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How to Improve Domain and IP Reputation and Steps to Improve Email Open Rates

By Spencer Haws |

I launched a case study to try and revive a dead email list last week, and today I’m providing my first full week update after getting started.

As a reminder, I already have an email list of about 22,000 subscribers in the “Mom” / recipes / discounts niche, but they haven’t been emailed in over a year.  Now, I want to see if I can revive that list and start making $1,000 or $2,000 a month with affiliate offers.

My original goal was to start emailing them 5 times a week, because I’ve seen another similar business in my niche do the same thing (and I know they are successful…$$$).

However, after just 3 email blasts sent last week, I know I already need to pump the brakes!  My open rates are just abysmal!

So, I’ve taken a few steps to try and improve my domain and IP reputation for email deliverability.  I’m going to walk you through the exact steps I’ve taken so far, the results, and additional steps I plan to take to improve my email open rates.

My False Start…

So, I started with 3 emails in 3 days to my cold email list of 22,000 to see what would happen.  I knew the open rates would be low…but this is just embarrassing.

Email 1 – 6.6% open rate

A 6.6% open rate is not good.  But I knew it was going to be bad, so it wasn’t too much of a shock.  I was hoping for over 10%, but this was just day 1…maybe my second email will be better.

Email 2 – 3.5% open rate

Ouch!  The open rate dropped almost in half!  It went from bad to worse.  Maybe I just shouldn’t email about dinner ideas again…

Email 3 – 2.5% open rate

Ugh, this is not going to work.  A 2.5% open rate is D.E.A.D!

After seeing these terrible results in 3 days, I decided to stop all emails going out until I did a little more in-depth research.

First step, improve the Domain and IP reputation for my site.

Steps to Improve Domain Reputation

If your email is going to spam or promotions folder, people are not going to see or open your emails.  That was definitely the case with my first 3 emails.

I took a quick look at ConvertKit (the email provider I’m using) and realized that I had never been DMARC verified.  If you want to read up on why DMARC is important, you can do so here.

Well, it only took me a few minutes to get my DMARC submitted.  However, I know that it can take a week or two for your domain reputation to improve even after getting DMARC verified, so that’s certainly not the only step that needs to be taken.

A way to monitor your domain reputation is through Google Postmaster

You will be asked to add a TXT file with a value that they give you.  And just use the @ symbol in the name field.

Sure enough, Google is telling me that my domain has a low reputation.  Check this out:

So, Google Postmaster is showing that my domain has a “low” reputation.  Once I get fully DMARC verified, I hope to get that up to “High”.  Then my emails should start hitting more inboxes.

The above image shows that after August 4th, I’m now SPF and DKIM success for authenticated traffic.  So, I think I’m moving in the right direction.

Getting Rid of Invalid Email Addresses

I have to give a hat tip to the Niche Pursuits Facebook group.  Someone in the group recommended that I clean up any invalid email addresses off my list.

An old list likely contains lots of bad email addresses.

So, I took the advice last week and signed up for Zero Bounce.  I was able to upload all 22,000 email subscribers there and Zero Bounce was able to verify which emails were good.

Turns out that 1,183 were invalid or otherwise bad email addresses!

So, I went ahead and removed all of those bad email addresses from my ConvertKit account.  I’m now down to 20,699 subscribers…but I know these are valid email addresses!

I found Zero Bounce really easy to use and you can do one-off email list checks, which is what I did.  If you want to check out what Zero Bounce is all about, go here.

Getting Fresh Email Subscribers

I have not tried emailing the 20,699 subscribers since my last email; however, I do plan to give it a shot later this week. 

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However, in the meantime, I figured, why don’t I try to start building up the email list with fresh leads?!  I had removed the opt in form from this particular website because…well…I didn’t have an email plan a year ago.

But now that I plan on emailing the list more often, I want it to grow.

Plus, new subscribers should be more likely to open my emails.

So, I went ahead and added a quick opt-in form that just popups up when people first land on my site. I use Opt-in Monster to create my opt in forms for all my sites (including Niche Pursuits).

Here’s what that opt-in form looks like:

(As a reminder, this is a “Mom” blog…and this is a picture of my business partner’s wife.  She does work on the site and is the face of the brand).

So, what are the results over the last week of adding this new email opt in form?

So, in a little over a week, we’ve picked up 129 new email subscribers!  An opt-in rate of 0.29% is not great, but it’s essentially gravy as it does not appear to be impacting our regular affiliate earnings or display ad revenue from the site.

Since we were getting new email subscribers, I wanted to try emailing this “fresh” list only to see if our email open rates were any better.

Here’s the email I sent:

I hadn’t used Emojis in subject lines or in email copy before, but I’ve heard it can do good things to open rates.  Turns out it SUPER easy to do.

I just went to Emojipedia.org, and just found the emoji I wanted, clicked the copy button, and the hit pasted in my subject line or body.  I thought it was going to be more involved, but that was all that was needed for ConvertKit.

Oh, and to clarify, the links that talk about Amazon products go to a post on my own site, where people can then click to go to Amazon if they want (you can’t use Amazon affiliate links in an email).  The post is essentially just a few AAWP product boxes showing off the Amazon products.

Here’s the results:

(Note: this email was sent last Friday when I only had 89 new subscribers, now we have 129 because it’s been a few days since then).

I wished I wasn’t excited about a 9.0% open rate…but I am!  That significantly better than I was getting before.

I did test my email to make sure it was spam-free and not triggering any spam filters.  I highly recommend you do the same before you send mass emails.  You can use Mail-Tester.com to test for free if your email triggers any spam warnings.  I’m happy to report that I got a 10/10 out the email above.

However, I’m pretty sure this email landed in everyone’s spam folder still.  I need to get a bit more time and a few more emails under my belt before my domain reputation is going to fully improve.

Once I start hitting inboxes, I should see much better open rates.

Earnings?!

And believe it or not, I have a little bit of earnings to report!

Overall, just $0.90 from all of that effort :(.  However, I’m just getting my systems figured out and getting my domain reputation higher.

Once, I start hitting more inboxes those earnings will improve.

And of course, once I start hitting inboxes, I’ll make sure I’m sending the best affiliate offers I can that are converting well.  For the first few weeks here, I may just be promoting what’s easy so I can get a system in place.

Plan Going Forward?

I need to get fully DMARC verified and start hitting email inboxes, that’s priority number 1.

For now, I’ve backed off the idea of mailing 5 times a week.  I’m going to mail the “fresh” list 3 times each week.  I will include the bigger email list of 21k on one of those emails a week.

I will play it a little “safer” for the next couple of weeks and continue to monitor my open rates and any other feedback I get from Google Postmaster.

Once my domain and IP reputation improve, I’ll slowly start ramping up emails to the “old” list to hopefully 5 times a week at some point.

Overall, that’s where I’m at for now with the reviving a dead email list project.  Hopefully, you’ve found a few of these tips useful in improving your domain reputation and steps to improve email open rates.




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By Spencer Haws

Spencer Haws is the founder of NichePursuits.com. After getting a degree in Business Finance from BYU (2002) and an MBA from ASU (2007) he worked for 8 years in Business Banking and Finance at both Merril Lynch and Wells Fargo Bank.

While consulting with other small business owners as a business banker, Spencer finally had the desire to start his own business. He successfully built a portfolio of niche sites using SEO and online marketing that allowed him to quit his job in 2011. Since then he's been involved in dozens of online business ventures including: creating and exiting Long Tail Pro, running an Amazon FBA business for over 3 years and selling that business, founding LinkWhisper.com, and co-founding MotionInvest.com. You can learn more about Spencer here.

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