the audience, or expected response, will play a large role in what works, lengthwise. But the importance of the email clients that your emails are read in should not be overlooked. A number of email clients, and especially mobile devices, may truncate your lovingly crafted subject line. Consider front loading the headline, then if it does get truncated then you still get the thrust of your message across.


The subject line must make your recipients want to read on. But the content must deliver on that promise. Email marketing lives and dies on the relevance of the content. If the subject line promises one thing and the content delivers something else entirely then your customers will feel duped. This is not what you want.

Use teasers

Posing a question in the subject line is a good idea. If the topic is compelling, then there’s little in the way to stop the reader opening your email to find out how they can benefit from your offer.

The Spammers seem to have the right idea

No they don’t. If your subject line in any way, shape or form makes you think of spam then stop and immediately rethink. You’re allowed to go for a walk first, to get some fresh air. Then relax, start over.

Special characters

A not so new tactic is the use of special characters in subject lines. In the early stages of this discovery they were a great way to stand out from the crowd in the inbox. It wasn’t long before everyone was all over this new trick, and special characters soon saturated the inbox. Things have calmed down a bit now and it is certainly worth experimenting with them.

And that brings us to the golden theme of email marketing – test, test and test again.

You wouldn’t dream of just ploughing ahead with your content or data selections without first applying some testing and results analysis, nor should you jump in with a new strand of subject lines. There are many elements to play with when crafting your compelling subject line. Each of these will have many possibilities, so you should always engage a testing mentality.

If teasers appeal to you, try out different approaches. Should you personalise the subject line? There’s only one way to find out, run some split tests. Do special characters still hold their novelty appeal? Try your message with and without them, which will reveal how they work with your audience. Long, explanatory subject lines always out-perform short sharp ones, or so someone said. Test long versus short, dry against quirky, then you can start to develop your own ideas as to how your customers react to each type.

The Split-test feature in your email marketing platform should play a part in every email campaign that you deploy.