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Email from Highly Reputable Senders is 23 Percent More Likely to Reach its Intended Audience—and the Gap is Growing

New research from Return Path shows strong correlation between sender reputation and email deliverability.

NEW YORK, May 8, 2018 — Email data solutions provider Return Path today released its 2018 Sender Score Benchmark Report. Since 2012, this annual report has provided expert analysis and insights on how reputation impacts inbox placement for commercial email senders, using comprehensive data from Sender Score and Return Path’s Reputation Network.

The 2018 Sender Score Benchmark Report reveals that, while overall reputation scores are down slightly from 2017, highly reputable email marketers are far more likely to reach their intended audience than peers with lower reputation scores. Research shows that senders scoring 91-100 (the best possible reputation score) had 91 percent of their messages delivered. This figure drops to 68 percent for senders scoring 81-90, and 42 percent for senders scoring 71-80.

This deliverability gap has actually increased since last year’s report. In 2017, delivered rates for the top three reputation ranges were 92 percent, 72 percent, and 45 percent, respectively.

“Marketers around the world rely on email—and with an average of 38 dollars in revenue for every dollar spent, it’s no surprise. But when email fails to reach the inbox, brands lose the opportunity to connect with customers and ultimately make a sale,” said Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path. “Year after year, our research shows a clear link between reputation and deliverability—so it’s absolutely critical to monitor your sender reputation and maintain it at the highest possible level.”

Spam complaints are an important factor in helping mailbox providers determine which messages are unwanted, and thus they factor heavily into filtering decisions. Not surprisingly, research shows a strong correlation between spam complaints and sender reputation. Senders scoring 91-100 had an average complaint rate of just 0.5 percent, while the complaint rate for senders scoring 81-90 jumped to 2.8 percent—nearly six times higher than the best senders.

“Now more than ever, mailbox providers are looking for ways to combat spam, deliver legitimate messages, and improve the inbox experience for their users,” continued Sather. “Sender reputation offers unique insight into the source of each email, making it a key component in the filtering process.”

Interestingly, the distribution of email volume has shifted dramatically over the past six years. Return Path’s first Sender Score Benchmark Report in 2012 found that 60 percent of all email was sent by the least reputable senders, while the best senders accounted for just six percent of total volume. Today, 36 percent of email comes from top senders, while email sent by the least reputable senders has dropped to just 25 percent. This shift is largely attributable to improved filtering technology and an increased focus on sender reputation at the mailbox provider level—all of which has made spammy email more difficult to deliver, and far less profitable.

Return Path’s complete 2018 Sender Score Benchmark Report can be viewed here.


Return Path’s 2018 Sender Score Benchmark Report analyzed more than 6 trillion messages sent during 2017 from IP addresses whose Sender Score was calculated, and whose subscriber engagement and inbox placement data were available for analysis. In addition to Sender Score data, the report used data from the Return Path Reputation Network to track inbox placement rates across mailbox providers, and data from the Return Path Consumer Network to identify Sender Score and inbox placement rates of more than 17,000 commercial senders.  Data used for this report is aggregated and anonymized, and is not limited to Return Path clients. Sender Score is a free reputation calculation services and is available at

About Return Path

Return Path analyzes the world’s largest collection of email data to show businesses how to stay connected to their audiences and strengthen their customer engagement. We help mailbox providers around the world deliver great user experiences and build trust in email by ensuring that wanted messages reach the inbox while spam doesn’t. To find out more about Return Path solutions, visit us at or request a demo.