Processes and Practices

When the House is on Fire

Last week, I had a small electrical fire. Fortunately, I know enough to turn off the breaker and unplug the appliances. Beyond that, I know you have to Do Things(tm) with measurement tools to check for and fix other damage.

What’s that have to do with deliverability, though? I work with a lot of clients who know they have a small fire and have taken some steps to put it out, but they’re not sure what to do after that to check for and fix reputation damage. They’re stressed because they’re behind on their goals and uncertain how to get back into the inbox. One of the first questions I get when we talk is “What does this process look like?”

First, take stock, or create an inventory.

You are likely sending out more email from more sources than you realize. It’s important to identify all your mail streams so we can investigate each component, much as you would want an electrician to make sure all of your appliances are still working right.

Second, create a timeline of changes.

Reputation is a function of engagement over time. While most reputation systems only go back 4-6 weeks, I like to look at all the changes from the last three months. Mapping out a timeline helps to visually see what effect specific changes have had on engagement metrics.

Third, check for damage and identify the main negative reputation factors affecting your deliverability.

Use the timeline and the inventory to identify high-risk practices, infrastructure weaknesses, and mailing habits. So much goes into reputation and deliverability that it is impossible to work on everything at once. Without first assessing the damage and identifying what caused the damage, you don’t know what needs to be fixed or what you’ll have to replace. Figuring out where the most severe damage is being done allows you to prioritize where you put your resources.

Fourth, create an action plan.

Now that you’ve identified the highest risk and highest priority issues negatively affecting your reputation, it’s time to create an action plan. Much like the electrician gave me an estimate for additional work, I give my clients all this information in an audit report that outlines the key take-aways from the proceeding steps, lays out the path forward, and allows them to determine how much of their company resources will need to be spent on fixing the damage.

Fifth, implement the plan.

This is the most time-intensive step. Oftentimes, there are steps for multiple departments and some are dependent on each other. Approaching this step as a managed project helps make it go more smoothly. Some steps, like DNS updates, may need to be done first. Others, like creating trend reporting, can be handled independently of all other tasks. Each action should have clear substeps, if needed, and a defined end goal.

Sixth, maintain best practices.

Now that you’ve put in the work to improve your reputation, created reporting to help you see emerging problems before they become major problems, and have some training on how to handle different types of problems, keep up with best practices. If you were purchasing addresses before, don’t add that practice back. If your DNS entries were messy, create a maintenance plan to keep them clean. If you had a lot of older addresses, develop and use list hygiene practices that regularly remove inactive subscribers.

Good deliverability requires regular maintenance and attention to changing trends. It’s easy to forget, when things are going right, that each component needs regular review and maintenance. Without it, you risk having a fire break out before you realize there’s a problem and you need an expert.

When you’re looking for an expert, ask them what their process is for improving your deliverability. It may not look exactly like mine, but it should have steps for discovery, identification, resolution, and possibly training. (Many consultants provide the relevant training during each step rather than include it as a separate step.) If you’re in the middle of your fire, it helps to work on the discovery (inventory and timeline) while you’re looking for an expert to help you.

If you’re looking for help, you can contact me via the Contact form or by sending me email to

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