Email marketing can be an incredibly effective way to reach potential customers, promote products or services, and drive sales. However, not all email marketing campaigns are created equal. There are many factors that can impact the success of an email marketing initiative, and one important but often overlooked factor is the domain name used for sender addresses.
The domain name in an email sender address conveys valuable information to recipients and email providers, and can influence everything from deliverability rates to open rates and clickthroughs. For businesses investing time and resources into email marketing, it’s critical to understand how domain names affect email marketing performance and how to select the right domain for maximum effectiveness.
How Domain Names Impact Deliverability
Deliverability refers to the rate at which emails arrive successfully in subscribers’ inboxes instead of getting filtered out as spam. High deliverability rates are essential for email marketing success, since messages that don’t make it to recipients’ inboxes can’t have any effect.
Domain names play an important role in deliverability for a few key reasons:
- Domain Reputation: Email providers like Gmail keep track of complaint and spam rates associated with particular domains. Domains with higher volumes of spam complaints develop worse reputations, making their emails more likely to be flagged or filtered. Brand new, unrecognized domains may also be treated with more suspicion. Using an established domain with a good reputation improves deliverability.
- IP Address Reputation: In addition to tracking domain reputations, email providers keep reputation records for the IP addresses that send email on behalf of domains. If a domain is associated with IP addresses that have sent excessive spam in the past, deliverability will suffer. A reliable domain mitigates this issue.
- Authentication: Many email providers also use email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM and DMARC to confirm emails originate from authorized, legitimate servers. Configuring these protocols for a domain verifies validity and boosts deliverability.
How Domains Affect Engagement and Conversions
Getting emails delivered is only the first step – they also need to be opened and generate engagement. The domain name plays an influential role in these areas as well:
- Recognition and Trust: Recipients are much more likely to open and engage with emails from recognizable, trusted domains. Obscure or suspect domains may trigger skepticism and avoidance. Using your company domain or a popular domain like Gmail conveys familiarity.
- Branding: Your domain also represents your brand. Using your company domain reinforces brand familiarity and loyalty with each email send. Generic domains lack this branding benefit.
- Links and Tracking: Clickthroughs from email to your website are easier to manage and track when the domains match. This allows for in-depth analytics on the performance of email content.
- Spam Filters: Even if an email gets delivered initially, spam filters may retrospectively flag emails from lesser known domains as suspicious. Established domains avoid this issue.
Best Practices for Selecting an Email Domain
When selecting which domain to use for your email marketing addresses, keep these best practices in mind:
- Use your primary company domain if available: Your company likely already has an established domain for its website – using a matching domain for email provides tremendous benefits for deliverability, branding and tracking.
- If no company domain, use a popular webmail domain: Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo and other popular email providers have highly reputable domains. Using their domain avoids unknown domain penalties and can improve open rates.
- Avoid free generic domains: Domains like mail.com lack branding and reputation. At best they hinder effectiveness – at worst they risk going straight to the spam folder.
- Configure SPF, DKIM and DMARC: Properly authenticating your domain and selected email servers through these protocols verifies legitimacy for email providers.
- Consider subdomains: You can use subdomains of your root domain specifically for email, such as email.yourcompany.com. This adds flexibility while still retaining primary domain benefits.
- Monitor performance: Check deliverability, open and clickthrough rates regularly. Compare performance of different domains and adjust accordingly.
Real-World Results and Data
Statistical analysis and case studies clearly demonstrate the significant impact domain names have on email marketing results:
- ReturnPath evaluated over 1 billion commercial emails and found major domains like Gmail had 97% deliverability compared to just 77% for unfamiliar domains.
- A Email on Acid study found Gmail sender addresses averaged open rates 8.2% higher than unknown domains. Clickthrough rates showed similar disparity.
- Marketing company 250ok split tested email domains and found their primary company domain had clickthrough rates 96% higher compared to generic domains.
- Mailgun reviewed 120,000 emails and found properly authenticated domains had deliverability rates 4.5% higher than unauthenticated domains.
- A SendGrid case study recorded 40% higher unique clickthough rates for their company domain emails compared to generic domains.
Leveraging Subdomains Effectively
Using subdomains provides additional options between your company’s root domain and generic webmail domains. Subdomains allow you to customize email addresses for specific purposes while retaining your primary domain’s reputation.
Popular strategies for leveraging subdomains include:
- Email Function Subdomains: Set up subdomains based on email type like mail.yourcompany.com or newsletters.yourcompany.com
- Brand/Product Subdomains: Create subdomains for specific brands or product lines such as products.yourcompany.com
- Geographic Subdomains: Use region-specific subdomains like europe.yourcompany.com or canada.yourcompany.com
- Campaign or Initiative Subdomains: Devote subdomains to particular marketing campaigns or initiatives like backtoschool.yourcompany.com
The key is to keep subdomains reasonably consistent and active over time. Rotate through too many and they will lose relevance with recipients. Maintain deliverability authentication records for subdomains as well.
Evaluating New Domain Options
If your current email domain is underperforming, purchasing a new domain may be worthwhile. Focus on these factors when evaluating new domain alternatives:
- Brand alignment: The new domain should reinforce or complement your brand identity, not dilute or confuse it.
- Domain history: Prior use of the domain can influence its reputation – examine the domain’s age, previous ownership and historical email volumes.
- Readability: Avoid overly complex or confusing domain names. Opt for short, descriptive and memorable domains when possible.
- Industry associations: Some domain extensions like .biz or .tech have stronger associations to particular sectors that may suit your brand.
- Cost: Domain registration and administration costs shouldn’t be prohibitive, but be wary of extremely cheap domains as they often indicate quality issues.
Testing any new domains at smaller email volumes before a full switchover is wise to compare performance. Monitor deliverability and engagement rates closely for the first few months after a switch to ensure the new domain performs as expected.
Comparing Alternate Email Services
In addition to selecting a domain, you also need to choose an email delivery infrastructure provider. The major options include:
- Webmail services like Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo.
- Your website host’s email services.
- Dedicated email marketing platforms like Mailchimp, Constant Contact or AWeber.
- Your company’s in-house email servers and administrators.
Each option has its own pros, cons and pricing considerations. Key factors to evaluate include:
- Deliverability rates and email sender reputation.
- Integration with your website, CRM and other systems.
- Advanced email segmentation, scheduling and automation capabilities.
- Tracking and analytics on opens, clicks and conversions.
- Support for critical authentication protocols like SPF and DKIM.
- Scalability to handle increasing email volumes and subscribers.
- Availability of professional email templates and designs.
- Cost structure and total budget impact.
The best solution depends on your specific email program’s needs and strategic priorities. Allocating a portion of emails across multiple reputable platforms can also mitigate risk.
A domain name may seem like a minor detail, but extensive data confirms that the domain used in email marketing sender addresses can have a major influence on critical performance metrics like deliverability, open rates, clickthroughs and conversions.
Businesses investing in email marketing should carefully select and configure an appropriate domain, whether it be the company’s primary domain, a subdomain or a reputable third party email provider’s domain. Monitoring performance frequently and adjusting approaches as needed is also wise. With email marketing, as with real estate, success often comes down to location – and in the digital realm, the domain is the location indicator that matters most.