Industry News & Analysis

Domains and Reputation

(Copied and lightly edited from a Facebook post)

It occurred to me as I was commenting elsewhere that there is a lot of confusion about domains / subdomains and where they’re used in emails.
I get confused when people talk about ‘domain reputation’ because I have at least 4 distinct places where domains show up in an email that heavily influence delivery. But a lot of other folks talk about domain reputation as a single thing. I can never work out which place they’re talking about and thus find it difficult to comment on the domain reputation.

Domain Types:

  • SPF domain
  • DKIM domain
  • Visible From domain
  • URL / Image hosting domains

SPF is the Envelope From / Return Path / Bounce domain / 5321.from. The end user does not see this domain unless they go look for it. It is the domain that is checked by SPF and the one that must match the Visible From domain for DMARC to pass. It does not need to be a domain controlled by the sending entity.

DKIM domain is the value in the d= of the DKIM signature. The end user does not see this domain unless they go look for it. This is intended to be a ‘domain that takes responsibility for the email’. This is the one that must match the Visible From domain for DMARC to pass. It does not need to be a domain controlled by the sending entity.

Visible From domain is what most non-email-geek people think of as the From domain. This is what is visible to the end user when they read their mail (assuming their mail client doesn’t hide it like all too many of them do). This is what consumer filters use to help drive delivery to individual user inboxes. This is the domain that is verified by DMARC.

URL / Image hosting domains are in the body of the message. This includes any links to CSS files or outside images ( comes to mind as the big ‘shared’ domain that so much marketing mail uses).

Each of these categories develops reputation individually and then the overall email reputation is determined, in part, by how these reputations interact.

In this case I use ‘domain’ to include disparate subdomains. So I might have an email with the following ‘domains’ in it:

  • SPF Domain:
  • DKIM Domain:
  • Visible From: domain:
  • URL / Image domains:,,,,,

Every single one of those domains has their own reputation and the reputation is monitored both individually and in a group.

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What’s the best opt-in method?

Kickbox interviewed a bunch of us to find out what methods of opt-in we recommend. Go check it out.

What’s your favourite method of opt-in?

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Step by Step guide to fixing Gmail delivery

I regularly see folks asking how to fix their Gmail delivery. This is a perennial question (see my 2019 post and the discussions from various industry experts in the comments). Since that discussion I haven’t seen as much complaining about problems.

There are steps that work to get delivery fixed at Gmail.

  1. Verify that your mail is actually going to bulk. I had one client that had a bad / medium reputation at Google, but their mail was actually inboxing for the most part. We spent a lot of time trying to fix the reputation without success but it didn’t matter as they were reaching the folks they needed to reach. 
  2. Cut way back on your mail to google. Stop sending to anyone who is currently receiving the mail in their bulk folder. About the only way to know who’s getting mail in bulk is to focus on those folks who are opening or clicking on mail. Send only to people who have opened or clicked in the recent past (you can pick the timeline, but I don’t recommend going back more than 90 days for this). Do this for a minimum of a month. 
  3. Monitor both delivery and your reputation. The reputation graphs at google are a lagging indicator and they take between 3 and 4 weeks to reflect changes in behavior. 
  4. If you don’t see improvement: investigate what mail that you don’t know is using your domain and ensure they implement the same level of hygiene. 
  5. If you don’t see improvement still then look at what other mail you are sending to google. There are lots of small domains that use GSuite to host their mail. Mail to those domains does affect reputation. Sometimes there’s enough volume that it breaks remediation and you need to apply the same hygiene to the hosted domains before you get an improvement in delivery.
  6. Once you start to see improvement in inboxing and reputation you can start to re-engage with the addresses that you removed for the reputation repair process. Do not drop them back into the feed all at once, start a warmup process to get you back up to full sends. You may need to permanently remove some unengaged recipients from the list.

It does take time to see improvements reflected in Google Postmaster tools. The good news is that when you’re on the right track mail will start to go to the inbox before you see your reputation improve.

It takes patience to fix delivery at Gmail, but it can be done. Focus on sending mail to the people you know are getting mail in their inbox and who are actively interacting with that mail. Eventually, the ML filters will learn this is wanted mail and know all of your mail should go to the inbox.

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Current events and filters

That was a longer than intended hiatus from blogging. I’ll be honest, though, talking about email just seemed so trivial in the face of what was and is continuing to happen. I posted this over on slack, earlier, and Steve pointed out I should make it public on the blog. It’s as good a way as any to come back to the blog.

With everything going on in the US, people are applying the brakes to some types of content and speech.  These are not, at the moment, going to be nuanced or careful. They’re trying to stop violence, insurrection and sedition. This is potentially a place of ‘block it all and we’ll sort it out later’

I think folks should expect filters to tighten down on content – particularly political content – in the next few days and lasting for at least a few weeks. I don’t think this will be permanent and I don’t know that it’s going to affect email as much as social media and advertising. But I do think that some email systems will be affected.

There’s also a lot coming out of the martech end of things (look at what Nandini and her crew are coming out with particularly with how much fraud is in the ad networks, see for details and links to news articles). One of the things she isn’t saying, but which is blindingly obvious to me, is a lot of the same people running the fraudulent ad networks are also in email – they’re your affiliate marketers and co-reg vendors. The fallout from the work she and her group are doing will spill into email, too.

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Cyber Monday


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#ltdelivery: Maintaining reputation

At tomorrow’s #ltdelivery session we’ll continue talking about session: Maintaining and warming up reputations.

Invitations are going out end of the day (Dublin) today. Want to join dozens of your colleagues talking about Reputation? Sign up on our #ltdelivery page.

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The care and feeding of reputation

The next #letstalkdelivery session is Wednesday September 16 at 5pm. Invites went out today so if you signed up for our mailing list, you have the invite in your inbox. OK, if you’re on gmail it went to the promotions tab, but that’s OK, I’m promoting our call.

Check out our schedule and sign up for our mailing list so you don’t miss the next session at our #letstalkdelivery webpage.

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Lets Talk Delivery

Hope everyone had a good break.

The Let’s Talk Delivery sessions are restarting. I’ve set up a schedule and a page where you can subscribe to invites. Our next session is September 16th and we’re talking Reputation: Warmup, developing and nurturing. We talked a little last week about identity and you can follow along with the notes.

A couple things have changed about how we’re handling the sessions.

We’ve set up a LetsTalk page. There you can see upcoming questions, links to the docs and notes from current and past sessions and sign up to receive invites and notices.

Instead of collecting questions prior to the session on the Google Doc, we’ll collect them on our Facebook page. I’ll open up question pages for each session and you can add questions there.

Invites will still go out on the Monday before the session. We’ll also be opening up the Google doc for questions and feedback during the session.

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Let’s Talk: August vacation

These talks have been wildly successful and I am so excite to talk with all of you and discuss topics of deliverability. When I started them I thought there was some desire for peers to discuss delivery with one another. As they’ve evolved I realize they were not just open discussions but more formal training sessions. This is requiring more prep and structure now and I’m finding myself not quite keeping up with that. 

Given this and the fact that it’s summer and we should all be vacationing, I’m going to be taking August off from holding the Let’s Talk calls. This will give me a chance to catch up with the infrastructure that will make this less work on my part longer term. 

That means the next call will be September 2, where we’ll kick off with reputation.

You guys are awesome and I am so thrilled to be talking with all of you. 

Have a great August break and we’ll talk soon.

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Let’s Talk: Reputation

The next 3 or 4 Let’s Talk sessions are going to be all about reputation. We’ll start with a general overview of reputation and identity, then move on to specific kinds of reputation (IP, domain, URL, content), then we’ll talk about how to create, maintain and repair reputation. Still working on the outline, but I’m pretty convinced this will be at least 3 sessions.

Let’s Talk Reputation: July 15, July 29 and August 12. 4pm GMT, noon eastern, 9am pacific.

As everything is taking longer the days, the signup page still isn’t finished. We’re still doing this manually so send me an email to laura-ddiscuss at the obvious domain and I’ll get you an invite.

Invites go out the Monday before the call.