Know Your Score: The Risks of a Poor Email Reputation

A new report from the email marketing service Return Path highlights the dangers of sending marketing emails from a domain with a poor reputation—as well as what you can do to improve yours.

Are you thinking about your email reputation?

Not what people think about your organization’s email messaging, but rather how email servers perceive your domain, using something called a sender score. A poor sender score—one brought down by readers marking your messages as spam or because your messages are sent to questionable addresses—can prevent your emails from showing up in a legitimate user’s inbox. And that can harm on your marketing reach.

These scores and their impact are a key focus of a new report from Return Path. The company’s Sender Score Benchmark Report, an analysis of more than 4 trillion email messages, highlights just how painful a low sender score can be and how helpful a high score is.

“If email doesn’t reach the inbox, brands lose the opportunity to connect with customers and ultimately make a sale—so every message counts. But hitting the inbox is harder than ever,” Return Path President George Bilbrey said in a news release. “That’s why monitoring your reputation and maintaining it at the highest level possible is critical to email marketing success.”

The report notes that email senders that score between 91 and 100 (on a scale of zero to 100) have a complaint rate of less than 0.5 percent, while those with a score between 81 and 90 see a complaint rate of about 3.2 percent. Senders with scores between 71 and 80 have a complaint rate of around 4 percent.

A failure to properly maintain a list by removing old addresses, a process called list hygiene, can put a crimp on sender scores, according to the report, which also draws attention to the practice of “spam traps,” or email addresses specifically set up to catch bad mailers.

Don’t Miss the Inbox

So how do sender scores hurt your marketing reach? While the report notes that different email providers have different formulas for assessing different kinds of messages, a higher send score tends to correlate with a higher likelihood of a message hitting the inbox on services such as Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, Microsoft Outlook, and Gmail. (The report found that, of the four services, AOL Mail tends to be most permissive of low sender scores, and Gmail the least permissive.)

In general, a sender with a score above 90 is 20 percent more likely to get a message into the recipient’s inbox (92 percent) than a sender with a score between 81 and 90 (72 percent), and 47 percent more likely than a sender with a score between 71 and 80 (45 percent).

But the report notes that sender scores are not the only factor influencing whether an email hits its mark.

“Marketers who ignore complaints and retain spam traps and unknown users on their list will come to find their email banned from the inbox, as those metrics begin to impact their sender reputation,” the report states.

Knowing your sender score might be a good starting point for understanding where your marketing messages stand—and how to fix them, if you need to. has a tool to help you determine yours.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!