A good sender reputation will help your emails land in your prospects’ primary inbox and ensure everyone you want to get in touch with receives your emails.

But, if you don’t manage your sender reputation, it can drop, leading to lousy deliverability rates and lowering your email campaigns' ROI.

In this guide, I’ll show you what sender reputation is, why it matters, and how you can manage and improve your sender reputation to make sure your emails always land in the primary inbox.

Let’s dive straight in.

What is Your Sender Reputation?

Your sender reputation is an invisible score given to you by email service providers (ESPs) that reflects how much they trust you. The higher your score, the more the ESPs will trust you, and the more likely they are to send your emails to your recipients’ primary inbox.

A lower score doesn’t guarantee your emails will land in the spam folder, but it does increase the likelihood of them landing there, and your chances of seeing success with your outreach will be lowered.

If your sender reputation drops too low, ESPs are within their rights to block you completely from landing in the primary inbox or from landing anywhere in the inbox at all.

How Do I Check My Sender Reputation?

Inbox providers have their own unique systems to measure your sender reputation, and it's impossible to know exactly what your sender reputation is. 

Despite that, there are websites and tools that will give you insights into your sender reputation for you.

One of these is Sender Score. It provides a good benchmark to help you understand your sender reputation and shows you if you’re on any known blacklists. Here are the steps to determine your sender score:

  1. Press “Get Your Score”

  2. Type in your IP address and personal information

  3. Hit submit

You’ll see your score and can now figure out whether you need to improve your sender reputation or not.

Your score should fall into three buckets:

80+: Great Rating, continue following best practices and keep the factors above in mind

70-80: Good Rating, read the guide below for more information on how to optimize your sender reputation

0-70: Bad Rating, you must repair your sender reputation or your emails will likely get sent to spam consistently

If you have a score above 80, it means you send your email campaigns with confidence knowing that you won’t immediately end up in spam. With that said, you can just coast on your score — you still need to send high-quality emails and know how to improve your score in the event it decreases.

And, if your sender score is lower than you expected, there are ways you can recover from it and ensure your emails reach your prospects’ main inbox.

What Factors Affect my Sender Score and Sender Reputation?

Email inbox providers will primarily check your domain name and IP address’s previous activity - and determine if the address has participated in spam-like activity. How do they do this? They go through several factors to determine this, including the following:

1. Complaints & Reports By Recipients

If a recipient reports your email as spam, that will hurt your sender reputation. 

However, email service providers typically compare the number of emails marked as spam to those accepted - meaning a few complaints here and there won’t ruin your sender reputation. If, on the other hand, the majority of people you’re reaching out to are marking your emails as spam, your sender reputation will quickly fall.

And as a general rule of thumb, always send out high-quality, personalized, and genuinely valuable emails. Even if someone isn’t directly interested in what you have to say, they’ll be unlikely to mark you as spam.

2. Volume of Emails You Send

If your IP address sends out a massive volume of emails on a regular basis, this can negatively impact your sender score. 

But, volume doesn’t always equal spam, so ESPs will usually compare the number of emails you send to those ignored or reported as spam by your recipients.

A good cold email platform will provide features to help you manage this.

One straightforward and effective way to spread the volume of emails you send is to send from multiple inboxes. You can use QuickMail’s inbox rotation feature to enable this for you and your team to spread the volume of emails you send across different accounts. 

You can enable this on a campaign-by-campaign basis, and all you need to do is select the inboxes you want emails to send from.

It’s a simple but powerful way to ensure none of your email accounts are harmed by high-volume sending. 

3. Number of Bounced Emails

The average email list decays at approximately 25% per year. If you’re using old, outdated email lists, you’ll see 1 in 4 of your emails bounce, and possibly more if your list is low quality in general.

When email service providers notice that a quarter of your emails result in bounces, they’ll know you’re reaching out to people you don’t know, and spam lists often monitor those old email addresses to catch people sending mass, low-quality outreach.

4. Inbox and Domain Age

Time is one of your biggest assets when it comes to improving your sender reputation.

