Domain Based Reputation: here comes the Gold Rush

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The coming Gold Rush with Domain-Based Reputation

So, what are the benefits to a solid domain-based reputation?  What are the ramifications of a suspect domain? Will an ESP still send for me if my domain reputation is less than stellar? How will the actions of my subscribers influence my deliverability?  Is my domain portable?

The dawn of domain-based reputation is upon us and legitimate senders everywhere are celebrating, albeit soberly.   In a recent Pivotal Veracity report, many leading ISPs have begun to employ domain-based reputation as an effective technique of measuring a sender’s reputation by computing assorted spam-related variables and, perhaps more importantly, subscriber engagement actions.

As Chris Wheeler eloquently breaks it down for us here, ISPs currently base a user’s reputation at the IP level and have only recently begun to show that email authentication as an enabler for domain reputation, along with positive subscriber actions, will increase deliverability to the inbox.  Domain based reputation is a boon for the deliverability landscape and is rife with opportunity for ISPs, ESPs, reputation services, and marketers alike.

If and when ISPs choose to compute your sending reputation, this computation will become your domain score.  For now, let’s call it The Domain Reputation Index (DRI).   This index will essentially be a quick reference to show how ESPs and reputation organizations will track your deliverability and subscriber engagement. Simply put, the DRI will become part of your domain DNA.

Domain Portability: A Boon for Marketers and ESPs

For example, marketers who have a high DRI index (relative to industry benchmarks) will be able to leverage this score, and (assuming their domain name is portable) essentially have ESPs clamoring for their business. When a switch by a marketer occurs, ESPs will naturally gravitate toward DRI, much like a client with a good credit score who intends to find the best interest rate possible on a mortgage.

In a recent comment on a Clickz article, Jim Fenton comments that  “Portability is but one of the advantages of domain-based reputation, but the extent to which reputation is portable between ESPs depends on how the respective ESPs work.  Some ESPs send as, for example, newsletter.brandname.com, which would be portable if brandname decided to switch. But others send as brandname.espname.com, which would not be portable. The extent to which the brand wants to be portable needs to be considered when choosing ESPs.”

ESPs, on the other hand, have much to gain from the DRI windfall.  Properly managed, ESPs can manage preconditions to their clients that meet or exceed better than average DRI scores.  ESPs also have the ability to dictate the level of portability for domains.  This decision is ultimately that of the domain owner, but ESPs may help influence new customer adoption of the portable domains by offering “portability” as a standard or premium service.  The rising popularity of domain portability raises an important question: Should all domains be portable?

Furthermore, ESPs that have large domain sets (many clients) will have a “front row seat” to look into their senders’ DRI, and will  prescribe methods for developing a higher reputation score.  Clients of ESPs will adhere to stricter policy controls dictated by ISPs, knowing that their DRI is at risk if they continue to send suspect mail. DRI is also in danger when recipient engagement metrics fall below industry benchmarks.   When suspect senders realize that their DRI is below average and ISPs have shown them little mercy on delivering to the inbox, suspect senders will have no choice but to proactively engage or seize operations with ESPs.  The dilemma for ESPs is whether or not to maintain a relationship with marginal senders who are well paying, conscientious clients. Each ESP will have to decide where to draw the line on this type of client..   ESPs who stay vigilant will have the most to gain.

It’s 1849 for Reputation Services

The Domain-Reputation Index (DRI) may be governed by independent 3rd party entities who will aggregate data of millions of domains.  Companies that could represent such an index may include, but are not limited to, Pivotal Veracity, ReturnPath, GoodMail,  Email Data Source, ESPC, and others.  I did not mention DNS because that system is taxed already.  All of these companies may consider entering into the attractive DRI market, and establishing benchmark DRI thresholds that define, good, bad, and marginal sending behavior.  Among the various other reputation tools in their arsenal would be the ability to certify and publish millions of DRI domain records for the email industry.  Such a collection of records would cause these companies to become the most trusted throughout the industry.

Think of the big three credit reporting agencies, and then compare them to these email reputation-based organizations.  These entities will have rich warehouses of deliverability and engagement data that will span many verticals and benchmarks.  We’re already seeing traces of this with the latest Pivotal Veracity report on your email engagement index, which is based on multiple sources that are aggregated monthly across authenticated domains.  These reputation agencies will develop a hierarchy of domain reputation building blocks and become a trusted resource as leading advocates for legitimate senders.

As the email technology and deliverability landscape evolves in a direction that prioritizes individual consumer engagement, marketers must create more relevant communications than ever before to ensure they get into the inbox, creating better ROI.  Certainly, a deliverability index is imminent, whether we call it a DRI, or another name.  Organizations such as Pivotal Veracity, ReturnPath, EEC, MAAWG, CAUCE, or ESPC should begin to consider forming governing bodies focused on Domain Reputation.  The development of the domain reputation index is beneficial to the continued development of  legitimate senders.

It’s truly going to be interesting to see how the ISPs choose to develop a moniker for the concept of Domain Reputation.  Hopefully, this blog has answered some questions about the need for the domain reputation index in the email industry.  In theory, there are lots of advantages; however, the advent of DRI also gives rise to many more challenging questions.  How will domain-squatting or “domain look-alike” have an effect on DRI?  Do you limit the number of domains a corporate entity would require?  One would think that an effective DRI would exist by rolling up these “sets of domains” for larger corporate entities and developing “one” corporate DRI.  What would that entail? What about domain limits or regulation?

Also, there is disagreement about whether or not we need further regulation by limiting how many domains a corporate entity would have, given the versatility and the importance on branding.  Since a registry (which currently assigns and maintains domains) does not have the necessary systems in place to measure the use of a domain, what body, (government, or non-government) would be the likely prevailing body?

All of these questions will need to be pondered as the use of domain reputation in the email industry continues to unfold.  Undoubtedly, there will be bumps in the road along the way that need to be worked out.  Nevertheless, it is important to support the continuing development of the domain reputation index because, in the end, your reputation is all that you really have.

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