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Understanding Email Sender Reputation

Learn about what sender reputation is and how it affects your mass email deliverability.

Email sender reputation is a numeric score that ISPs assign to a sending IP address to gauge how "spammy" it may or may not be. Think of it like a credit score for email. If it's low, your email will probably be blocked or blacklisted. If it's high, you can enjoy consistent delivery of your email.

So What's My Reputation?

Pretty much all Email Service Providers (ESPs) handle reputation management for you. There are pros and cons to this. The pros are that you don’t have to setup feedback loops, manage blacklisting or other arcane technical things. The cons are that most providers group several clients together to share a pool of sending IP addresses. If you happen to be in the pool with spammers, your sending reputation might suffer for it. You’re also at the mercy of the provider to remove the IP address from blacklists, should that occur. Finally, if you send a lot of email and need to be assured that your emails go out at 9am and not 2pm you might get disappointed. The rate at which emails can go out depends on the overall traffic in your IP pool, so if it’s year-end giving time everyone is sending lots of email!

How Do I Improve It?

All that said most providers are very good at policing spammers and are very good at maintaining reputation for all their IP addresses. All you need to do is make sure you're following these basic guidelines:

  • Ask for permission to send email first. Use an email opt-in form and be sure to tell donors, event attendees, etc that they'll be added to your list. Don't surprise people!
  • Offer a way to unsubscribe. Most ESPs already do this for you but you should make sure an unsubscribe link is always available.
  • Publish relevant content. This may seem like a no-brainer but if your subscribers are leaving your list and marking your email as spam, you're not providing what they actually want.

Now if you happen to be a very high volume sender (50,000 emails per month or more), need to be assured of timely delivery and wish to manage your own sending reputation you’ll need to get what’s called a private IP address. Not all ESPs offer this but there are some that do. When you have a private IP address you’ll need someone on staff or contract to help manage it.

What Else Can I Do?

In some cases, try as you might, you’ll run into deliverability problems. There are services out there which can help enhance your deliverability for a fee. The industry leader right now is an organization called ReturnPath. If you meet certain standards around how you run your email program you can qualify for their Certification program which is like an elite club of email marketers. The benefit is that you get a really high sending reputation and should see significant improvement around deliverability. Another organization which offers similar services is called PivotalVeracity.


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