ESPs trust older accounts more for the simple reason that most spammers will buy an account and immediately start using it for spam.

If you’ve owned a domain and email address for a few weeks or months and haven’t done anything to cause problems, you’ll be trusted more and have a better chance of landing in the main inbox

How Do I Improve my Sender Reputation?

Using the factors above as a guide, consider the following strategies when working to improve your IP reputation.

1. Warm Up Your Email Inbox

If you buy a new email address, don't jump into sending hundreds of emails per day. If email inbox providers notice a newer source launching huge email campaigns, they'll flag that as problematic. 

When you have a new email address, start slow. Email your friends and colleagues, and use an email warmup tool like MailFlow (it’s free to use) to generate positive engagement on your account. MailFlow has a native integration with QuickMail, which is ideal for its users. 

It will send and receive emails on your behalf to generate positive engagement and show email providers that you’re a trustworthy sender.

Over time, you can slowly increase the number of emails you send per day - keeping in mind all of the factors above and how they might influence your sender reputation.

You can also use QuickMail’s deliverability reporting to see where your emails are landing and how the main inbox providers are treating your emails.

If there are any problems with your account due to a poor sender reputation, you’ll immediately know and can take steps to fix the problem.

2. Send Emails on a Consistent Schedule

If you send 10-20 emails per day to your team members and customers, then suddenly launch an email campaign with hundreds of emails going out per day, email service providers will notice.

Aim to keep your sending schedule consistent over time.

If you have a large list of prospects you want to reach out to, start by sending a low volume per day and slowly ramp up the volume over time or send your emails from multiple inboxes.

The key is that your email activity needs to look normal.

3. Get Removed From Blacklists And Work to Stay Off Them

Anti-spam groups and independent organizations like Spamhaus create blacklists to help ESPs identify - and block - potential spammers. If you suspect your IP address might have been blacklisted by one of these groups, use the following tool from WhatIsMyIPAddress to check.

If your IP is listed on any blacklists, it could harm your email marketing efforts, but don’t worry — you can get yourself removed.

  1. Visit the spam list operator’s website

  2. Look for the instructions on how to be removed and follow them

The process to manage this generally doesn’t take long, and it’s worth it. If your emails are being blocked you’ll be less likely to land in your prospects’ inboxes.

4. Avoid Spam Traps by Validating Your Email List

Spam traps are intentionally fake emails used by blacklist operators to catch spammers in the act. The following are the most common:

  1. Emails created by operators and posted on websites frequented by email scrapers

  2. Abandoned email addresses reactivated to see which accounts are still emailing it

  3. Emails with typos (e.g., @gmaii.com)

To avoid these traps, regularly review and clean your prospect list.

You can easily remove inactive and incorrect email addresses in your list using validation tools like NeverBounce and Dropcontact.

You can also automatically have this process run inside QuickMail. By linking your QuickMail account with your Dropcontact account, you can verify email addresses during the upload process.

Any email that can’t be verified will be removed from your campaigns and you won’t be at risk of emailing an invalid account or spam trap.

If you don’t have time to manage this, you can even hire a virtual assistant and have them spend time at the start of every month cleaning up your prospect list to make sure you’re only emailing active and valid email addresses.  

5. Start Paying Attention to Bounce Rates

When sending your campaigns, you’ll care most about metrics like open rate, click-through rate, and positive reply rate. But, make sure you’re also paying attention to your bounce rate. 

It’s a direct reflection of your email list quality and if it’s too high it could lead to your sender reputation being tarnished.

According to Campaign Monitor’s 2020 Email Marketing benchmark, the average bounce rate for emails rests at 0.7% across industries - meaning this impacts practically every email marketer.

For cold email lists, that number will inevitably be higher, at around 3-5% on average. If you see a bounce rate that high (or higher) on a consistent basis, you know you need to work on your list quality before sending future campaigns.

6. Always Personalize Your Outreach Emails

If someone you’re reaching out to thinks your intentions are genuine (which they should be), they’re unlikely to report you as spam. They might still ignore you, or let you know that they’re not interested, but they won’t go out of their way to flag your email as spam.

