The Email Swamp: Don’t Go Bayou-self!

swamp monster climbing out of swamp and scaring man

Let’s not beat around the bush: As an email service provider (ESP), you probably (definitely) have an IP or pool that looks more like a swamp than, well…a pool you actually want to use. 

There is nothing wrong with having an Email Swamp! There is, however, a big risk in not watching the swamp like a hawk or a vulture or a strange swamp-bird. 

From good senders getting snatch-and-grabbed by the Creature to your own reputation as a trustworthy ESP getting mossy and weird, join us on this swamp tour to learn how to coexist with it peacefully. 

Destination: Email Swamp  

man coming out of swamp

Buckle up, friends. 

What is the swamp? 

First things first, let’s look at swamp anatomy. The swamp is usually an IP or an entire IP pool with a reputation that is less than ideal. It is important to note here; this is not a swamp full of senders who are so bad you should probably fire them for violating your Terms of Service or Acceptable Use Policy.  

This is, strangely enough, a swamp you need to keep and nurture. These are senders who don’t realize or know they’re doing the wrong things and probably just need some education. They can be reformed, but you don’t want to lump them together with well-behaved senders because it’s simply not super fair to the ones who follow the rules. 

In function, the swamp is where emails don’t go to die, but instead, go to hopefully land in someone’s mailbox. They might not. The swamp’s reputation just isn’t good enough for reliable and confident delivery all the time. Surely email can and will be delivered, it’s just more of a gamble. 

This also means the IP(s) are more susceptible to blocklistings, hard bounces, and general unsavory email problems. 

Any questions? Yes, you, let’s hear it. 

Does everyone have a swamp? 

Probably. Yes. At least, they should. And if they don’t think they do, they likely don’t have enough visibility to locate where their creatures are hiding. 

Quite frankly, there is not one ESP out there who has a collection of the best senders in the world all sending banger email content to eager recipients who stare at their inbox waiting for their highly anticipated emails to arrive, OK? There is only one Publishers Clearing House (IYKYK). 

Hoping all your IPs and pools will be muck-free isn’t smart because it’s just not realistic. Even the gold-star ESPs enforcing the highest standards have customers whose practices sometimes cause a suspicious eyebrow-raise. The swamp isn’t for isolating known spammers. It’s a holding cell for senders who need help. 

If you don’t try to isolate your less-than-ideal senders into one location, you run a higher risk of your better senders falling into the swamp and being dragged down by the creature of the email lagoon. 

swamp creature moving toward camera

TERRIFYING. 

It is critically important for your senders to know their own email program will not be negatively affected by other senders who may not be as skilled. If everyone sends from the same pool, it will progressively create a swamp creature liable to rear up and get anyone and everyone, and that’s simply not a great risk/reward ratio for your business. 

You really don’t want to make your customer team explain to your best and biggest senders that their emails are blocked because Sally Sillysender got a little too excited and blasted to her whole list. There isn’t an easy way to tell someone they’re doing great, but because others aren’t doing as good, they need to accept a negative hit to their own performance. They’ll want you to “just fix it.”  

Unfortunately, it usually isn’t that easy.  

Plus, the more time you spend asking for help rerouting customers, the less time you have to remediate (or decide to fire) the Sallies and the Quentin Questionable-Consents. You gotta keep ‘em separated. 

Anyway, we’ll come back to this. Thank you for your question. 

How does a sender tumble into the swamp? 

kermit the frog reading map in confusion

TL;DR: Behavior. 

Ill-informed sender decisions will land them into the swamp. Beyond that, an ESP’s decisions regarding the swamp and its inhabitants can land the ESP itself into a market-based swamp called “Buyer Beware, Your Emails May Fail.” 

Let’s stick to the Email Swamp for this part. 

If you have senders doing things not necessarily abusive, but maybe just poorly advised, they’re the most likely ones who can and should make their way into the swamp. This is a quick list of swamp fodder: 

  • Senders who believe their email isn’t spam because it’s not abusive. 
    Reminder: Any unwanted mail can (and likely will) be considered spam! A spammy sender might just be someone who sends email to people who opted in at some point but have no interest in their email anymore and simply haven’t taken the step to opt out or complain. 
  • Senders not mindful of clear consent. 
    List collection techniques are a major reason senders trip into the swamp. Maybe they’re not setting expectations at the point of sign up, aren’t confirming opt-ins, or they’re getting bombed on forms… you know, not necessarily malicious intent but still unwanted behavior. A little bit of education on best practices like opt-in policies and ways to protect sign-up forms from abuse can go a long way to helping these customers steer clear of the swamp. 
  • Senders desperate to reach everyone, always. 
    If there’s no thought being given to list quality, like sunsetting addresses, segmentation, etc., they’re likely to pull down the reputation of an IP or pool. We’ve heard it all before: “They haven’t unsubscribed so they must still want our email,” or, “This email is relevant to everyone on all our lists.” You know the type. Bless their lil’ hearts. 

Bottom line is this: If the sender isn’t abusive and deserving of a swift kick into the trash bin, but they’re also not the gold standard of customers, they may be contributing to the Email Swamp. 

