Beyond the Basics of Deliverability : Brand Reputation vs Email Reputation
Sometimes, if you use the same methods to figure out a problem, you won’t get the answer. It is only when you think uniquely, that you can get to the root cause of the issue.
Creative thinking to solve a persistent problem is often required for deliverability issues. Often so for brand marketers in email marketing foreseeing the smooth workings of their carefully crafted email program.
But on occasions, it is paramount to think differently and creatively for a marketer to maintain the health of their email program.
For example say, your domain and IP reputation are high and your content is relevant. But your emails are still landing in spam with major MSPs (Mailbox service providers).
After all, a good email reputation and relevant content will correspond to high email deliverability which most mailbox providers preach about. But, sometimes even when your email hygiene is good and you are following all the good practices your email IPR (Inbox placement ratio) oscillates.
Now, why does that happen?
I am going to add a little caveat of information here, that gets missed when going through your usual deliverability checks.
It is to monitor your brand reputation.
In this post we are going to tackle the following topics:
- What is brand reputation? How is it different from email reputation?
- How does your email marketing program affect your brand reputation?
- The different ways email and brand reputation are interlinked
- The various ways you can ensure that your brand reputation remains optimum.
So we must first start with figuring out what is brand reputation and how it exists in tandem with your email reputation.
How are email and brand reputation different from each other?
As we all are familiar, MSPs provide a certain reputation for your domain and your delivery IPs based on your mailing activity. Google Postmaster provides a range of metrics including the above for your Gmail mailing activity.
Yahoo provides a sender score on your delivery IPs to determine if they are high or bad reputed.
Email reputation, of course, plays a substantial role for MSPs to filter a sender’s emails into inbox or spam. If the health of your ips and domain is high, then there is a good probability for your email deliverability to be smooth.
Besides the above metrics, mailbox providers and search engines do a lot of social listening as part of their anti-spam filtering process.
The data is collected from a variety of sources like social media shares, online advertising, affiliate sources, content, and SEO, etc. This data is then processed by the anti-spam algorithms by MSPs and a score is provided for the same based on how the brand has performed on their online presence.
Depending on this score, a brand reputation pattern is created by MSPs. This has a role to play in deciding whether the email communication by the brand deserves to be placed in inbox or spam.
How does email marketing impact your brand reputation?
As long as you are maintaining a healthy brand reputation and presence, it should not be affecting your email program. But otherwise, if any of your other sources like affiliate mailing stream has performed poorly on your brand campaigns, the brand reputation can then be demoted by the MSP.
Mailbox providers like Gmail also have advanced anti-spam filter techniques based on AI/MLwhich could land your brand in their block list if your mailing pattern repeatedly abuses their spam filters.
Your brand’s website carries a reputation with search engines, which determines how it gets ranked on their search ranking pages. In Aug 2015, Google filed a patent where they have stated that Gmail will be using brand emails to evaluate their web search results. These are the kind of social signals that will be followed by Gmail to ensure that its spam filter is making informed decisions after considering a plethora of data from various sources.
Thus, your brand’s reputation and the way mailbox providers view it is as important to consider as your email reputation.
Your email marketing activities can thus affect your brand reputation depends on the practices you follow.
Apart from the email channel, a lot of other factors also affect your brand reputation like the number of good reviews it receives on Google, your website traffic flow and social media shares, etc.
It is estimated according to a survey that 25% of a company’s market value comes from their online reputation and 25% of consumers read online reviews to know more about a business. Hence, it becomes all the more necessary for a marketer to make sure their search ranking is not impacted due to any of their other marketing channels like email.
The pattern apparent here is of interdependency between your email health and your brand and the marketing activities around it.
In the next part, we shall look at the strategies a marketer can use to maintain brand and email health at an optimum level in order to boost your email deliverability and avoid disruptions with your email program.
It’s complicated: The relationship between brand and email reputation
A brand’s email program is normally categorized into two parts – promotional and transactional traffic. But there are also affiliate email programs that are run by some brands to get leads or more advertising done from affiliate vendors.
If you have such mail streams running as part of your email program then you need to monitor them and be extra careful as, if those emails are going spam or getting any abuse complaints then it could indirectly affect your brand reputation.
