Leaving the Choir: Shared IPs vs. Dedicated IPs

When I was in middle school, I joined a musical theater class. Of course, first year students were always relegated to the choir. It made sense: Most first-time performers were new to singing and performing and it’s risky to trust a rookie. Most organizations starting an email program are also put into the “choir.” Instead of being assigned dedicated internet protocol (IP) addresses, their email service provider (ESP) will assign them to a shared pool of IP addresses to send from, lets look a little closer into Shared IPs vs. Dedicated IPs!

Using a shared IP is a safe bet…at first  

Why? Mailbox providers (MBPs) such as Gmail and Yahoo don’t trust senders they’re not familiar with, and they also don’t start familiarizing themselves with a sending IP address until it sends at a certain volume consistently over time. This means the only way to be predictably and consistently successful when starting out is by sending from a shared IP pool. Similar to how the newer kids’ mistakes and pitchy, off-key notes were hidden by others in the choir, a shared pool can help senders blend in with the activities of the rest of the pool. This will give your email program time to mature and adopt better practices without some of your missteps along the way derailing an entire campaign.  

But eventually…you might look at the rest of the senders in your pool and wonder if you’ve outgrown it, or even if they’re holding back your personal success, especially if your email delivery performance is skewing negative. In email, there’s a lot of variables affecting the success or failure of an email campaign, and sooner or later everyone starts looking at their shared IP reputation as a potential source of blame. In these moments, an ESP may try selling dedicated IPs as a solution, sometimes going so far as to add them to mid-tier pricing plans by default.   

You shouldn’t take the decision to jump to a dedicated pool lightly. In fact, moving too soon can actually be detrimental to your progress because once you remove the relative anonymity of a shared pool, it’s just you sending at center stage with nowhere to hide. So, before you decide to break from the pack and take full control, look at your personal performance. Are you confident in your email sending practices? Will the typical benefits of a dedicated IP actually benefit you?   

If after self-reflection, you decide your practices are sound and your current email “choir” is restricting your growth, don’t feel pressured into a solo career on a dedicated IP. Instead, you can look at taking your improved talents and joining a more skilled shared IP “choir” with potentially less spammers dragging down your sender reputation. This IP pool might include more advanced senders with better sending practices than the intro-level senders you were lumped in with before. While it’s still a shared sending environment, you may find your new choir is kicking it up a notch with some flashy choreography.   

Your first step can always be to ask your ESP about a better IP pool before making the leap to solo. They typically have multiple shared IP pools you will be advanced through as your sending practices and sending reputation are proven. If your practices are sound and recipients are engaging positively with the mail you’ve sent so far, they may be willing to manually move you to an IP pool with a better reputation. 

That said, if you’re facing issues hitting the inbox, you’ll want to take a closer look at the overall reputation of the shared pools of your ESP. Some vendors are not particularly selective about who is allowed onto their network and they could be pushing dedicated IPs to senders too early in their program development to try to mitigate the poor reputation of their shared pools.   

Must-know info about dedicated IPs vs. shared IPs  

Let’s say the timing is right. You’re ready. It’s time to move to a dedicated IP.  

Here are some things you absolutely must know about Shared IPs vs. Dedicated IPs. MBPs judge your sender reputation based on recipient reactions to your mail—both positive and negative. They correlate that engagement across several variables including your sending domain, the content and reputation of domains in the body of your message, and your sending IP address. When you’re using a shared IP pool, you have control over the domain reputation portion of that equation, but the IP portion is shared. Moving to a dedicated IP gives you control over more aspects of your sender reputation, but if you’re stepping up to sing that solo, understand their full attention will be on you. There is much less room for bad actions and mistakes, which may be viewed suspiciously. 

In addition, MBP systems discern good senders from bad based on patterns and deviations. If you look like a spammer or act like a spammer, they will treat you like one, even if you’re a legitimate brand trying to do the right thing. Some of the patterns they’ll be looking for include consistent and predictable sending volumes over time, low bounce rates, and favorable reactions from recipients (think opens and clicks, not spam complaints). 

