The 5 Factors That Most Influence Your Sender Reputation

It’s the holiday season, which means you’re busy crafting the perfect emails in hopes to drive up sales.

But what if your emails don’t make it to the inbox? Deliverability concerns often get pushed aside, but Return Path reported that 20% of legitimate, non-spam emails will never reach the inbox.

You want to avoid being in that 20%. According to Return Path, you hold a lot of power needed to control that, as most deliverability problems are based on sender reputation. We’ll look at the five main factors that affect reputation and what you can do to help yourself.

1. The Number of Your Recipients

You won’t be surprised to hear that spammers send emails in high numbers. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) flag large volume sends because of this, making it harder for businesses to get through.

Not only will you be flagged by the subscriber’s ISP, your own ISP may flag you for violating send limits. As of November 2012, Here are the limits listed for a few of them:

  • GoDaddy – 100 emails/day
  • Gmail – 500 emails/day
  • Comcast – 1,000 emails/day

This one is a pretty easy fix: use an email marketing service provider (ESP) such as AWeber. One thing that ESPs do is ensure that you can send all the emails you need to without it hurting your sender reputation. You won’t be able to go from 0 to 50,000 in one day, but you will be able to gradually build your list up to however many subscribers you wish to send to.

2. How Many People Complain

You’ve all probably noticed, and even used, the little button in your inbox that lets you mark an email as “Spam” or “Junk.” It deletes the emails while making sure other emails from that sender don’t end up in your inbox again. But you may not realize all that goes on in the background. The sender’s ESP will note that you have clicked this button and report it, and ISPs keep track of the information for deciding where to place emails from that sender in other people’s inboxes.

If a lot of people are complaining about your emails, that indicates something is wrong. If you use an ESP, you can see how many complaints an email got. Subscribers who complained will also be unsubscribed from your list so they can’t do it again.

But what an ESP can’t fix is WHY the subscriber complained, which is up to you. So what can you do?

  • Make sure you set proper expectations – you should be upfront about what you’re going to send to subscribers. The sign up form, thank you pages and welcome email are all excellent opportunities to discuss your content and frequency.

<li”>Send only relevant content – if you tell them you’re going to send them gluten free recipes, don’t throw in an email about your soap products. You may want to mention other aspects of your business in a side box in one of your regular emails, but it should never replace the content subscribers are expecting.

  • Have subscribers confirm to be added to your list- The best way you’ll be able to make sure you have legitimate, interested subscribers is if you have them click a link to confirm they want to be on your list. You won’t get 100% of the email addresses submitted to confirm, but you will eliminate invalid emails and people signing up solely for an incentive or bonus gift.
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe – Make sure the option to unsubscribe is easily visible for the subscriber. ESPs will automatically add an unsubscribe link on the bottom of your email, but you can make it even easier by including one at the top as well. If subscribers aren’t sure how to unsubscribe, they’re most likely going to mark your message as spam instead. While this will end your emails to them, it also impairs your emails getting to other subscribers who are still interested.


Taking these steps will reduce the likelihood of complaints.

3. Spam Trap Email Addresses

ISPs will set up decoy email addresses to act as traps for spammers. These email addresses are never published or shared anywhere. Spammers obtain these addresses by data harvesting and selling to others. If you’re emailing to one of these “trap emails,” it indicates you aren’t properly managing your list.

If you have purchased a list, you’re in greater danger. Purchased lists also often contain inactive, useless email addresses that will only slow you down by causing bounces, which we’ll talk about soon.

Here are other ways to avoid getting spam trap emails:

  • Only add subscribers who have specifically requested to receive your emails – if you’re not sure how you got an email address, don’t add it to your list.
  • Direct people to sign up on your web form – you can do this by handing out a card with a short URL for people to visit or use an app such as OnSpot Social.
  • Monitor your list and remove inactive subscribers – most ESPs allow you to see who’s opening your messages and who’s not. You can routinely go through and delete subscribers who haven’t opened in 3 months, 6 months or whatever you feel comfortable with.
  • Use confirmed opt-in – again, the easiest way to ensure it’s a good email address.

Note that the problem with spam traps is not that you need to learn how to identify and remove them from your list, but rather you should be obtaining email addresses from people who specifically request to be added… and spam traps don’t belong to people.

4. High Bounce Rate

There are two types of bounces that can occur:

  • Soft bounce: The email can’t be delivered due to a temporary issue such as a full inbox.
  • Hard bounce: The email can’t be delivered due to a permanent issue such as a closed account.

