The Untethering of Reputation

If you’re a loyal reader of Steve and Laura Atkins at the Word to the Wise blog, you may have read Laura’s recent posts about sender reputation.  The posts detail what reputation is, how it’s used, and why senders need to manage it carefully. ISPs monitor the reputation of IP addresses from where an e-mail originates in order to make decisions about deliverability, and whether it belongs in the Inbox or the Junk folder. As Laura points out, reputation is a simple but extremely important concept to understand.

Over the last few years, both ISPs and senders have been adopting the use of what are known as sender authentication protocols, like DKIM (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, SPF and SenderID). This trend has the potential to make important changes to the way sending reputation is created by senders and assessed by receivers.

Today, sender protocols are used to make verifiable assertions about sender identities, or their authority to use a particular IP to send e-mail. While ISPs tend to rely heavily on the reputation of the e-mail’s originating IP address when they make delivery decisions, sender protocols can also be used to untether reputation from the sending IP, and tie it instead to a domain (like

This is what we in the e-mail space technically refer to as “A Big Deal”. Why? Think of what it used to be like to change mobile phone carriers before Congress mandated cell phone number portability. If you wanted to switch networks before the winter of 2003, you had to switch phone numbers. Coworkers, friends, relatives, and vendors all had to be notified of the change if you wanted them to stay in touch with you. It was a royal pain — painful enough in many instances to keep folks from switching carriers in the first place.

Now fast forward to a future when ISPs give domain reputation as much or more weight as IP reputation. If you’re a sender getting ready to ramp up your small in-house program and migrate it to an Email Service Provider (ESP), you get to keep the great sender reputation you’ve built thus far, even though you’ll certainly be sending from different IPs. It’s like taking your number with you when you switch networks.

There are a few more benefits worth mentioning, for both legitimate senders as well as for ESPs. Broader adoption of sender authentication protocols should make it easier for ESPs to use precious IP space much more efficiently. If you’re a sender who’s sending from IP space shared with other senders, their mistakes should have much less of an impact on the deliverability of your e-mail.

So, what should you be doing right now about reputation? Take Laura’s advice: keep doing the right things in terms of relevant, engaging content and best sending practices, and your reputation can only shine. Domain reputation will play an increasingly important role in delivery and spam filtering as its adoption rate continues to ramp up. It gives senders more and better reasons to adhere to best practices, and has the potential to give ISPs more accurate information for making better delivery decisions.

One thought on “The Untethering of Reputation

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