But wait, there’s more. 

Your good senders can also find themselves plopped into the swamp. Unfortunately, those who end up so discouraged with their ESP performance might simply call a tow truck and haul themselves out of the swamp and right into yours competitors’ cleaner pool. 

Here are a few ways you may be contributing to the Email Swamp within your platform:  

  1. You aren’t creating boundaries between good and poor senders.
    If you have mixed company on one IP or in the same pool, they’re sharing a reputation.  
  1. You aren’t enforcing the boundaries you create.
    Certainly, less talented senders can really benefit from the boost from better senders while they learn and improve their email practice, but the opposite can be said for great senders. They’ll be stuck in the swamp and unfortunately, the floating door can only hold one person, according to leading maritime scholar James Cameron. 
  1. You aren’t able to effectively protect IP reputation.
    Lots of ESPs have the best intentions in the world to separate traffic by reputation to keep senders from skewing the performance of others. But if your sending platform or infrastructure, be it homegrown or purchased, doesn’t make it easy to re-route mail streams (or “shape traffic”) in something close to real-time, you might find bad senders poisoning a pool faster than you can protect it. 

Dredging the swamp 

Earlier we said upset customers will want your team to just fix the problem and fast, and why wouldn’t they? It’s not their problem, it’s yours.  

So, your mission is clear: Clean the Email Swamp…but keep it swampy. 

OK maybe that’s not super clear. Let’s talk through it. 

Your customers are not lotus flowers. If they are in the mud of the swamp, they will not break through the water’s surface looking clean and beautiful. They probably won’t make it through the surface at all. The stinky film of the swamp’s reputation will keep it from escaping to the world outside (the inbox, of course!). 

And if they do make it out, they’ll be stinky swamp flowers more suited to the spam folder. Sorry. 

You need to identify senders errantly located in the Email Swamp, rescue them, and relocate them into a healthy pond. If you do this successfully, you should have a nice little pond with lovely lotus flowers floating on top. Metaphorically.  

After you do this, you’ll need to make sure you’re keeping the two ecosystems healthy in their own way. Yes, that means the swamp needs your care and attention, too. 

Swamp conservation  

Consider yourself a member of the email traffic police. As an ESP with multiple senders, it’s your duty to stand at the crossroads of good and bad to ensure the right senders are traveling the appropriate path. 

But you can’t just walk into the intersection and start pointing willy-nilly. 

There are seemingly limitless ways to operate your IPs and pools, but you should always make a plan of action before taking action. A couple of ideas, just to get your gears turning:  

  • Create segmentation guidelines to enable traffic routing.
    Outline what you consider a Swamp Star and what you consider a Pool Playa. Make sure you’re aligning anticipated reputation impacts with the proper pool, and you’re making sure you have guidelines in place to know when it’s time to reassign locations. 
  • Play it safe.
    You might want to consider splitting individual senders’ mailstreams across different IPs or pools to hedge your bets against one pool turning into a quick-sand-filled swamp. Their whole email program won’t be consumed. Instead, emails will still go out from the unaffected pool(s) while you troubleshoot or reroute the rest of their mail to the appropriate pool. 
  • Consider creating new user pools.
    It’s like a kiddie pool, but better. Let your new senders wade in and splash around a bit before you move them onto their final home. Until you see their behavior in the pool, it’s hard to determine where they belong. Do they follow the rules and walk calmly on the pool deck? Do they splash the lifeguard directly in the face and cannonball during adult swim? After a short amount of time, you’ll know what to do. 

This is where having an easy-to-manage sending platform comes in very handy. 

Unless you have a dedicated team for finding and moving senders from IP to IP, you could find hours of your day dumped into one remediation with another dozen waiting for attention. Or worse, you could find you don’t even have time to deal with shared IP pool maintenance, giving your swamp space to grow. With most sending solutions, it’s a very manual reconfiguration process without a ton of help or support from your third-party infrastructure provider (especially a large one like SendGrid). 

With SocketLabs, we have an automated Rule Engine, which can immediately reroute traffic in near-real-time based on signs of a problem to either mitigate, fix, or avoid consequences. 

Someone’s reputation is on the decline? Automatically move them to the wading pool of senders requiring a closer eye to watch their behavior in a safer environment. You can always use the existence of a better pool to encourage a return to exemplary behavior. 

Someone in the wading pool starts swimming laps with great form? Kudos! Route them to Olympic-sized lap pool in Fiji…or, you know, a high-quality hotel pool at the very least. 

Someone’s reputation tanks? BAM that’s a ticket to the swamp, issued by your rule. 

Let Rule Engine do this… 

lifeguard threatening swimmers with lifetime ban

…So you don’t have to do this: 

mr. t cartoon throwing crocodile out of swamp

Swampy, not swampy. 

Listen. Some people need to live in the swamp. Others shouldn’t get near the swamp. 

As a complex sender/ESP, it’s your job to make sure each sender is sending from where they belong. 

Shouldn’t that job be easier than it is now?