Email is integral to the success of your business, so you want to get it right.

You want your emails to land in the inbox, but there are SO many spammers out there — nearly 55% of all email is spam! — and the inbox providers (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc) too often throw out your “good” mail with the bad. Frustrating!

So, what can you do?

We get this question A LOT, so I wrote this article as a short-form response. I’ll skip all the technical explanations, and drive right to the point.

How do inbox providers decide what to trash and what to keep?

This is the question, right?

If you knew how they made that decision, you could make sure your email looks more like “good” mail and less like “bad” mail.

Well, fortunately, we DO know how they do it!

There are 5 things that inbox providers use to determine where an email goes. We’ll call this your reputation chain.

  1. Email Content + Promoted Domains
  2. Historic Engagement Metrics
  3. Send-from Address
  4. Return Path and Authentication
  5. IP Address

These are the factors that inbox providers look at to determine whether your email should be inboxed or spamboxed.

At Ontraport we give every user, at every account level, access to professional level tools to take responsibility for and manage their ENTIRE reputation chain.

What is my email reputation chain?

As noted above, there are 5 factors that make up your personal reputation chain. Here they are described in more detail.

1. Content + Promoted Domains

These are the words and links you put in the body of your email.

It’s pretty easy for inbox providers to decide that emails talking about losing weight and making money (for example) are likely spam. That makes it hard for legitimate folks in those industries (and others) to get good delivery, but that’s just the reality. Figure out ways to talk about your subject without suspicious language in your emails… and keep that stuff on your website instead.

Notably, the URLs that are promoted (linked to) in your email carry their own reputation. That means that if you send email that includes links which have, in the past, also been found in spammy emails — even if those emails were sent by other people — the inbox providers will likely consider your email to be spammy also.

That’s why, for example, affiliate marketing can be so challenging. Let’s say you have a network of affiliate partners, each promoting your URL to their own list. It only takes ONE sender with bad mailing practices to draw the attention of inbox providers and get marked as spam — then, everyone else’s emails with that same URL will likely end up in the spam folder, too.

Tips: Check out this article to learn about how to adjust the content of your emails for better deliverability.

Also, don’t promote Ontraport domains (, etc.) or any other shared domains (, etc.) in your emails. Instead, use your own custom domain so all the links in your emails are to URLs that you alone control. This is an important part of owning your own reputation chain.

2. Historic Engagement Metrics

Your recipients’ histories of opening, reading and clicking your emails have a major impact on future delivery. To improve this, make sure your emails are interesting and useful — and only send them to people who want to hear from you.

Tips: Use good list management practices. That means only using permission-based lead generation (never buy, rent or borrow a list!) and only sending high-quality, interesting content to people who actually want to get it. Stop sending emails to people who never engage. There are template campaigns in the Ontraport marketplace that make it easy to stop sending to unengaged contacts automatically.

3. Send-from Address

Don’t send from a freemail email address (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail) or from a shared domain (Ontramail). Instead, build your own good reputation by sending from a custom domain. Your deliverability won’t be influenced by other businesses who mail with Ontraport, and you’ll have total control over your reputation.

Tip: In Ontraport, you can find out how to set up your custom domain in the Support Center. To change your send-from address in the app, go to your account icon in the upper right, then click Administration, then Email and “Email From Address Setup.”

4. Return Path and Authentication

Since inbox providers can see the domain that is actually sending your email, they can judge you based on that domain’s reputation. Most email service providers use a shared domain for sending all clients’ email, meaning your delivery reputation is mixed up with everyone else’s. Ontraport gives every client the ability to set up a custom Return Path, something normally only available to enterprise-level senders. It takes a little bit of setup with your domain registrar to get it right, but it’s worth it, and we have step-by-step instructions on the Support Center. If you’re an Ontraport user, you can reach out to Support to get this set up for your business.

Tip: Set up a custom domain and get at least SPF and DKIM set up. DMARC is also an increasingly good idea, but you can take care of that later as it’s more technically complex.

