An Delivery Report for 2012: Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail & AOL

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1 Direct is an marketing solution provider (ESP) which serves hundreds of today s top online marketers by providing all the functionality and expertise required to send and track effective campaigns. The information contained herein has been compiled from the experience of delivering millions of permission-based s.

2 Sender Reputation as You ve Known It Sender Reputation is like a credit score for mailers. The driving metrics behind that score include: complaint rates, unknown user rates and the number of spam traps hit. Each of the major providers calculate and track those metrics in order to make an automatic judgment on where your should be delivered: the inbox, the junk folder or not at all. Although, unlike a credit score, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and Hotmail do not directly share the reputation data they collect. This requires mailers to generate and maintain good Sender Reputation with each of the major providers. Authentication, Domain Reputation & User Engagement Metrics Will Increasingly Affect Your Deliverability. Authentication is the idea of proving your identity, as a mailer. While authentication standards such as DKIM, Domain Keys, Sender ID and SPF work in different ways, the end goal is essentially the same: the receiving server can verify that the domain used in the From Address is under the control of the sender. Simply put, authentication proves that you are authorized to send from the domain and IP s you are sending from. While some form of authentication has become adopted by each of the major providers, the idea of portable domain reputation has continued to take hold. When sending authenticated , the reputation generated by mailers is no longer erased by simply changing IPs. With major providers associating sender reputation to domains, new IPs no longer need the same warm-up period while new reputation is established. The reputation associated with a domain is transferred to the fresh IP addresses assisting in obtaining good reputation. While domain reputation represents the most significant relatively recent development to deliverability, it is important to understand that domain reputation is not replacing IP-based reputation. It is merely another layer of reputation monitoring that major providers use to determine your deliverability. Beyond sender reputation determined by complaints, unknown user rates and spam traps; user engagement can make or break a mailer s inbox placement with individual users. For example, when a user marks a message as spam, it is likely that all future messages from that sender will be delivered to the spam folder for that individual user, regardless of the message s ability to hit the inbox otherwise. Implementation and use of user engagement metrics differs between each of the major providers. Read down for specifics on each. Copyright Direct.com Page 2 of 10

3 Mailers must authenticate with either DomainKeys or DKIM to participate in the Yahoo Feed Back Loop program (Operated by ReturnPath) and benefit from existing domain reputation. It is expected that Yahoo will completely transition to DKIM. Yahoo denies using any third party spam filtering devices; SpamGuard is their proprietary spam filtering technology. While Yahoo delivery is still heavily driven by IP reputation, domain reputation has increasingly become a determining factor. Yahoo continues to operate a mailer s whitelist, although being on the whitelist does not guarantee delivery as whitelisted senders are still subject to the Yahoo! spamguard technology. As with IP-based reputation, Domain Reputation, Complaints, unknown user rates and spam trap hits will drive domain reputation. While Yahoo does not publicize a safe complaint rate to maintain, mailers with complaint rates under 0.1% (sent/complaints) have been found to be safe, as long as unknown user rates and spam trap hits are also low. Solid reputation can be achieved within 3-4 weeks by sending at least 5,000 s per day to Yahoo users. Similar to the other major providers, Yahoo will block a mailer outright if messages being routed into the spam folder continue to be ignored by Yahoo users. Getting back into the inbox with Yahoo, after being routed to the junk folder, is possible through good reputation metrics and asking your subscribers to add you to their safe senders lists. Yahoo publically states that they reference the block lists maintained at The Spam Haus Project. Link: Copyright Direct.com Page 3 of 10

4 AOL is moving toward the portable domain-based reputation model, though not as quickly as other ISP s. Mailers must authenticate with DKIM to benefit from existing domain reputation. AOL is quickly adopting user engagement metrics to determine where to deliver s sent to individual users. In addition, user engagement metrics are expected to play a larger role in overall AOL filtering logic. AOL uses proprietary formulas based in part on user reliability and activity to calculate the overall viability of a complaint rate. Simply put, having more active users on a list will raise the acceptable complaint rate threshold. AOL currently maintains an IP-based whitelist. Mailers participating in the AOL Feed Back Loop program with good reputation metrics should qualify. Link: AOL has been expected to announce a domain-based whitelist for white-hat mailers. Beyond their standard whitelist, AOL is expected to announce an enhanced whitelist for mailers with established and consistently good reputation. The enhanced whitelist will enable images and links by default. AOL uses a proprietary content filter that, in addition to examining the content for spam words, also analyzes any redirect URL s. If URL s exist within content that AOL servers do not accept, messages will be bounced. AOL references the block lists maintained at The Spam Haus Project. Based off a ReturnPath study, it was concluded that achieving a complaint rate below.1% (sent/ complaints) will most likely land your into the inbox. Currently, a successful warm-up strategy for IP s is: sending daily for 7 days with 5,000 Copyright Direct.com Page 4 of 10

