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It’s a question most digital marketers have been forced to ask themselves at one point or another in their careers. Your email open rates have gone from glowing 20% plus, to less than 10%, and no matter how great your subject lines, you seem unable to return them to their glory days.

The bad news is that your subject lines could be written by Shakespeare and sprinkled with gold leaf and fairy dust, and it still wouldn’t make a difference. 

The good news is that there are a series of steps you can take that will work fix this problem for you.

But it’s not an overnight solution.

But let’s take a step back…

Some time back, you sent a bad campaign.  Maybe you sent it out to ropey data. Maybe you included too many CAPITAL LETTERS in your subject line.  Maybe you just got unlucky with your email content (during COVID we worked with an amazing company that was legitimately selling PPE, but when inboxes became flooded with PPE spam, they got tarnished with the same brush by the Email service Providers (ESPs). 

Whatever the reason, the Email Service Providers of the world raised a red flag against your name, and this was further compounded when, rather than giving your email reputation a break, you continued to send out emails, with ever decreasing open rates.

So, let’s fast forward back to today.  You’ve got great content to push out, but a tarnished domain name and IP reputation that’s resulting in your emails getting spammed.  Spammed emails don’t get read by the recipient.  Fact.

So how do you get yourself out of this hole?

Sender reputation is built on two factors.

  1. IP reputation
  2. Domain reputation

IP reputation’s the easiest to fix.

Your IP is tied to the server that is being used to dispatch your emails.  Your IP’s like an address, and if your IP gets a bad rep, it’s pretty easy to move house.  It’s possible your IP’s poor reputation isn’t even your fault.  If you’re sharing your address with a load of noisy neighbours, their unsavoury behaviour can affect your own reputation. To fix this, either ask your email sender to move you to another shared IP with better neighbours, or pay for your own dedicated IP (and who doesn’t want their own exclusive address?)

Domain reputation’s a bit trickier – it’s more like a credit score that’s hard to shift.

But just like credit score, to shake your salubrious past, you can adopt a new identity to make a new start 😉

So, what do we mean by that? Well, it’s easy enough to got out and buy a new domain, and although extreme, this approach means you can keep your email marketing domains completely separate from your day to day email activity.  We strongly recommend then going one step further with your new domain, branching it into subdomains, each one with a specific purpose.

So, let’s see how this would look for the owner of acme.com

Previously our acme user was sending emails to everyone on their data base using the email address hello@acme.com, but then their open rates started dropping.

So, they went out and brought the new domain acme.email. Now, they could have left it at that, and gone with the email address hello@acme.email, but because they’re canny digital marketers, they broke that domain down further into the subdomains hello@customer.acme.email, hello@webinars.acme.com and hello@new.acme.email.  That way, if the same thing happens and they accidentally send out an email campaign to a low quality list, the other subdomains will be relatively unaffected by the mishap (if you want to know how to set up an email inbox for a new domain, check out this article from our DNS providers, gandi.net).

Once you have your new subdomains set up, you can’t just jump straight into hitting the new subdomain with a barrage of email traffic. There’s a process that needs to be strictly adhered to in order to ensure deliverability best practise. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, we recommend making use of ReturnPath’s (now rebranded to Validity) checklist, as detailed below…

Domains for daily senders generally warm up faster than those for weekly senders.

  • If the warmup is rushed or mismanaged, deliverability problems will likely occur.
  • Verizon Media (AOL and Yahoo!), Microsoft, and Gmail are more likely to need a longer warmup period.

Pre-warmup checklist

Before warming up the domain:

  • Create a Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record for the new Return-Path domain (if applicable). For domains that will not be used to send email, create an empty SPF record (v=spf1 -all).
  • If you are changing the DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) domain, create a new DKIM domain (d=) and sign up that domain with the Yahoo! feedback loop. 
  • Update IP-based complaint feedback loop addresses if the old domain is deactivated and was used to receive feedback loop messages.
  • Create a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) record and set the policy to monitor (p=none). For domains that will not be used to send email, set the policy to reject (p=reject).
  • Update the WHOIS record for the domain with correct information and do not use a domain privacy service.
  • Set up a mail exchange (MX) record for the new domain to allow for incoming email.
  • Create the abuse@ and postmaster@ role accounts and add them to abuse.net.
  • Ensure all complaint feedback loops work properly and that complainers are added to a suppression list.
  • Ensure the bounce-handling process works properly, especially if the Return-Path domain has changed.
  • Determine if you need to notify subscribers about the change. Some subscribers will have your old sending address in their address book, so it may be necessary to send an email notifying them of the change and encouraging them to add your new sending address to their address book.

Best practices and warmup guidelines

  • Start with a low sending volume (a maximum of 1,000 subscribers per mailbox provider, per new domain, per day). If you cannot target specific mailbox providers, start with a volume of 1,000 total subscribers.
  • Target active subscribers in the beginning, since positive engagement helps build trust in the new domain.
  • Double the sending volume every three to four days until you reach your maximum daily volume.
  • Pause the warmup if results do not meet expectations. Warming up a new domain is not an exact science, so it is important to monitor performance, pause the warmup, and troubleshoot if problems occur.
  • Monitor performance using:
    • Internal performance tracking systems or those of your mailbox provider
    • Return Path Platform

The warmup process will go more smoothly if you use IP addresses with good sending reputations and  signed up with Return Path’s Certified Whitelist. Trust in the IP address helps establish trust in the new domain. If you already have a poor sending reputation and do not follow email marketing best practices, it is likely that deliverability problems will continue, regardless of the domain change.

Good luck young Jedi, and do contact us if you need a helping hand with anything 🙂

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