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Bring Your Sender Reputation Back to Life When Changing ESPs

Brian Sullivan
Strategy Director - Deliverability

perfect reputation watch.jpgAre you considering moving to a new Email Service Provider (ESP)?  While getting excited about all the great new functionality and reporting you'll get with your new email platform, don't forget to also consider that moving to a new ESP can affect your carefully nurtured sender reputation in ways you might not anticipate.  So how do you make the transition as successful for your deliverability as it will be for your email marketing efforts?
As a sender of mass email campaigns, your sender reputation with ISPs is tracked primarily against your IP address and to a lesser extent can also be tied to the domain in your From Address. When you migrate to a new ESP, your sender reputation will move to a new IP address and possibly to a new from address as well. It's critical to approach this change carefully in order to reincarnate and even optimize your sender reputation during the change.
When a new, unknown IP address suddenly starts to send mail, ISPs scrutinize traffic from that new IP address to determine if recipients indeed opted in to receive email sent through the IP and if the sender is a legitimate permission-based marketer. ISPs will not see the activity on the new IP as related in any way to the old IP; their filters will open a new file on your new IP and you will be starting with an essentially new sender reputation. Any misstep on the part of the sender, or in the setup of the individual email messages, can cause significant harm to the new IPs reputation. On the other hand, a carefully considered migration from one IP to the other will help maintain or even improve your sender reputation.
So what are the really important things for every marketer to consider when changing IPs? Your basic goal when establishing sender reputation on a new IP address is to optimize for positive response (opens, clicks, reads, scrolls, enabling images, safe listing your from address) and to minimize for negative events (complaints, ignores, deletes, hard bounces). What can you, the marketer, do to assure success?


  • Infrastructure & Authentication - Is every email message sent from your account configured correctly to identify you, the sender, and your new IP address? Are your MX record and reverse DNS passing ISP verification? Are authentication protocols (SPF, DKIM) passing? Are you setup with all available feedback loops so you can track, collect and suppress all complainers? All of these things should be setup and tested to pass before sending any campaign on the new IP address.
  • Compliance - Is your unsubscribe mechanism working as expected? Does your message contain the requisite elements to pass applicable laws governing mass email?
  • List Hygiene - Have you scrubbed out of your list emails that have hard bounced, complained, or unsubscribed? It's an easy step to get wrong, and hard to fix when it tarnishes your sender reputation on your shiny new IP address.
  • Volume - ISPs need a chance to evaluate email from your new IP address. Feed the ISPs low consistent volume for the first few days while spam filters get to know your IP address and your audience response patterns. After the first week or so, continue from initial low volumes to progressively ramp up to your peak daily volume. Avoid sending too much too fast. After all a common tactic of spammers is to send as much as possible through an IP before it's reputation is burned. ISPs are looking out for this behavior and will respond to offenders with swift action. Your ESP can help with a plan to 'warm' your new IP address for reputation success.
  • Optimizing good response - The better your positive response during the first days of sending on a new IP address, the stronger your early sender reputation. Send initially to the most engaged segments of your audience and send them a great offer or something that virtually guarantees they'll open and interact with your initial campaign. Show ISPs that your customers value your content and that they WANT to interact with what you are sending them. As you continue to ramp up volume during the first month or so, be very careful to keep user engagement optimized to further cement your good sender reputation.
  • Avoid the negative - Make sure your campaign does everything to garner positive response, and avoids anything that might drive ignores and complaints.  Again optimize the stickiness of your content, message or offer for strong response. Don't send a campaign that recipients will ignore. Give them a compelling reason to open and click.
  • Content - Consider a campaign that raises awareness of your new From Address so that your audience does not react with confusion when they start to receive mail from a new source that may not look quite like you. Encourage interaction with your campaign with a strong call to action, and ask the reader to add your new From Address to their safe sender list or email address book. Avoid keywords or domains that might be flagged by ISP spam content filters.
  • Watch your back - This is paramount... throughout the process of establishing your sender reputation on a new IP address, monitor critical deliverability metrics daily. Make sure bounce and complaint rates stay low, and opens and clicks stay strong and consistent across warm-up days and ISP. Look for deviations from consistency and be ready to engage your new ESP to evaluate and adapt to any deliverability issues that arise.

Before you select a new ESP, make sure you ask them about how they will help you migrate not only your email marketing activity, but also your sender reputation. With some planning and tweaking for your specific needs, a solid plan can be developed to make your ESP migration a low-risk event.

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