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What? My reputation has a score now?

By Poonam Patodia

SUMMARY: When I was in high school the principal always said, "know who you are and where you're from" and then followed a standard lecture about a reputation being a terrible thing to waste. In the digital world, "reputation" has assumed similar meaning and implication. If you send too many bad e-mails too often to too many bad e-mail addresses, you could be hurting your digital reputation.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) maintain a "reputation score" for each e-mail sender based on their past digital performance. Once this score slides below a threshold, ISPs start to block your e-mails, shunt them to oblivion in the bulk folder and never tell you what you did wrong. Hence, if you engage in any sort of e-mail marketing, you should read on to find out how you can reclaim your e-mail campaigns from 'blocklists' and 'blacklists.'

Clicking the "send" button does not mean your work is over. Ensuring your e-mails are delivered to the recipients' inboxes can be time-consuming and difficult. Here are 12 tips to help you navigate this ever-changing horizon.

  1. Control who can send e-mails.
    Every domain, such as, has a corresponding Internet provider (IP) address unique to that particular Internet site. All e-mails also have a corresponding IP address. Your IP address is your online identity. It is possible, therefore, for anyone within an organization to prevent his or her organization's IP address from delivering e-mails due to his or her bad practices with email.
    To avoid this situation, make sure only a set number of people - or better yet only one person - handles this form of communication. Ensure this person understands the proper protocol to keep your organization's name (and IP address) in good standing. If working with an e-mail service provider (e.g. Return Path, E-mail Labs, etc.), try to get an IP address devoted only to e-mails sent on behalf of your organization.

  2. Do not attach large files to e-mails.
    E-mails with attachments could directly land in junk folders. Provide detailed information on a Web page and provide a link in the e-mail for more information. Or simply copy and paste the information in your e-mail (if it is not too long). Compressed files (.zip, .tar etc.) and images are still strong signals for spam detection algorithms (sequences of instructions).

  3. Use a consistent sender's name and e-mail.
    Make it easier for your recipient to recognize you. Do not change from "John Welch" to "Church team." Do not change your e-mail address suddenly. If you must change it, provide sufficient notice to your readers and allow them to add your new e-mail address to their safelist (more on safelisting and whitelisting below). Once your recipient has mistakenly considered and reported your message as spam, you may be unable to contact them again.

  4. Avoid fictional or irrelevant sender names.
    Notice that spam filters award e-mails without sender's name (or with an empty name) with spam score points. The sender's name should not include numbers or symbols instead of your actual name. Rather than "no-reply@yourdomain" or "admin@yourdomain," provide readers with concrete, brief contact information, e.g. "John Welch" or "Your Church Name." The "reply-to" field also should not be empty.

  5. Honor "unsubscribe" requests immediately.
    Not only is this a legal requirement, but if not adhered to, it may get you in serious trouble with Internet service providers.

  6. Expected delivery time = increased response.
    When your subscribers start to "expect" your e-mail to arrive in their inbox on a certain day and time of the week or month, they are less likely to misunderstand your newsletter and report it as spam. They might, in fact, want to read your content and be more receptive to any special offers or promotions you include.

  7. Motivate users to add you to their safelist or whitelist.
    You might have seen this under different disguise: "Safelist," "Whitelist," "Add to Address Book" or "Ensure Delivery." However, the point is the same. Ask readers to add you to their address books to ensure your e-mails are delivered to their inbox rather than to junk or bulk folders. You can create safelist instructions in minutes. Click on "Whitelist Us" at the top right corner of MyCom e-newsletter. Copy and paste the instructions after replacing the e-mail/e-newsletter names, e-mail address(es) and domain names with your appropriate information.

  8. Test e-mails before sending them out.
    Always check the "spam score" of your newsletters with Free Content Checker, SpamCheck, Contactology and similar tools.

  9. Manage bounced e-mails.
    Once a bounced e-mail has been received, dig deeper to understand the level. If a soft bounce occurs, which often means the recipient's inbox is full, you do not want to eliminate that address from future communications. If it is a hard bounce, or the recipient server reports that the user does not exist, it should be removed from your list immediately.

  10. Slow your e-mail delivery.
    Avoid sending e-mails to multiple (dozens or even hundreds) recipients using the Carbon Copy field (CC: -attribute) of your e-mail envelop. When ISPs detect a flood of e-mail, it looks like the work of a virus or a spammer. If you have a large list, use professional e-mail-delivery services. E-mail service providers' tools are smart enough to understand the recipient servers' acceptance level and to deliver at that rate.

  11. Learn about inbox seeding.
    If you plan to use a third-party e-mail service provider (ESP), your organization will want to verify the availability of inbox seeding, or allowing e-mail campaigns to be "seeded" with essentially a test e-mail that verifies deliverability. This way, you can monitor delivery to Web-based e-mail providers to ensure e-mails are delivered to an inbox and not the smap folder.

  12. Avoid graphics and complex HyperText Markup Language (HTML) elements.
    Spam-filters consider a number of issues related to HTML. For instance, if the newsletter has too many closed tags, too many graphic (images) or structural (tables) elements, it gets just as many spam score points. Many readers use software (e.g. Outlook) that automatically blocks images; if users do not understand what the e-mail is about, they will report it as spam. Complex HTML (particularly if more than 50 percent of HTML codes are HTML tags) is generously awarded with many spam score points. Keep it simple.

---Poonam Patodia is the Electronic Marketing Manager at United Methodist Communications.

Part II of this article will focus on technical issues related to ensuring e-mail delivery. Readers will learn about:

  • Listing hygiene and feedback loops

  • Authenticating e-mail

  • Monitoring sender "reputation"

  • Verifying setup of your e-mail server

Disclaimer: Everything in this article relates to distributing e-mails to a large list. These may not be relevant in cases of one-to-one and small group e-mails.