5 messages or less, then ramping up to 10,000 messages or less for another 7-14 days, depending on metrics. After having messages routed to the junk mail folder or bounced, it is difficult to get back into the inbox. A form to request delisting from the AOL internal block list is available. Users whom add a mailer to their address book will receive all future messages into the inbox. Users whom mark an as spam will see all future messages from that mailer routed to the junk folder. Link: Gmail delivery has largely depended on domain reputation for years with no signs that is going to change. Authenticating with Domain Keys, DKIM and SPF is highly recommended. Unlike the other major providers, Gmail does not offer a feedback loop or whitelist program for mailers. In relation to the other major providers, Gmail is very aggressive in blocking bulk commercial . Although not published, acceptable complaint rate thresholds are very low. Domains with no previous reputation are found to achieve good inbox delivery when authenticated with Domain Keys, DKIM and SPF. Poorly optimized creative content can cause junk mail delivery. Gmail employs an undisclosed internal filtering technology. Once your is routed to the junk folder, it is very difficult to get back into the inbox. Requesting to be removed from the Gmail internal block list can take several months and longer. Link: Copyright Direct.com Page 5 of 10

6 Microsoft (Hotmail, Live & MSN) continues to release more reputation data than any other major provider through its Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) program. Unlike other major providers, Microsoft has not committed to moving toward DKIM authentication, instead sticking with Sender ID and SPF Authentication. Domain reputation is expected to have an increasing effect on delivery. Existing domain reputation will impact delivery, for better or worse, only when authenticated with Sender ID. s not signed with Sender ID will be judged on IP reputation and content. While domain reputation can assist with delivery, IP reputation is still the dominant focus in Microsoft s filtering logic. Microsoft employs the Brightmail and Smartscreen filtering technologies in conjunction with proprietary filtering technology for content-level filtering. Microsoft s Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) program reports daily reputation data per IP including complaints and spam trap hits. The SNDS program also serves as Microsoft s feedback loop. The Sender Score Certified program operated by Return Path continues to be the exclusive IP accreditation service for Microsoft guaranteeing inbox delivery with images on and the reportas-spam link replaced with an unsubscribe link. Link: Copyright Direct.com Page 6 of 10

7 To Maintain Good Delivery in 2012 Marketers Must Understand Many Different Elements Affecting . There isn t a magical answer when it comes to achieving consistent inbox delivery; instead it is a complex answer with lots of pieces. Each piece plays a role, but generally, no singular piece can determine whether an goes junk or inbox. Domain Reputation: Domain reputation plays a large part in delivery because many large ISPs like Google and Yahoo have systems in place to evaluate sending practices on a domain level, not just based on the IP reputation. If you re not following best practices, causing poor domain reputation, your mail can be deferred before it ever hits the inbox. To keep your domain reputation intact, list maintenance is crucial. Only send to opt-in subscribers and make sure that your bounces, complaints and removes are being cleaned out. IP: Unlike a domain, an IP address is not a part of your brand identity. An IP address is the source of your . Sender practices directly affect the IP reputation. Complaints, bounces, etc. from any sender on an IP can damage the overall IP reputation. Authentication: Authentication is the idea of proving your identity, as a mailer. While authentication standards such as DKIM, Domain Keys, Sender ID and SPF work in different ways, the end goal is essentially the same: the receiving server can verify that the domain used in the From Address is under the control of the sender. Simply put, authentication proves that you are authorized to send from the domain you are sending from. To learn more about Authentication, click here. Sender Reputation: Sender Reputation is like a credit score for mailers. The driving metrics behind that score include: complaint rates, unknown user rates and the number of Spam Traps hit. Each of the major providers calculate and track those metrics in order to make an automatic judgment on where your should be delivered: the inbox, the junk folder or not at all. Although, unlike a credit score, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL and Hotmail do not directly share the reputation Copyright Direct.com Page 7 of 10

