The great bard on email reputation

The term “reputation,” in the sense meaning a person’s “good name,” dates only from the mid-sixteenth century and the phrase “spotless reputation” seems to originate from the same period.  In Shakespeare’s Richard II, Thomas Mowbray, the Duke of Norfolk, insists that

The purest treasure mortal times afford

is spotless reputation: that away,

Men are but gilded loam or painted clay. (I.1.184-186)

In this case, what Shakespeare wrote in the pages of Richard II was mirrored in real life: in the renaissance era denigrating a man’s name warranted a duel.  It seems to me that the same holds true within the email industry.

Email based reputation, that is, IP reputation and/or eventually domain-based reputation, is the single most important factor for getting your emails delivered to the inbox.   If your email is diverted to the junk folder or has simply vanished— if it is blocked for any reason—it means that the gatekeepers or receivers have realized that your reputation was less than stellar.  Nowadays, senders need to think about two types of reputation: the reputation perceived by their subscribers and the reputation perceived by the ISPs or receivers.

Determining What Subscribers Want

By leveraging and analyzing engagement metrics through various email and social channels, a sender can universally determine how engaging a particular email is.  As ISPs’ algorithms continue to evolve and define “true” user engagement, a sender’s reputation becomes determined by the subscriber’s actions.  If, for any reason, an ISP diverts your email to the junk folder, in some respects your sender reputation will be tarnished in your subscriber’s eyes.  Fortunately, among the major ISPs, there is a common procedure for assessing subscriber engagement.   However, because ISPs work in stealth mode, this process is not entirely transparent yet.

In the play Othello, Cassio’s damaged reputation played a big role in the tragic plot.  Cassio’s reputation meant everything to him, but once Othello demoted him because of false suspicions about his character, Cassio’s life was essentially ruined. His behavior changed, and he was never able to confront Othello or tell him the truth about his relationship with Desdemona.   To avoid Cassio’s fate, senders must be prepared to act in a way that preserves their reputations.

As a sender, you cannot continue to hammer the ISPs with email that your subscribers aren’t truly engaging with.  If you do, your reputation will be compromised and ISPs may choose to block you.  If you get blocked, there are troubleshooting best practices that you should consider.   One proven method is to throttle your sends  This allows ISPs to digest and prioritize different mail streams before they can deliver your email to the inbox, “clearing” your good name.  Here is recent article from Laura Atkins about ways to resolve ISP issues and repair your tarnished reputation:  Guide to Resolving ISP Issues

Keep your Reputation by Extracting Spam Traps

One way to begin the process of clearing your good name is by extracting spam traps from your list. Spam traps are usually e-mail addresses that are created not for communication, but rather to lure spam.  The extraction process can be arduous; you will risk chopping off large blocks of your list in order to find these traps.  One way to find these traps is to

send a non-time sensitive email to your subscribers and send slowly.  Once a spam trap is triggered, the sender may receive that particular email address through real-time feedback loops, allowing the extraction process to begin.  Microsoft SNDS reports the time you hit the trap, so by discovering a reasonable way to mail slowly and knowing what section of the list is properly queued, you can be successful by stripping the spam traps out individually. You will likely lose some legitimate email addresses in the process, but that is preferable to a list riddled with spam traps.

Looking at the words of Shakespeare teaches us that reputation is critically important. Reputation helps people know whom to trust and allows them to make accurate judgments regarding a sender.  Additionally, reputation is what helps ISPs and RBLs make judgments about your sending history, which is critical in our current delivery landscape.   When it
comes to your email reputation, keeping a good name is crucial.  In this case, with apologies to Shakespeare, it’s just not true that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Photo Credit: Jack Dorsey