An example could be an affiliate stream of mailing, where your campaigns have been going spam for some time and your brand has eventually been blocked by the Mailbox provider. In such cases, any mention of your brand name in your other streams could be detrimental for inbox placement.
It goes without saying that MSPs will also be monitoring all your sources of mailing and not just promotional. As such any demotion in your brand reputation could prove to be a show-stopper for your email activity. This only happens in cases where brands have neglected their email marketing activity for a long while.
If the domain reputation of your affiliate run domain is low or bad, then Google could decide to lower your SEO score as well. This leads to your brand name coming under the watchful eyes of anti-spam groups and mailbox providers.
According to the Google patent, any undesirable link sent to your users from your email, if found fishy or suspicious will bring about a demotion in your reputation. This can also correspond to a demotion in search ranking.
In time if your emails continue going spam and getting user abuse then ultimately, it will lead to your brand getting blocked from mailing by mailbox providers.
If one mail stream gets blocked then it will have an adverse effect on your other mail streams as well where you are using your brand name in either your domain or the campaign content. This leads to a detrimental effect on your entire email program.
It is a mirror effect, where if you fix an issue on one end, it will reflect on the other as well.
Now since we have established the relationship between the two, let’s get into the ways to boost your email health to protect your brand reputation.
5 ways to keep your email and brand reputation in check:
Set targets for your email program
Clearly defined email goals, go a long way in determining the success of your email program. This will vary for different business models. If you have your north star metrics in mind while designing the email program then your campaigns will be more effective in pulling your audiences and keeping them engaged.
Your subscriber journey starts with the user coming to your website and signing up. You should build certain journeys according to the buyer persona.
While setting goals for any email marketing strategy before starting sounds like a sensible thing to do, but not many brand marketers actually practice this.
Before you start sending your lucrative brand emails to your subscribers, you need to have certain targets on paper with regards to the program.
Currently, a brand marketer might decide on 3 different email streams of the program like promotional, transactional, and affiliate.
You need to be aware of the goals related to each of these mail streams as in case they are not properly executed, then it might harm your deliverability and domain reputation in the longer run.
If you are running automated journey campaigns then what are the success metrics you are measuring to get the leads?
Are the users being mailed according to their desired frequency or are you overwhelming them?
- If you have a promotional campaign calendar prepared, then how do your offers stack up alongside your competition?
- It would be wise to send some informational campaigns along with offer campaigns for brand indoctrination of your users. They offer thought leadership and visibility to those users.
- You also need to measure the churn rate of your mailing list, in order to determine the percentage of users who are interested in your communication.
- What are your goals of ROI and engagement with your email program?
- If there is an affiliate program you have planned then how are you going to nurture your leads there and how many conversions are you expecting?
All these questions need to be answered with clear numbers before you start your mailing program.
If you start with a plan, then half the battle is won.
Segment your mailing list
If you send campaigns regularly to your entire mailing list, then there is a possibility that not all of them will be responding positively to your email campaigns or they may not be responding at all. This practice of email blast is harmful to your deliverability.
One factor that boosts your website traffic and your brand presence is the click-through rate you achieve with your campaigns. This lets users go to your website and access your content.
In order to get maximum responses from your email campaigns, it is necessary for a marketer to get their hands dirty with list segmentation.
When you target a particular type of audience from your list depending on their attributes like demographics, gender, transaction history, with relevant content, then they are highly likely to open and check your message. Personalization is the key to providing a high level of user experience from your campaigns.
When your open and click rates are high for your campaigns, this ultimately means that your audience is engaging with your messages. More of this on a consistent basis will keep regular traffic coming to your online portal. Also, this will ensure a loyal base being created for your promotions.
A marketer should refrain from sending emails to inactive non-openers for the last 1 year. These users have not responded to your campaigns for a long time and hence need to be a part of your sunset policy.
A regular high level of engagement will definitely correspond to targeted traffic likely to convert which will be viewed favorably by the MSPs.
Monitor all email streams for deliverability checks
This is perhaps the most important factor to consider of all.
Email deliverability plays a crucial role in letting your emails be placed into the user's inbox. If your deliverability is high then your users will be able to open your emails and engage with them. No one checks their spam folder for emails!
