The coming Gold Rush with Domain-Based Reputation

what are the benefits to a solid domain-based reputation?  What are the ramifications of a suspect
domain? Will an ESP still send for me if my domain reputation is less than
stellar? How will the actions of my subscribers influence my
deliverability?  Is my domain

The dawn of domain-based reputation is
upon us and legitimate senders everywhere are celebrating, albeit soberly.   In a recent
Pivotal Veracity report
, many leading ISPs
have begun to employ domain-based reputation as an effective technique of
measuring a sender’s reputation by computing assorted spam-related variables
and, perhaps more importantly, subscriber engagement actions.

As Chris Wheeler eloquently breaks it
down for us
, ISPs currently base a user’s reputation
at the IP level and have only recently begun to show that email authentication
as an enabler for domain reputation, along with positive subscriber actions,
will increase deliverability to the inbox.  Domain based reputation is a boon for the deliverability
landscape and is rife with opportunity for ISPs, ESPs, reputation services, and
marketers alike.

If and when ISPs choose to compute your
sending reputation, this computation will become your domain score.  For now, let’s call it The Domain Reputation
Index (DRI).   This index will
essentially be a quick reference to show how ESPs and reputation organizations
will track your deliverability and subscriber engagement. Simply put, the DRI
will become part of your domain DNA.

Portability: A Boon for Marketers and ESPs  

For example, marketers who have a high
DRI index (relative to industry benchmarks) will be able to leverage this
score, and (assuming their domain name is portable) essentially have ESPs
clamoring for their business. When a switch by a marketer occurs, ESPs will
naturally gravitate toward DRI, much like a client with a good credit score who
intends to find the best interest rate possible on a mortgage.  

In a recent comment on a Clickz
, Jim Fenton comments that 
“Portability is but one of the advantages of domain-based reputation,
but the extent to which reputation is portable between ESPs depends on how the
respective ESPs work.  Some ESPs send as,
for example,, which would be portable if brandname
decided to switch. But others send as, which would not be
portable. The extent to which the brand wants to be portable needs to be
considered when choosing ESPs.”

ESPs, on the other hand, have much to
gain from the DRI windfall.  Properly
managed, ESPs can manage preconditions to their clients that meet or exceed
better than average DRI scores.  ESPs
also have the ability to dictate the level of portability for domains.  This decision is ultimately that of the
domain owner, but ESPs may help influence new customer adoption of the portable
domains by offering “portability” as a standard or premium service.  The rising popularity of domain portability
raises an important question
: Should all
domains be portable?

Furthermore, ESPs that have large domain
sets (many clients) will have a “front row seat” to look into their senders’
DRI, and will  prescribe methods for
developing a higher reputation score. 
Clients of ESPs will adhere to stricter policy controls dictated by
ISPs, knowing that their DRI is at risk if they continue to send suspect mail.
DRI is also in danger when recipient engagement metrics fall below industry
benchmarks.   When suspect senders
realize that their DRI is below average and ISPs have shown them little mercy
on delivering to the inbox, suspect senders will have no choice but to
proactively engage or seize operations with ESPs.  The dilemma for ESPs is whether or not to
maintain a relationship with marginal senders who are well paying, conscientious
clients. Each ESP will have to decide where to draw the line on this type of
client..   ESPs who stay vigilant will
have the most to gain

1849 for Reputation Services

The Domain-Reputation Index (DRI) may be
governed by independent 3
rd party entities who will aggregate data
of millions of domains.  Companies that
could represent such an index may include, but are not limited to,
Pivotal Veracity, ReturnPath, GoodMail
Email Data Source, ESPC, and others.  I did not mention DNS because that system is
taxed already.  All of these companies
may consider entering into the attractive DRI market, and establishing
benchmark DRI thresholds that define, good, bad, and marginal sending
behavior.  Among the various other
reputation tools in their arsenal would be the ability to certify and publish
millions of DRI domain records for the email industry.  Such a collection of records would cause
these companies to become the most trusted throughout the industry.  

Think of the big three credit reporting
agencies, and then compare them to these email reputation-based
organizations.  These entities will have
rich warehouses of deliverability and engagement data that will span many
verticals and benchmarks.  We’re already
seeing traces of this with the latest Pivotal Veracity report on your email
engagement index, which is based on multiple sources that are aggregated
monthly across authenticated domains. 
These reputation agencies will develop a hierarchy of domain reputation
building blocks and become a trusted resource as leading advocates for
legitimate senders.   

As the email technology and
deliverability landscape evolves in a direction that prioritizes individual
consumer engagement, marketers must create more relevant communications than
ever before to ensure they get into the inbox, creating better ROI.  Certainly, a deliverability index is
imminent, whether we call it a DRI, or another name.  Organizations such as Pivotal Veracity,
EEC, MAAWG, CAUCE, or ESPC should begin to consider forming
governing bodies focused on Domain Reputation. 
The development of the domain reputation index is beneficial to the
continued development of  legitimate senders. 

It’s truly going to be interesting
to see how the ISPs choose to develop a moniker for the concept of Domain
Reputation.  Hopefully, this blog has answered some questions about the
need for the domain reputation index in the email industry.  In theory, there are lots of advantages;
however, the advent of DRI also gives rise to many more challenging questions
.  How will domain-squatting or “domain
look-alike” have an effect on DRI?  Do you limit the number of domains a
corporate entity would require?
  One would think that an effective DRI
would exist by rolling up these “sets of domains” for larger corporate entities
and developing “one” corporate DRI. 
What would that entail? What about
domain limits or regulation?

Also, there is disagreement about
whether or not we need further regulation by limiting how many domains a corporate
entity would have, given the versatility and the importance on branding. 
Since a registry (which currently assigns
and maintains domains) does not have the necessary systems in place to measure
the use of a domain
, what body,
(government, or non-government) would be the likely prevailing body? 


All of these questions will need to be pondered
as the use of domain reputation in the email industry continues to unfold.  Undoubtedly, there will be bumps in the road
along the way that need to be worked out. 
Nevertheless, it is important to support the continuing development of
the domain reputation index because, in the end, your reputation is all that you
really have.

Fred Tabsharani

Port25 Solutions, Inc.


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3 Responses to “The coming Gold Rush with Domain-Based Reputation”

  1. Joshua Baer
    November 16, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    Isn't Return Path's Sender Score already a DRI? It has been around for many years and is already the de-facto standard at the two largest ISPs (Hotmail and Yahoo). I remember when it was being built making the same comparisons to the credit reporting system – even the name "sender score" comes from "credit score".

  2. Fred Tabsharani
    November 17, 2009 at 2:22 am #

    Hi Joshua:

    The fundamental difference is that with Domain-Based reputation, vs. IP based reputation, is that today reputation is largely tied "not" to the sender in the traditional sense, but to the sending IP address. So if different organizations send email through the same or shared IP address, (i.e through an ESP) then they would also share a common sender reputation. Therefore a "good" email sender can find their reputation dragged down by the "bad actors."

    If you associate reputation with the actual domain, then reputation would be independent from this current system which is how currently ReturnPath analyzes reputation, through a given IP address which in many instances could be shared. This is one reason why I believe ReturnPath is in pole position to benefit from DRI.

  3. Joshua Baer
    November 18, 2009 at 3:26 pm #

    Hi Fred,

    I understand the difference between IP based and Domain based reputation… However, I'm pretty sure that RP also has domain level reputation as well as IP based. They may not be exposing it all, but they already have all the data and when I was helping to design the original Sender Score back many years ago we were already talking about both IP and Domain based scoring.