Sender Reputation and ESP Deliverability
Just as a bank or another kind of lender must thoroughly vet a customer before trusting them with a loan, an ESP needs to know something about a customer before letting them use their marketing automation platform. A bank has money to lend and expects to get it back in order to loan it to the next customer, so that bank must ensure the person (or business) borrowing the money has a high likelihood of repaying the loan. The money is the commodity.
An ESP has credibility to lend in the form of their deliverability reputation with the ISPs, so an ESP must ensure the email sender won’t damage that reputation and thereby impact the deliverability of the other email campaign senders as well. The reputation is the commodity.
Why sender reputation should matter to ESPs
A lender judges the trustworthiness of a person based on a credit score or a similar kind of evaluation. The bank asks, “Will this customer pay back the money they want to borrow?” The information gathered tells the bank about the consumer’s past behavior, and judgments are made based on that past behavior. A person or business that has defaulted on loans in the past, for example, is likely to default on a loan again in the future and presents a higher risk. In a similar way, an ESP can judge the trustworthiness of a customer based on that’s customer’s sender score. An ESP asks, “Will this customer takes steps to protect our hard-earned deliverability reputation?” Although a sender score in and of itself won’t give an ESP insight into the exact behaviors of an email marketer, that score will indicate whether the marketer has worked to achieve and maintain a good sending reputation—or not.
That sender score can be influenced by many factors, because there are so many ways to damage a sending reputation, including lack of list hygiene, sloppy list building, ignoring of hard bounces and spam complaints, sending to spam traps, and emails that fail to engage.
As an ESP, you can take every step necessary to achieve whitelisting status, but that clean, bright white can be muddied with gray if your customers are lax in their own deliverability practices. The sender score can let you know which customers are putting your reputation at risk.
How senders earn a reputation
Like a credit score reviewed by a bank, a marketer’s sending reputation can be determined by using Return Path’s reputation measurement tool, called the “sender score”. A sender score is based on past behavior and what that behavior says about a marketer’s trustworthiness as a sender.
Email marketers can damage their reputations through irresponsible behavior that results in spam complaints, emails sent to spam traps and honeypots, being greylisted or blacklisted, and sending emails to unengaged subscribers—which results in a low engagement rate.
Email marketers who are guilty of these transgressions don’t get away with them without damaging their reputations. ESPs should be wary of customers who fail to adhere to the email best practices that prevent this kind of behavior because the ISPs are looking at these sending reputations. They are deciding whether or not to let emails through based on the trustworthiness reflected by these reputations. A low sender score means an ISP is less likely to let a marketer’s emails through. A high sender score means more emails will be allowed through.
And all of this reflects upon and affects the ESP’s reputation as well. Let’s call it guilt by association.
A sender score can’t be left to chance
As an ESP, it’s a risky gamble to trust that all of your customers are striving for whitelisting status, crafting targeted emails that engage and delight their subscribers, or even regularly scrubbing their lists clean. Based on our experience in the industry, it’s much more likely that you have customers with sloppy list building practices, little hygiene, and an old-school focus on batch-and-blast rather than one-to-one email marketing.
You would do well to educate your customers, to ensure they are aware of how their behaviors affect their sending reputations and therefore their email deliverability. You would also do well to assume the worst about each customer, and to run their lists through a vetting service such as BlackBox, so you can catch any of the bad email addresses they let slip through.
Ensuring your customers know how to protect their reputations
You can start by making sure your customers are aware of their sender score, as well as aware of the behaviors that move that score up or down.
You could even be proactive and ensure your customers are aware of and following best practices such as:
- - Ramping up new dedicated IP addresses slowly and carefully
- - Regularly doing list hygiene
- - Using best practices for list building, and emphasizing quality over quantity
- - Using only permission-based email marketing
- - Using double opt-in
- - Monitoring spam complaints and hard bounces, and taking action to minimize them
- - Sending emails that engage their subscribers
- - Offering a preference center where subscribers can control what kinds of information they receive and how often
When banks loan money, they do so with care to increase the likelihood that the money will be paid back. They look at credit scores and make judgments about the trustworthiness of a given customer. That is how they lower their risk when lending money.
Be like the bank. Be wary. You, as an ESP are also loaning something valuable to your customers: your reputation. And any damage done to that reputation negatively impacts the sending ability of all of your other customers who are using the same platform: Yours!