The Myths (And Truth) About Domain Reputation

Many of the larger ISPs (including Yahoo, Gmail and AOL) have added domain-based reputation systems to their anti-spam systems.  These ISPs now tie measures of sender reputation (for example: "this is spam" complaints, spam trap hits, unknown user rates, "this is not spam" votes) to the sending domain rather than just the Internet Protocol (IP) address.  Domains that look good on these metrics relative to other domains will have their mail accepted into the inbox.  

Previously, sender reputation had largely been tied to the IP address of the sending mail server.  This presents a few problems for marketers: (1) Sharing IP addresses with other mailers becomes risky. If another tenant of your IP starts misbehaving, your deliverability may suffer. Sharing IPs is common practice at many Email Service Providers (ESP); (2) It requires mailers to re-establish a reputation when moving to a new IP address.  This makes adding a new mail server or switching to a new service provider risky and time-consuming. 



In email deliverability blogs and in conversations with clients, there seems to be an underlying expectation that domain-based reputation systems at top ISPs will cure all deliverability problems for commercial mailers.  I'm increasingly concerned that this excitement from email marketers is based on unrealistic expectations of how domain reputations actually works, and the role it will play in determining inbox placement.

Domain reputation is a very good thing - but it's not going to cure all your deliverability ills.

Let's examine some of the myths about domain reputation:

Mailing from a Shared IP address is Riskless with Domain Reputation: Partially True. While domain reputation should make this less risky, it will not eliminate all risks.  ISPs aren't generally shedding their IP reputation systems rather they are adding domain reputation to the mix. If you are mailing from a shared IP where one of the other tenants has a bad enough reputation to get you listed on a Spamhaus blacklist or cause the ISPs local IP reputation system to show the IP address as very bad, you will have delivery problems.

Domain Reputation Gives Me Domain Portability. I Can Move To a New IP Address and Not Be Subject to The Throttling That Frequently Accompanies Mailing From A Fresh IP Address.  Mostly True.  This is one of the major advantages of domain reputation system for large volume mailers.  In our experience with clients, changing IP addresses is becoming easier at the ISPs that are using domain reputation. However, IP address reputation systems are still in place.  It does appear that new IPs need to be "warmed up"; it seems to take less time before a new, better reputation is registered.

Domain Reputation Is Going To Improve My Inbox Placement Rate (IPR):  False.  Looking at the Inbox Placement Rate for mailers that have implemented Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM), inbox placement rates haven't improved over the period of time that domain reputation is being implemented.  Anecdotally, there is some improvement for mailers sending from a shared IP environment - but this needs to be studied further.

Domain Reputation Will Become More Important for Certification Programs:True.  Domain reputation is a better way to measure a mailer's entire sending reputation (rather than IP addresses) and makes administration of the program a lot easier.  Domain reputation will certainly become a more important part of my firm's certification program.

What does domain reputation mean for marketers?  What do mailers need to do differently?  The bottom line really hasn't changed too much for mailers that are interested in high Inbox Placement Rates:

Authenticate your mail with Domain Keys Indentified Mail (DKIM): The domain that is being authenticated by DKIM is what these reputation systems are assigning a value to.  If you want to take advantage of what domain reputation has to offer, you need to be authenticating.  Authentication has a lot of other great anti-phishing and anti-spoofing advantages as well.

Monitors Reputation:  You need to monitor both IP and domain reputation.  There are a variety of public services that allow you to monitor both.  A couple of ISPs are working on tools to allow them to share more reputation data with senders.

Create Targeted, Engaging Mail Programs that Drive Excellent Reputation Metrics:  The subscriber experience continues to be the most important factor in determining reputation.  As a marketer, it's your job to create excellent mailing programs that provide subscribers with the email messages they want.  Do this, and an excellent reputation and high inbox placement will follow.



4 comments about "The Myths (And Truth) About Domain Reputation".
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  1. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., December 2, 2009 at 12:06 p.m.

    Thanks for the terrific overview, George. As George states "The bottom line really hasn't changed too much for mailers that are interested in high Inbox Placement Rates."

    The critical recommendation missing, however, from this article is that 95% of reputation issues stem from problems with the underlying list. If your list suffers from too many "This is spam" complaints, bounces, or spamtraps, your emails will get blocked and you'll soon find yourself blacklisted.

    Thus, keeping your email list clean and up-to-date is now even more important than NCOA'ing your postal list on a regular basis. While sending direct mail and catalogs to old addresses can be costly, you're only wasting money on the portion of your file that's undeliverable. For email messaging, however, an old or dirty list can bring down your entire email marketing program so the risk of ignoring email list hygiene is definitely not something anyone can afford.

  2. david Baker from RedPill, December 2, 2009 at 4:56 p.m.

    Well Put George!!!

  3. Ebongue Martin from intela, December 3, 2009 at 11:37 a.m.

    hi there,

    you mentioned "a variety of public services that allow you to monitor domain reputation" could you please provide some example. I know about IP reputation service but I didn't know there were many around for domains. there is obviously surbl/urbl but they only tell you if you are listed or not and that's pretty much it.

    thanks in advance and thank you very much for this useful article


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