8 data they collect. This requires mailers to generate and maintain good Sender Reputation with each of the major providers. Find out what your Sender Score is at SenderScore.org. Metrics: Complaints, also known as FBLs (feedback loops), are derived from recipients clicking the SPAM button in their web-based account. Most ISP s (not all, in fact Gmail doesn t share this information) report back to the sender when a recipient clicks this. Senders need to participate in FBL programs so these recipients can be permanently removed from the list. Unknown Users, hard bounces, should also be permanently removed from a list. Continuing to send mail to users who don t exist will further harm your Sender Reputation. Spam Traps are addresses created to lure Spam. Often, they re old addresses (once valid but long since abandoned) that after many years of inactivity are re-released into the world as a way to trap data harvesters, stealers, etc. I have a client whose web-based service has been around since the mid-nineties. When they started working with us 3 years ago, they had never sent any to their registered users. Knowing that, we were prepared to hit a lot of traps when validating 15 year old addresses. These were legitimate users of the service but if not handled pro-actively could have severely damaged their Sender Reputation. User Engagement: Beyond sender reputation determined by the metrics previously discussed, user engagement can make or break a mailer s inbox placement with individual users. For example, when a user marks a message as Spam, it is likely that all future messages from that sender will be delivered to the spam folder for that individual user, regardless of the message s ability to hit the inbox otherwise. Implementation and use of user engagement metrics differs between each of the major providers. Active Users: Another newer trend in delivery is metrics based on active users, which are categorized based on their activity level within that ISP. For example, I have a Gmail account I use for all my personal mail. I m active in it all day long; marking some mail as Spam, others as not Spam, Opening, Clicking, Unsubscribing, etc. I have a Hotmail account that I use when I purchase from a company I don t wish to hear from again and then I have other accounts at AOL, Yahoo, etc. that I use only for monitoring my clients mail. In this scenario, I m only an active user in Gmail. ISPs that are adopting the Active User model are now gauging metrics based on how many active users you delivered to, not the total users. Let s say you sent 100,000 s to AOL, of which 1,401 hard bounced (0.1% Unknown rate) and 380 complained (0.04% Complaint Rate). Those aren t bad numbers BUT, if out of the 100,000 AOL has only 20,000 of those recipients classified as an Active User, your metrics (now a 0.7% hard bounce and 0.2% complaint rate) just got a lot more suspect! Content: The actual content of your (both copy and images) can affect your delivery. You can t just send anything and expect it to hit the inbox. Optimized content will lack spammy phrases, be clear of Spam Triggers such as unmasked links and excessive punctuation, and will Copyright Direct.com Page 8 of 10

9 have an even text-to-image ratio (just to name a few). HTML/Code: Coding for is much different than coding for the web. Many people think they can just pull the source code from a website and plop it into an . Wrong! There are certain tags that are optimal for . For example, <p> tags aren t recognized by Outlook, so you must use a <br> tag to create a space. Beyond rendering problems, using the wrong code, coupled with other triggers, can activate Spam Filters across the board. Text Version: Spam Filters can be triggered when only HTML is sent. Always make a text version in addition to an HTML version of your creative. The plain-text version should have about the same content as the HTML version. Also, be careful with triggers in your Text version. Last week a client was including advertisements for a partner in their newsletter. Unfortunately their partners URL was blacklisted, which left un-masked in a text version would have negatively affected their inbox delivery. Catching these things before mail is deployed will save you time and money! Consistency: Consistency is necessary for any kind of marketing, but it is even more important when it comes to marketing because it can improve delivery. Sending on a regular basis can improve your Sender Reputation. If you send good mail regularly, that will be noticed by ISPs, and will in turn improve your reputation, increasing inbox delivery. Also, marketers who mail consistently tend to have less bounces, removes and complaints, the metrics that reputation is based from. If you only mail every 6 months, chances are some of the accounts in your database have been cancelled or your subscribers have forgotten about you. Subject line: Sometimes whether or not your will go junk or inbox can come down to the subject line. It is not that the subject line itself is the main factor in delivery, but it can be the determiner. Let s say you have a lot of triggers words in your content, but your subject line reads more like a newsletter, you may hit inbox. However, if your subject line reads HUGE SALE TODAY!! the combination of content and the subject line may be enough to land the in the Spam Folder. Because of this, testing the subject line for inbox delivery is crucial. Stay away from any spam-like words or phrases, all caps and excessive punctuation. Blacklists: These come in various forms and from numerous organizations, but they are essentially a reference list of bad senders that are known to send Spam. ISPs will check a sender against certain blacklists and if a sender is on one, they are flagged as Spam. Obviously, it is important to keep yourself off of blacklists because it can put a damper on your delivery. Whitelists: Lists compiled of good senders. Being on a whitelist can allow your to automatically bypass one or more Spam filters that an ISP uses. There isn t a global whitelist and in fact, many services have their own whitelist. Because whitelists aren t universal, it doesn t Copyright Direct.com Page 9 of 10

10 guarantee delivery across the board. If you work with an ESP, you should find out what ISP s offer whitelisting, and whether your IP/Domain has been registered with the whitelist. delivery is like a puzzle with many pieces. There is not a single piece that is the most important, which means you have to take into account all of the above factors. It may seem a bit overwhelming, but if you are a consistent sender with good sending practices and quality data, you shouldn t have a problem regularly reaching the inbox. About Direct When changes in deliverability happen, it pays to have a partner paying close attention. Direct.com provides a full service marketing solution for medium to large scale mailers. Beyond providing all the technology needed to send and track effective campaigns, Direct also dedicates knowledgeable marketing consultants to every customer in order to achieve maximum inbox deliverability. Discover why top online marketers choose Direct as the best value among leading full service marketing solution providers. For more information or to schedule a no-hassle consultation, visit Copyright Direct.com Page 10 of 10

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