ISPs are most concerned with hard bounces. This is similar to the spam trap problem, only these email addresses aren’t tools the ISPs are using.

Because of the similarity to spam traps, you should follow the same steps to avoid having a high bounce rate. An ESP will unsubscribe bounced email addresses for you, but even having one email come back with a lot of bounces can negatively affect your deliverability.

5. Are You Who You Say You Are?

Email authentication acts like a signature on a credit card receipt – it verifies your identity and allows you to claim responsibility for the mailing. Spammers often try to forge their email “signatures,” and authentication helps to prevent that and tells the ISP that you really are the sender you’re claiming to be.

You should pay special attention to Sender Policy Framework, or SPF. You can edit your domain’s SPF record via your web host. Sender ID and DomainKeys Identified Mail are also important for authentication.

Some email service providers do the authentication for you. If you use AWeber, no need to worry as AWeber authenticates via all three methods above.

How Do You Keep Your Deliverability High?

We talked about how sender reputation is important and why, but what have you done to ensure your emails make it to the inbox? What has been the most/least effective?


  1. Randall Magwood

    12/13/2012 9:22 pm

    It’s good that Aweber can control the amount of emails sent everyday. I had no idea that Gmail had a send limit of 500 emails a day.

  2. Ivo

    12/14/2012 2:27 am

    Hey Crystal, thanks for the good content. The more I read your articles guys the more I realize how much crap there is out there. When I compare your info with the “guru’s” info I can’t believe how the people ( including me ) can trust them and waste money some time buying their rubbish. Well, use to trust them because at some stage you realize what actually is going on and you distinguish easy the ‘gurus’ from the real marketers. Thanks again.

  3. Harvey M.

    12/14/2012 11:21 pm

    Great article. I was wondering if there were more latent reasons why some providers send legitimate emails to the spam folder. Perhaps the keywords used in the subject line? I don’t know.

    You really shouldn’t have a problem if you don’t abuse the system. If the system abuses you, there’s usually going to be a reason for it.

  4. Crystal Gouldey

    12/17/2012 8:57 am

    Harvey – Deliverability is a complex matter and ISPs vary, so it doesn’t all boil down to the 5 factors I listed above. Keywords in the subject line used to carry a heavier weight, but now it’s not considered as important. And you’re right: if you do everything honestly and manage your list correctly, you should have little to worry about.

  5. William King

    12/17/2012 12:13 pm

    I haven’t built a list yet, but I will. Aweber’s information is priceless. Theirs plus some other information explains why I have not been successful for so many years at marketing.

    Thank You, William King

  6. mursid cahyono

    12/18/2012 1:53 am

    It’s Good articles, but customers in my country do not like the automatic email. they prefer direct contact. if they get an automatic email is often considered nuisance so the sale will be a failure.
    Thank you.

  7. Crystal Gouldey

    12/18/2012 8:53 am

    Mursid – It’s good you’re aware of what your audience wants and expects from your business. Many businesses have a lot of success with email marketing, but it’s important to only add people who specifically requested to be added to the email list, as some people may prefer other methods of communication.

  8. Kent

    12/31/2012 10:22 am

    As long as we don’t buy email addresses and spam them with low targeted market, I think our reputation is good.

  9. Michael power

    1/4/2013 7:38 pm

    How can I tell which email addresses are getting bounced so I can try to address it? Thanks

  10. Crystal Gouldey

    1/7/2013 8:10 am

    Michael – If you go to the Subscribers–>Search page in your AWeber account you can choose the segment “Undeliverable Subscribers.” AWeber will automatically stop sending to email addresses that bounce 3 times, so you may notice some are already unsubscribed.

  11. Oliver

    2/12/2013 6:02 am

    I was wondering if using a From: address in the list settings as the person sending the email affects the deliverability of an email sent through aweber.

    Any thoughts on this?

    In the list setup, it is recommended that you do not use a ‘free’ email provider as your From: address, but it seems to be common practice for people to use @gmail.


  12. Justin Premick

    2/20/2013 8:09 am


    I recommend using an email address that ends in your domain name, rather than a Gmail address. For example, if your domain is “” you might set up and use an address like or

    More on this in our Knowledge Base:

    A nice feature of Gmail is that it’s pretty easy to set up your account to manage email for your domain using your Gmail account. Details here: