How to Improve Your Sending Reputation

In a perfect world, there would be unicorns, unlimited pizza, and all your email campaigns would land in your recipients’ inbox. Unfortunately, 2017 isn’t living up to that ideal, and email deliverability is not guaranteed (maybe more disappointing than the lack of unicorns). It’s easy to forget about deliverability when you don’t have a glaring issue… especially when it’s hard to fully understand what’s going on under the hood.

Email deliverability success means your emails arrive in your recipients’ inbox. Email deliverability failure means your email gets filtered to spam or blocked by your recipient’s ISP (Internet Service Provider). This post discusses different factors that lead to deliverability successes and failures.

Many marketers assume email deliverability success - if your company isn’t a fake Nigerian prince, why would your emails go to spam? It may be surprising to hear that in Return Path’s Email Deliverability Report, it was found that 21% of opted-in emails never make it to the inbox. These emails include things like subscription confirmations, password resets, and shipping notifications. Pretty important stuff.

These are emails your customers need to receive (and could fault you for not receiving). Luckily, cutting that 21% down by even one percent can have a big impact, depending on the size of your mailing list. You can calculate what a one percent deliverability improvement means for your brand with this tool from SendGrid.

If you’re starting to stress about email deliverability, take a deep breath. There are proven strategies you can use to cut that 21% down and improve your sending reputation (it will be easier than improving your high school reputation, guaranteed).

Email Content & Formatting

  • First thing’s first, ensure your emails are properly formatted. Include body text that accurately describes the purpose of the email. Emails with just one image and no descriptive text often get flagged by ISPs because they can’t tell what the image is without anything else to go off of.
  • Include content that your subscribers will engage with. If your emails are getting opened and clicked, this is a great sign to ISPs. Place your call-to-action (CTA) on a button to encourage engagement.
  • Write with standard conventions. Not only will using all caps or many exclamation marks make your subscribers think you’re yelling at them, it will almost always ensure your email gets caught in spam filters. Especially in the subject line.
  • Test it. Send a test email to yourself and open it on desktop and mobile. Check what it looks like in Gmail, Hotmail, and other common email services. If you’re formatting with HTML, double check preview and test emails to make sure they’re properly coded. You can also try running your email through a service that gives a spam score, like Mail Tester (this is built in if you’re using Hive!).


It all comes down to whether or not your subscribers want to be receiving the emails you send. The first step here is to make sure you only email people who have opted-in to your list. The second step is to segment your list by parameters like age, location, and gender that you can send specific, relevant emails to. A 16-year-old male in Los Angeles probably doesn’t need a down-filled winter coat, but he might want to buy holographic shorts.


This second point about relevance goes without saying (but I’m writing it anyway) - buying email lists of people who never asked to hear from you is an easy way to get all of your emails sent to the spam folder. Sidenote: it’s also possible that lists you buy will include spam trap email addresses (“honey pots”) created by ISPs to catch spammers, which could get you on a blacklist. Buying lists is a horrible idea, all around. Please don’t do it.


Consistent volumes are important when trying to improve deliverability. You want to avoid doing anything that spammers are known to do, like sending one-off blasts to large email lists. Scattered or seemingly random email blasts will damage your reputation, whereas sending a consistent amount of emails every week or month will help increase your deliverability. You can achieve this kind of consistency by creating a weekly newsletter, a monthly update on new products, or a quarterly sale campaign. This is particularly important if you’re sending from a dedicated IP. If you’re sharing an IP with others, your ESP should be doing some work in the background to smooth out any irregularities.


This one’s pretty straightforward: the less complaints, the better. Make it clear how to unsubscribe from your list in every email you send to prevent your recipients from reporting your message as spam when they can’t find a way off of your list.


Bounce Rate

Like complaints, you want to aim for a low bounce rate. To ensure a good reputation, only a small percentage (anything over 3% is risky!) of your emails should bounce (aka be returned by the ISP because the email account is no longer active). A high bounce rate affects your reputation because it points to your list hygiene being inadequate. If your list needs a good shower, you can use list cleaning services like NeverBounce. Another option you have is to use email software that cleans out invalid email addresses for you automatically.


One of the worst things for your sending reputation is to get on a blacklist - lists created by ISPs that could block you from emailing anyone under a certain provider (e.g. Gmail). As mentioned before, the best way to stay off these lists is to only send to people who’ve opted into your emails, make it easy to unsubscribe to reduce complaints, and send emails consistently. If you do get stuck on a blacklist, there is still hope for the future - follow the previous tips to rebuild your sending reputation. If things are really dire, you may want to start sending from a new IP.

Email deliverability isn’t exactly a walk in the park, but neither is living in a world without unlimited pizza. If you’re mindful of the factors listed in this post, it’s guaranteed that you’ll continue to improve your sending reputation, landing in as many of your subscribers’ inboxes as possible.