To ensure your prospects never flag you as spam, prove to them you’ve invested time into the email you send them using personalization.

Personalizing every email will take more time than sending the same cold email template to every prospect on your list, but it’s worth it.

You’ll start more conversations and protect your sender reputation.

One of the most effective ways to personalize your cold emails is with a completely custom opening line.

For example, if you know that a prospect recently won an award or their company was in the news, you can mention that in your opening line.

The best process for this is to write your opening lines in the same spreadsheet as you’re using for your prospect list.

Email opening line example

Then, when you upload your list into QuickMail and start writing your email templates, you can add an {{Opening_Line}} attribute to the template.

Your Opening_Line will automatically fill with whatever information you added to the column in your prospect list, so every email is unique and personalized.

ESPs will be happy to deliver your emails as they can see that you’re sending unique emails to every recipient, rather than sending out a generic template to hundreds of people at once.

As well as being a positive factor in improving your sender reputation and deliverability, personalization is the best way to warm up your cold email list and generate real engagement.

7. Use Your Call-to-Action to Encourage a Response

Rather than attempting to drive a one-way sales conversation, invite your prospects to start a conversation.

To do this, close every cold email you send with a question:

  • Is this something you’d consider exploring for {{company.name}}?

  • Do you have 20 minutes available for a call this week or next?

  • What’s the best way to schedule 5 minutes to talk with you?

Need some more inspiration for your call-to-actions? Check out our Cold Email CTA Swipe File here.

If you can encourage responses — even if it’s someone letting you know they’re not interested in your services right now — ESPs will see that you’re consistently generating real engagement and trust you as a sender.

A good rule of thumb is to leave your call-to-action open-ended enough that someone can reply in the best way they want to, but not open-ended enough to be confusing.

If you’re emailing an existing subscriber list — for example, inviting customers to your next webinar — then make sure to include links that people can click-through to (link clicks are also a positive signal to ESPs), or let them know to reply and you’ll send them all of the information to join on the day.

The key lesson here is to treat every email — even if it’s to a cold audience — as a way to start a conversation. 

Keep Your Sender Reputation High with the MailFlow Auto Warmer

Over time, every cold emailer will suffer from sender reputation problems. There’s always a chance that you see lower than expected reply rates, or a prospect is having a bad day and marks you as spam.

To avoid events like these hurting your sender reputation and email deliverability, use MailFlow's Auto Warmer with any email address you’re using for cold outreach. It has a native integration with QuickMail, which is ideal for its users. 

Once you connect your inbox with the MailFlow Auto Warmer, it will generate ongoing engagement with other inboxes in our network. Your account will automatically send emails and have replies generated. If your emails are ever marked as spam by ESPs, they’ll be unmarked as spam, and replied to.

Over time, it’ll ensure your email address is protected against a poor sender reputation and you’ll know if your emails are landing in spam thanks to the detailed reports that update daily.

If you’re using an email address that you know has a poor sender reputation, you can recover from it in 1-2 weeks using the MailFlow Auto Warmer.

It’s completely free to use, and ideal for anyone that wants to ensure they have a strong sender reputation to support their cold email campaigns. Click here to sign up and start warming up your email address for free. 

Managing Your Sender Reputation Moving Forward

Whether you’re sending cold emails to a list of prospects, or engaging with existing clients, you should always be aware of your sender reputation and what it means for your campaigns.

You need to treat your email address as an asset in your business. You can manage it over time using tools like MailFlow, and regularly review if you’re on blacklists using tools like Spamhaus, or WhatsMyIPAddress.

If you discover that you have a poor sender reputation, go back through the guide and make a checklist for yourself - are you following the best practices and ensuring ESPs trust you? Then, work through the list. If you do everything correctly, in time, your sender reputation will rise, and you can send email campaigns without worrying about landing in the spam folder.

If you have a great one, you are already on the right track - you just need to keep it that way by sending high-quality emails to a qualified list.

Now that you understand what factors to pay attention to, how to check your sender score, and improve it, you can get back to what matters - creating engaging email campaigns that drive growth at your business.