Therefore, if you wish to keep tabs on your brand reputation then you need to improve your deliverability on all your mail streams.
We have observed an instance where the emails of a brand had very low inboxing and there were consistent abuses and spam complaints on the campaigns.
Despite consulting for strategies to improve the inboxing percentage, the brand went ahead with their batch and blast campaigns with their sending domain.
This resulted in their promotional and transactional program getting affected with low inboxing and a high percentage of spam.
Finally, the mailbox providers decided to blacklist the brand and block their emails entirely. This leads to a bad situation where you have to resurrect your email program from scratch again.
Thus the success of your email program depends directly on your email deliverability. MSPs like Gmail have stringent anti-spam filters that can punish your bad mailing on one stream to reflect on your other streams.
Monitoring all your mail streams for deliverability or engagement related issues is key to maintaining a healthy email program. It will also boost your brand reputation as more visibility will propel for greater web traffic and new subscribers.
Email Authentication is a must
Email Marketers should consider applying all authentication methods while sending your emails as it helps improve your brand perception with mailbox providers.
There are certain email authentication standards to avoid phishing, spoofing other cyberattacks during your email transmission.
Protocols like SPF help to authenticate your delivery IP and server sending the emails to the recipient server. DKIM helps to encrypt and decrypt your email content based on cryptographic keys being shared.
DMARC allows domain reports to be submitted to the sender so that they know if their domain is being misused anywhere on the internet. It helps to provide security and control of the domain to the sender.
These standards authenticate your emails for the mailbox providers to deem them safe for delivery. Applying these standard protocols to your emails will send a signal to the mailbox providers that your domain is trustworthy and sending the genuine email communication to your subscribers.
This should improve your email deliverability and minimize the chances of brand misuse by any third party. Thus, email authentication leads to your brand being perceived positively by Mailbox service providers (MSP).
Monitor DNSBL and anti-spam blacklists
Thou shall honor the blacklists.
Every brand marketer has had its domain or IP blacklisted at least once by DNSBLs.
DNSBL (Domain name system blacklists) are basically spam moderating lists set up by certain anti-spam organizations to minimize spam and block those senders who have a history of sending spam-related communication.
There are several domains and IP black-lists which monitor your email traffic and if you are indulging in any bad practices, you will blacklist your domain or IP, blocking your emails entirely.
Your domain or IP can also be reported to anti-spam groups by your users in case they don’t wish to receive any email communication from you or you are following any bad practices for reaching out to them.
An email marketer will then have to whitelist their domain/IP and make sure they follow good practices going forward to avoid coming under their scanner.
Now, if your sending domain is the same as your website domain and if your domain gets blacklisted by a DNSBL , then this could lead to a demotion in your brand score set by the MSPs.
In case you are using multiple sub-domains of your main domain (website) for your other mail streams then even those may start oscillating on their inboxing.
If you don’t fix the root cause of the problem and continue mailing in high volumes, then it can be a complete show-stopper for your email activity.
We have observed some cases where domain Xyz.com is the website domain which has been blacklisted by DNSBL. If you don’t fix the issue with this domain it will transcend to cause issues on abc.Xyz.com (subdomain). If you continue mailing in large volumes and ignoring the root cause of the issue then, it can lead to your brand name (Xyz) getting filtered by MSP anti-spam filters.
If your brand is perceived as a high volume sender of spam emails through any of your mail streams, then it could lead to MSPs like Gmail caching your brand keyword in their filter mechanism.
If you now use the brand name anywhere in your mail activity, there is a high probability that it will lead to spam.
This would be a setback for your brand reputation. MSPs will also perceive your brand as being a bad sender and fixing the reputation will take time.
Therefore, avoiding getting featured in the DNSBLs and fixing the root cause of your email traffic is vital for maintaining good hygiene of your email program.
Mailbox providers like Gmail have now refined their spam filters to listen for social signals as well as how the band performs in the online space.
As they are collecting data from various sources on the internet about your brand, it is no more just monitoring only the domain and IP reputation to know the health of your email program. They also have to pay attention to how their brand reputation is getting affected by their email marketing efforts and vice versa.
Checking on your brand presence and monitoring your email channel for issues regularly will be a proactive way of ensuring that you don’t face any long term problems with your marketing channels.