5. IP Address

An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a number assigned to each device connected to the internet, like laptops, phones and servers. Email providers typically look at the sender reputation of each IP address to help distinguish between good mail and bad mail — so if you share an IP address with senders who have bad mailing practices, it could damage your own deliverability. You can use our shared IP addresses, which we monitor carefully, but getting your own IP address and building your own reputation is a great idea if you send on a regular, consistent basis and send at least 100k emails per year.

Tip: Remember to warm your reputation if you send significant volume. Note that if you don’t send a significant volume of mail, don’t worry about this. Shared IP addresses are fine for most people, and are really one of the less important aspects of your personal reputation chain. Take this on only after you’ve done all the above and haven’t seen results you like.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are my emails going to spam?

We have clients very worried about their deliverability after they get a complaint from one of their contacts who says they couldn’t find an email, or they found it in their spam folder.

It’s worth confirming if there is a larger problem because it’s extremely common for your emails to be delivered to the inbox for MOST recipients but spamboxed for a few. This can happen through no fault of your own, including the possibilities that your recipient has unusual spam filters in place, has marked your email as spam in the past, has never read an email from you, has trashed or marked similar emails as spam, and so on.

In order to find out if you have a widespread problem, you need to run a seed test. This is where we mail one of your emails to hundreds of test addresses at various providers and then check where the email landed in each account.

You can learn more about how seed testing works here.

But even my transactional emails are going to spam!

Inbox providers can’t tell the difference between a transactional email and all the rest, so they look at your entire reputation chain, which includes ALL the email you send as a company, to determine what to do with each email.

This means that if you send a lot of email to folks who don’t want it, don’t read it, and don’t click it, you’re building a poor email reputation for your company, and that will impact your transactional emails too.

What if none of this works?

It will! It’s that simple!

If you’re still getting poor delivery results after taking care of all of the above, the unfortunate reality is that you are mistaken and still haven’t quite nailed down the above recommendations.

How do we know this? We know because there is NOTHING ELSE that an inbox provider can look at when deciding what to do with an email. If you have taken responsibility for each of those items, by owning and managing your own reputation chain, there is only one possibility: One of those items is not being well managed.

Historic engagement metrics are most commonly the problem.

Many business owners continue to believe that they can just fire off a ton of emails to whoever they want and that the more they mail, the better… because some percent of recipients have got to respond!

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works any more. Inbox providers have figured out that strategy and have put in safeguards to ensure that most or all emails sent by companies deploying that strategy will end up in the spam folder.

In 2021 and beyond, the strategy is to only send high-quality emails to people who actually want to receive them.

Really, it’s Hotmail/MSN/ addresses that are the problem.

We hear that.

Microsoft, and a few other providers like Cox, Comcast, etc., are way behind in email delivery technology, and they throw a LOT of good email into the bad pile.

This is an industry-wide problem that can be really hard to deal with.

Here are a few tips:

  • Use a conditional landing page redirect or conditional blocks on your landing page to warn recipients with Microsoft email addresses about the problem, and tell them to look in their spam folders. (They probably already know, since this happens all the time to them, but it’s still worth doing.)
  • Consider running a re-engagement campaign ONLY to Microsoft addresses, and strictly limit the engagement window to 90 days, never emailing someone with no activity for longer than that. This will ensure you never hit a spam trap, which is a classic (and dumb) Microsoft technique for labeling spam.
  • Once you’ve got your own reputation chain set up, sign up for Outlook’s Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) and monitor your results there. This will only work if you get your own IP address, but we monitor this for you if you’re using our shared IP address pool.

If you’re an Ontraport user and you have any other questions, no problem — we have an experienced team of Postmasters standing by to help. You can find out how to reach them in the Support Center.

About Landon Ray
Ontraport Founder and CEO Landon Ray is a serial entrepreneur whose personal mission is to educate, motivate, and enable others to realize their goals of starting and growing their own business. At the age of 25, Ray transformed himself from a street-corner flower vendor into one of the nation’s top securities day traders in only twelve months. After beating the odds on Wall Street and again during the great recession, Ray has taken his research and personal experience and created Ontraport, a small business automation platform and related family of services, which reflect his passion for educating and supporting entrepreneurs.