If you can’t produce a consistent sending volume on a daily or at least weekly basis, you may not want to look at moving to a dedicated IP address. Most experienced, high-volume senders can tell you it takes around 10,000 messages per day to really get on the radar of MBPs. They need to process and store a lot of data for reputation tracking, so they tend to only pay attention to IP addresses once their sending volume has crossed a certain threshold. Prior to that, the IP is treated as unknown and therefore suspicious. 

If you’re a low-volume sender and don’t have a specific need to isolate your sending activity from other senders, it’s probably not worth moving to a dedicated IP address. It will be a huge time and energy drain, MBPs will find it suspicious since you’re not sending enough, and it could potentially lead to worse inbox placement for you. 

For example, sending 500,000 messages once per month from a dedicated IP rather than 20,000 messages per day is a quick way to push your email towards the spam folder, even if you have a generally good sender reputation. 

I’ll stress: If you’re a low-volume or infrequent sender having email deliverability issues and you’ve eliminated all the other potential sources of trouble within your own email program, you should look at a better shared pool, not a dedicated IP. 

Stepping into the spotlight the right way  

You’re sure: you’re ready to launch your solo career on a dedicated IP. Do you jump right into it and expect success?  

No, that would be a little weird, because you haven’t proven yourself as a solo email sender just yet. Regardless of your skill, you just don’t have the reputation. No one is running out to see the newest solo show from a formerly anonymous choir singer. Right? Right. 

Instead, you ease into it. Find ways to poke your toe into the edge of the spotlight with some small solo performances. In email, we call this the warmup process, and it applies to both IPs and domains.  

If you try to switch and immediately send your typical volume, you’ll probably find yourself in the spam folder (or worse, blocked). Why? Because the scanning systems at MBPs are pattern engines, and they dislike anything that suddenly and abruptly breaks a pattern. Large volumes of email from a new, “cold” IP address absolutely break a pattern. 

Instead, you need to slowly feed these systems new data from your dedicated IP. First, send a little at a time. Pick the most engaged subscribers who are most likely to interact positively with your email to reinforce to MBPs that your emails are wanted. Good engagement means good data! Now, the next step can be a little trickier, depending on your ESP’s rules. Some ESPs don’t allow senders to use a combination of shared and dedicated IPs. If that’s the situation for you, you’ll need to gradually send more mail on the IP to warm it up. But if your ESP does allow you to use both, you can send to your VIP recipients, then step back into the shared pool and send the rest of your mail from there. Make sure you check the rules before developing your plan. 

Once you start delivering email, people are opening and clicking, and your IP address is starting to look pretty dang good, you can ramp up sending from that IP (slowly) until you’re a stand-out star all by yourself. 

A word of caution   

While it’s tempting to want to go out on your own, some senders are never truly done using a good shared pool. Not everyone is Harry Styles, and that’s ok! 

Sometimes senders find themselves struggling in the same way, if not worse, on a dedicated IP. Maybe they don’t warm up the IP first, or maybe the volume isn’t enough to establish the IP as legit. Regardless, it just doesn’t help. 

Remember: If you find yourself struggling in a shared IP pool, you might simply need a different pool. Perhaps it’s only a few bad senders, and with work from the ESP, they might be booted from the pool entirely. But if you notice no changes in your performance after moving to a shared IP with a better reputation, you might need to take a long look in the green room mirror. It might…be you. 

SocketLabs’ Concierge team works every day to help customers not only manage their sending IPs, but to watch their deliverability and advise them on how to get the best results from their email programs. 

Curtain call  

It’s time to address the big question: How do you know when or if it’s time to start the move from a shared IP address to a dedicated IP solution 

Watch your existing reputation, judge your existing volumes and recipient engagement, and be ready to slowly-but-surely migrate your traffic over. Plus, it never hurts to have a great manager in your corner. 

Now that you understand the differences between shared IPs vs. dedicated IPs, let’s make you an email STAR! 

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