Email Karma. Though it’s a good blog, it’s not just a blog. I think it’s a real thing. A real concept as it applies to deliverability. Here’s why.

Informally speaking, karma usually refers to destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.

In the world of email, your email karma – your future deliverability destiny – is something that might be described as your chances of future email campaign success. The effect following from cause consists of judgment based on your prior actions. Did you send good mail, wanted mail? Did you have all of the technical bits properly configured? Did your recipients find your mail highly engaging? Did they promise not to report it as spam to a great percentage?

Good senders build good karma, and if your last send was good, a mailbox provider’s more likely to let your next send through. I’m oversimplifying a bit, of course, as filters are complex. But there’s a kernel of truth in there, I promise.

Another way to say this is that you get the deliverability you deserve. That’s a common phrase around the deliverability world, and this is exactly what we’re referring to: Past bad acts mean you’re likely to see future failure, as far as deliverability results are concerned.

But how long does bad karma linger? Does good karma last longer than bad karma? And are all deliverability issues even related to karma? Let’s break down the persistence of email karma.

Good Karma

Let’s say you are an email marketing sender who is doing everything right. High engagement. Fully authenticated email. Great inbox placement. But you stop sending mail, or your calendar changes and becomes intermittent. When will that good karma you’ve built up start to fade? Mailbox providers do have a memory, but not a very long one.

If you stop sending mail completely, I’d expect your good deliverability reputation to start to fade after somewhere around thirty days. Different mailbox providers will handle this differently, but if you go to sleep for more than thirty days, you might want to start thinking about starting up in “warming” mode when firing things back up. If it’s longer than sixty days? Then that good karma has long been forgotten, I’m sorry to say. It’s definitely time to treat any future campaigns as though you’re new to your sending domain or IP address.

Bad Karma

Let us imagine that you are a bad email marketing sender who has sent millions of unwanted emails to a purchased list, your mail is getting complained about, you’re getting blocked, or ending up in the spam folder every time you send. Maybe you’re ending up on a blocklist or two, or three. But now you want to fix things; to turn away from the dark side. How long does it take to reset that bad karma, to turn it into something good?

IP and domain reputation as measured by mailbox providers is basically on a rolling 30-60 day window. So most errors in judgment can get wiped away with a good, solid 30+ days of doing things properly and correct. Slow down and start over, and most of the time, you’ll be able to turn your reputation positive.

But not always – the thing about a bad reputation is that it’s something that some people take more seriously than compared to a good reputation. So some blocklists may list you, but not be very eager to listen to your pleas promising reform and may not be willing to remove you. Some mailbox providers or spam filters might even manually block your domains or IP addresses – not always, and mostly reserved for the worst of the worst, but it happens!

If you really, truly were engaged in large volumes of bad sending, it might be best, in some cases, to just assume that your IPs and domains are “burned” and that they need a rest. Time to start fresh, and make sure that the fresh start follows best practices.

It’s Not Always Karma

Not all deliverability issues are truly karma-driven, and not all leave you with a lingering reputation issue. Many technical issues are very “binary” in nature – meaning that if they’re broken, or wrong, you get blocked, filtered, or scored more poorly than if they were correct. 

But correct those issues, and suddenly, the issue just goes away, and … that’s it! There’s going to be no lingering deliverability problem, no bad email karma leftover, from a broken DNS issue, a misconfigured SPF or DKIM authentication record, a malformed hostname for your IP address, or anything similar. Once fixed, the issue truly is resolved.

In those cases, you’re no longer failing the technical check a mailbox provider requires that you pass, so from their perspective, everything is golden.

In Conclusion

Building your email karma up, and in a positive way, truly matters for deliverability success. But like good karma is not a guarantee that every future message will land in the inbox, bad karma doesn’t have to be permanent, though their issues can be tricky and painful to address. And that, in a nutshell, is why we deliverability consultants beg, ask, plead, and hope that you do the right thing up front: To build that good karma, and ensure solid inbox placement and deliverability success.

A Guest Post by Al Iverson of Spam Resource:
Writing about, guiding clients on, and building tools related to email technology, deliverability and DMARC. Blogging about it all since 2001 on Spam Resource. Based in Chicago.