Reputation is an important thing for any business or industry. This is extra true for email marketing. When consumers open their inbox, they are more likely to open a message from a company or brand they trust. But before the consumer gets a chance to decide, the email has to make it to the inbox, and in this, a different kind of reputation takes over. A marketer's reputation determines if a email is marked as spam or gets delivered. A recent report from Return Path examined how much effect reputation has on email marketing and what business owners can do to keep their scores high.

Using data from Sender Score and Return Path's Reputation Network, the Sender Score Benchmark Report analyzes a sample of more than 4 trillion email messages to investigate and measure the impact of reputation on inbox placement. The report reveals that highly reputable email marketers are far more likely to reach their intended audience on a consistent basis.

Sender Score is a number between 0 and 100 that identifies your sender reputation and shows you how mailbox providers view your IP address. There is no universal way for email providers to grade emails, like a master blacklist, so Sender Score is a good proxy for all the various measurement schemes and lists.

As many would assume, the sites with the best Sender Scores performed better when it came to message deliverability. According to the report, senders scoring 91-100 (the best possible reputation score) saw 92 percent of their messages delivered to the inbox. This figure drops dramatically to 72 percent for senders scoring 81-90. The decline continues to 45 percent for inbox delivery for senders scoring 71-80. For senders scoring 70 or below, only a small fraction of messages were actually delivered, making most of their efforts are in vain. .

"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," said Return Path President George Bilbrey. "That's why monitoring your reputation and maintaining it at the highest level possible is critical to email marketing success."

The study also offers insight into what marketers can do to improve their standings. For example, much of Sender Score depends on complaints. It's important to have as few as possible in order to keep a good standing in the eyes of email platforms. Senders scoring 91-100 had an average complaint rate of just 0.5 percent, according to Return Path's report. By contrast, the complaint rate for senders scoring 81-90 was 3.2 percent, and for senders scoring 71-80 it was eight times higher at 4.0 percent.

Another factor to keep in mind is the quality of a mailing list. Ideally, all the emails on a list should come from people who chose to add their email address. So things that show the list is unreliable can hurt the Sender Score of the marketer. To illustrate, an "unknown user" is an email address that never existed, has been terminated by the mailbox provider, or was abandoned by the mailbox user. Mailbox providers will return a hard bounce code (5xx) indicating when email is sent to an unknown user. According to Return Path, "senders who not only retain unknown users but send to a high percentage of them are perceived by mailbox providers as having poor list hygiene practices, which will impact their sender reputation."

Similar to the unknown emails, "Spam Traps" are email addresses that don't belong to active users and are used to identify both spammers and senders with poor data quality practices. Return Path mentions two types of basic spam traps. "Pristine" spam traps are created solely to capture bad email marketers. These email addresses were never owned by a real person and therefore shouldn't be on any marketer's list. On the other hand, "Recycled" traps are addresses that were once held by a user, but have been abandoned and converted into spam traps. They are still a sign of poor list management, but not as much of a problem as Pristine traps.

In every area of business, reputation matters. It's important for marketers to learn how their email marketing reputation is determined and do what it takes to keep their scores high. To learn more, Return Path's complete Sender Score Benchmark Report can be viewed on their website.

For more recent research that can help marketers connect with audiences, read this article on preventing package theft of online orders.