Dedicated vs. Shared IPs, Demystified

 In Deliverability

This video is long overdue.

Since founding Robly and Lead.com, we’ve helped hundreds of clients navigate the shared IP vs. dedicated IP process. For the longest time, I was coaching clients one-on-one but never thought to make a video.

Finally, enough was enough.

My good buddy Andy Johnson at The Fried Egg asked me about switching his email program from a shared IP over to a dedicated IP.

Here’s the thing though…he has an open rate of almost 40%. So, he’s doing something right. But, like any good business owner, he’s asking the same question you are.

Sure, my email program is good, but how can it be better?

If that’s where you’re at, guess what? You’re not alone.

Actually, this is exactly why we created Lead.com. It’s for advanced businesses and organizations who’ve grown out of small business tools like Mailchimp and Infusionsoft but aren’t ready to (over)pay for a marketing cloud experience.

So, what’s the first thing to know about shared and dedicated IPs?

First off, let’s start by explaining how those systems are set up.

Platforms like Mailchimp and Infusionsoft (which don’t offer dedicated IPs) have these things called shared IP pools. FYI, we have both options at Robly and Lead.com.

What’s a shared IP pool?

Well, as the name implies, there’s more than one sender on an IP address. Just like carpooling, everyone hops on the same IP and starts sending emails. The way Robly (and other platforms) configure these pools is simple. The lower quality sender you are, the lower quality senders you’re teamed up with.

Let’s use my friend Andy as an example. He has a list of 40,000 people and an open rate of almost 40%. He’s a good sender and he’ll be coupled with other good senders. On the other hand, if Andy had shady acquisition practices and no one wanted his emails, he’d end up in a pool of other poor performers. That’s if he isn’t kicked off the platform.

The takeaway? The good senders can help your reputation, while the poor senders can hurt your reputation.

This can be beneficial for small senders and those just getting started who don’t have an established sending reputation.

Some bad senders are removed altogether from these platforms, but they can’t catch them all. So, if you have a loyal group of readers, why take the risk of being lumped in with these bad senders? Even if they are okay senders, how do you know they’re not holding you back?

That’s why large senders like you start investigating what it takes to send on a dedicated IP address.

There’s too much at stake for a bad sender to bring down your main revenue driver.

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What’s a dedicated IP and should I switch to one?

You may have gathered by now that a dedicated IP address is an IP that only one person or client sends from.

You’ve built your business through hard work and your customers love what you send. You can’t stand the thought of your email metrics tanking.

You’re sold on switching to a dedicated IP.

Not so fast.

Here are a few important questions you should ask before jumping to a dedicated IP.

How many emails do you send?

The scale of your email program is always the first indicator for if you should have your own dedicated IP. Sendgrid says you should be sending a minimum of 250,000 emails per month. Amazon won’t give you a dedicated IP unless you’re sending 175,000 per day. Mailchimp/Mandrill say at least 5,000 emails per day at least 3 times a week.

We agree with the 250,000 a month number from Sendgrid.

With one *important* stipulation.

How often do you send?

You need to be sending at least 3 times/week, if not every single day.

This mistake can be a huge problem for brands making the switch to a dedicated IP. The reason for this is that email providers like Gmail are looking for consistency. Spammers are erratic. They send tons of emails, inconsistently. When you send inconsistently, it looks like you’re sending spam.

Without getting into all the details, it has to do with the number of spam complaints relative to the total volume. So, if you send one million messages on a Monday and zero on a Tuesday, those who open and mark as spam on Monday won’t look bad because they represent such a small percentage of your total audience.

However, on Tuesday a good chunk of your audience finally checks their email, the people who mark you as spam seem like a huge percentage of your audience because you didn’t send any email that day.  

So, if you send daily and you’re sending over 250,000 per month, you’ve checked off the first two boxes for determining if a dedicated IP is right for you.

Lastly, do you have the resources to monitor your reputation?

When you’re on a shared IP pool, there isn’t much of a reason to monitor your reputation. That’s because it’s not just YOUR reputation at stake, but the reputation of YOU + a bunch of other people.

But the game changes once you switch to a dedicated IP. Now you need to start taking your sending practices seriously. If you have solid sending practices, you shouldn’t run into any issues, but monitoring your reputation across different blacklists is a must.

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Blacklists

There’s a lot to know about blacklists.

What’s most important to know is how they work. Think of them as a neighborhood watch.

Instead of everyone in the neighborhood staying up at night to look out for criminals, one person stays up and reports back to the group. Blacklists are similar in that they share their information about bad email senders back to email platforms like Yahoo, Hotmail, etc..

So while being on a blacklist isn’t always the end of the world, it’s important to maintain a solid reputation. If you don’t have a good reputation, word gets around.

Monitoring your reputation by keeping an eye on blacklists is a blend of proactive and reactive reputation management. By having a clean blacklist record and following email marketing best practices, you’re being proactive. Then as you monitor blacklists, you’re being reactive when you notice you are on a blacklist and request to be removed.

Marketing clouds and most ESP don’t bother with this level of detail concerning your reputation. When they say they have a “Deliverability Team,” they’re looking for major red flags across all of their clients. They rarely pay attention to all of the small steps that can lead to a damaged reputation.

Lead.com is deeply involved in managing your IP reputation if you don’t want to pay a consultant (like Josh Michael) to handle the monitoring and delisting process for you.

If you want to take this process on yourself, here are some of the best resources we’ve found.

250ok.com

250ok tracks what they call “signals” that are important to your email program. These signals act as a dashboard to keep an eye on the overall health of your email program. Beyond blacklist monitoring and alerts, they offer inbox placement monitoring, too.

Inbox placement monitoring goes deeper than basic delivery confirmation and lets you know if the email made it to the inbox (opposed to the junk folder or promotions tab). They do this by providing a list of email addresses called a “seed list.” Since they own all of the email addresses on this list, they can see where each of your messages land once they’re delivered.

Return Path

Return Path provides the same offerings that 250ok provides, but takes their offerings a step further to include a Return Path Certification. They describe it as “the industry’s most powerful and unique whitelist, providing benefits at major mailbox providers and filtering companies to ensure your emails reach your subscribers.”

They also offer real-time email validation services, so you can remove bad email addresses before sending and prevent unnecessary damage before it happens.

Hetrix Tools

The cost of investing in a tool like 250ok or Return Path can be prohibitive for people who can’t afford thousands of dollars each year. But, if you want to get started with blacklist monitoring at an affordable price, check out Hetrix Tools.

So how do I switch to a dedicated IP?

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Pick an Email Service Provider You Trust

The most important decision you’ll make is the email provider you choose to work with. We’re pretty partial to Lead.com and Robly, but it’s important to find a vendor that meets your specific needs.

Selecting a vendor is a whole different discussion for a different day, but don’t underestimate the power of a strong vendor relationship. After all, they manage your most profitable channel and switching vendors is difficult and expensive. Making the right choice up front saves you a ton of time later.

Next, you’ll need to authenticate everything.

Configuration and Authentication

It’s VERY important to configure the technology properly. This includes your SPF and DKIM records. We can’t get into all of that here, but know that it’s the foundation for everything you do.

If it’s not configured correctly, don’t bother sending.

IP Warming

ALERT! You must warm up your IP address.

Warm up? What does that mean? Think of this as systematically building trust with ISPs. Start by sending small amounts of emails to your best subscribers. You need to do this daily, if not multiple times throughout the day in the beginning.

If you visit Lead.com/talk, we can walk you through our process for warming up your dedicated IP. This is a very manual process, but it’s a necessary up-front cost as you move away from shared IPs and onto a dedicated IP.

Fix Poor Sending Practices

Switching to a dedicated IP won’t solve all of your sending problems. In fact, they may get worse.

Worse for bad senders, that is.

That being said, here are some general best practices when sending emails at scale.

Only Send to People Who Want Your Emails

If someone doesn’t want your emails, don’t send them emails. It’s pretty simple.

People ask me if there is anything they can do to keep emailing their unsubscribers. Let me be clear: Not only is this a terrible idea, it’s illegal.

Honor their request and leave them alone.

Beyond unsubscribers, you need to remove people who go a long period of time without opening or clicking your emails. It depends on your business, of course. But if they’ve ignored the last 20 emails from you, they’re not likely to open the 21st. Give them a break from the barrage of emails.

Reach out in a different way. Try and earn back their trust.

Take Data Validation Seriously

“Garbage in, garbage out” is a real problem for email senders. Take the time and invest the money to clean up your data. Of course, remove your undeliverable addresses, but also be proactive in removing bad emails before you try sending to them.

You can do this by enlisting the help of an email validation tool like BriteVerify or FreshAddress.

Cleaning up your email list is a small cost relative to the damage it can do to your reputation.

Tools like this allow you to upload your list into the platform and they can tell you which ones are invalid or questionable.

Take it a step further and add their real-time validation tool on your website. Stop your site visitors from mistyping their email. A polite warning will pop up on the screen and ask them to fix the error. An example of this would be if someone puts joe@joe.conf instead of joe@joe.com.

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PROs and CONs of Shared and Dedicated IPs (for the bullet lovers out there)

Shared IP

  • PROs
    • Immediately send from an active IP address.
    • Small volume senders enjoy the benefits of large volume senders.
    • You can leverage someone else’s trust right away.
    • Inconsistent send volumes are no problem.
  • CONs
    • You’re lumped in with similar senders.
    • You lose control of your reputation.
    • You’re at the mercy of the email provider. They can kick you off of their platform and you couldn’t do anything about it.

Dedicated IP

  • PROs
    • You control your own destiny.
    • Greater insight on your own reputation.
    • Easily monitor and address problems.
  • CONs
    • You need to send regularly.
    • Not a good fit for low volume senders.
    • The IP warming process can be difficult and time consuming.
    • Volume spikes can cause deliverability trouble.

Summary

Switching to a dedicated IP doesn’t make all of your problems go away. In fact, it’ll highlight poor sending practices with greater precision. If you’re sending below 250,000 emails per month, we recommend you stick with your shared IP.

If you’re over 250,000 per month and you have good sending practices, a dedicated IP could be a good fit.

Just make sure you’re sending regularly and you’re able to monitor your email reputation.

Again, if you have any questions, simply visit  Lead.com/talk and we can start a conversation.

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