I just set up DKIM and DMARC on my domain, how should I warm up sending?

With the changes made by Google and Yahoo to require DKIM and DMARC authentication for bulk senders, many small businesses have taken their first steps at setting up authentication to get the best possible deliverability for their email. However, if this is the first time sending with this domain using authentication, or this is a brand new domain that has never sent email before, you will need to gradually bring sending up to speed or else your domain’s lack of sender reputation could see consequences from mail filtering at your subscribers’ inboxes.

A note about sender reputation

The spam filter algorithms used by ISPs and mailbox providers to block unwanted email use a variety of factors to determine sender reputation and inbox placement such as:

  • Engagement rates (opens, clicks, bounces, and spam complaints)
  • Sending frequency and overall mail volume
  • Domains used to send your email and domains in the links in your messages
  • Email authentication that has been properly configured

The authenticated email address domain that appears on your messages is a heavily-weighted signal used to drive these filtering decisions because it points directly to the identity of the sender. Factors in your control can improve or degrade your domain’s reputation which will affect filtering decisions. We will go over a few possible scenarios below:

Brand new domain

New domains that have never sent email before are seen as potentially suspicious by spam filters. It has been noted by some spam blocklisting services such as Spamhaus that filters will treat domains that are only 24-48 hours old as inherently untrustworthy. Everything involved with successfully sending email comes down to establishing trustworthiness with both your subscribers and the services receiving your messages. In addition to domain age, making sure your messages feature as many identifying hallmarks of your business as possible (such as your logo and links to your website with the same domain) will also help establish trust.

Existing domain, hasn’t sent before

If your domain has only been used for your website up to this point and you’re just starting to send email with that domain instead of a free email address (such as Gmail), your domain will have no reputation because of the lack of sending history. As you increase your sending volume, ISPs and mailbox providers will become more familiar with your email and how your subscribers interact with it, so it is important that you make a good first impression and gradually build up sending volume as you see good results.

Existing domain, has been used to send previously

If you have been sending email with your domain address already, but after setting up DKIM and DMARC authentication you saw your open rates drop, it could indicate that there were underlying issues with your sender reputation that have only come to the forefront because of the authentication. Now would be a good time to take a close look at your list and make adjustments to your sending practices to repair your reputation. Removing unengaged subscribers and making sure the subscribers in your list are actually appropriate to email would be the first things to consider. If you have been sending daily or multiple times per day, easing off into a more relaxed sending schedule will be beneficial. If you have been emailing with this domain address on other services, also review your practices there to see if there are any issues.

The warm up process

In any of these scenarios, the warm up process has several best practices to follow:

  • Sending to a small sample of your subscribers who have opened and/or clicked your messages most recently is the best place to start. Typically, we recommend your first message from AWeber targets 5-10% of your list but no more than 10,000 subscribers. If you have seen lower than expected open rates or your domain is new, we recommend engaging with smaller segments, such as 5,000 subscribers or fewer, to gradually build up a good sender reputation. The smaller the size, the more likely your mail will be accepted. Specifically, focusing on sending to people who have interacted with your email in the last 7 to 30 days will be the best way to establish trust with mailbox providers and their filters, since those subscribers are most likely to continue opening your messages during the warm up. This continued interaction will create good signals for reputation with these services.

  • Once you see successful delivery and interaction with your most engaged subscribers, you can begin to increase the sending volume. For a message sent to highly engaged subscribers, you should expect to see an open rate of 20-25% or higher. Once that level of engagement is seen, you can begin targeting openers from a longer time frame for your next round. Making sure the warm up is gradual and not too sudden is the best approach. If your initial message performs well, doubling your mail volume on the next round is typically what we recommend, but going smaller and slower can benefit warm up.

  • The timeline for a warm up is unique for every list. If it’s a smaller list, two weeks may be enough. If the list is larger, this could take a month or potentially more. Everything is dependent on how well your email is being received by your subscribers and their mailbox providers. While it can be tempting to rush this process, performing a slower warm-up will provide better results long term.

Below are a few example warm up schedules based upon list size, assuming good performance between each send:

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These example schedules assume you will be emailing new content to all of your currently added subscribers in every round of messaging. If you do not have new content to send everybody in each round, you can reuse your message content and target only the newly added subscribers for each round. You will want to make sure your content is fresh and engaging for your recipients so repetitive messaging will not hamper your warm up progress.

What if issues come back during warm up?

If you see issues with engagement rates develop again as you get further into the warm up, pull back and examine what might be different with these newer audiences you are messaging. Are these still recently engaged subscribers who you are emailing? What expectations were set about how frequently you would email these subscribers? Is the material sent something they would be interested in opening?

One strategy that can help here is sending most of your messages to the segment of people who have opened your messages during the warm up, while less frequently emailing the list at large. Say, daily or every-other-day messages for your recent openers, but sending once weekly to everyone. Scaling back the rate of increase in mail volume will help this process.

Additionally, as you add more subscribers to your AWeber list who haven’t opened messages as recently, they may produce worse results simply due to lost interest, so you may need to make the decision to omit subscribers who have been less engaged with your emails historically. Generally, if someone hasn’t opened a message in the last 6 months, it is unlikely they will open future messages. While it may be painful to let go of these older subscribers, in the long run it will be beneficial to your newer and more interested subscribers. After all, if someone can’t see your email in their inbox, they can’t open it, and they can’t bring more business to your company.

If you have any questions about the warm up process, please feel free to contact our Customer Solutions team and we will be happy to help!

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