An Email Delivery Report for 2013: Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail & AOL
EmailDirect is an email 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 email campaigns. The information contained herein has beencompiled from the experience of delivering millions of permission-based emails.
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 email providers calculate and track those metrics in order to make an automatic judgment on where your email 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 email 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 and SPF work in different ways, the end goal is essentially the same: the receiving email 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 email from the domain and IP’s you are sending from.
DMARC is the latest in authentication which allows a sender to specify that their emails are protected by SPF and/or DKIM, and instructs the receiver which action to take if the specified authentication method isn’t present. For example, if a 3rd party sends a message to a Gmail user from EmailDirect.com, Gmail’s mail server will see that the sending domain EmailDirect.com has a DMARC record in place and that the record instructs Gmail to reject messages from EmailDirect.com that do not have SPF and DKIM records. In this example the Gmail user will not receive the message and our brand reputation is not compromised. To learn more about DMARC authentication click here: http://www.emaildirect.com/blog/2013/02/is-email-delivery-better-with-dmarc/
While some form of authentication has become adopted by each of the major email providers, the idea of portable domain reputation has continued to take hold. When sending authenticated email, the reputation generated by mailers is no longer erased by simply changing IPs. With major email 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 email 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.
Mailers must authenticate with DKIM to participate in the Yahoo Feedback Loop Program
(Operated by ReturnPath) and benefit from existing domain reputation. Yahoo! checks for SPF, DKIM and DMARC and if present will block mail accordingly. Yahoo denies using any third party spam filtering devices; SpamGuard is their proprietary spam filtering technology
. SpamGuard is known to learn “spammy” content through user complaints and lack of engagement. 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 0.5% (sent/complaints) have been found to be safe, as long as unknown user rates and spam trap hits are low and you earn sufficient positive user engagement.
•Solid reputation can be achieved within 4-6 weeks by sending at least 5,000 emails per day to Yahoo users.
•Similar to the other major email 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, asking your subscribers to add you to their safe sender’s lists and by mailing desirable information that inspires your subscribers to open, read, print, save etc… your message.
•Yahoo publically states that they reference the block lists maintained at The Spamhaus Project and being listed with Spamhaus will result in a block at Yahoo!
AOL is continuing to adopt portable domain-based reputation model, though not as quickly as other ISP’s as IP reputation continues to make the biggest impact on a sender’s ability to deliver to the inbox. Mailers must authenticate with DKIM to benefit from existing domain reputation. AOL is quickly adopting user engagement metrics to determine where to deliver emails 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.
•AOL has announced that it now maintains an enhanced whitelist (EWL). This whitelist is comprised of the highest reputation IP’s seen by the AOL network. There is no application for this whitelist.
•AOL has been expected to announce a domain-based whitelist for white-hat mailers.
•AOL uses a proprietary custom-built spam filter. The spam filter is influenced by metrics such as complaints, unknown users, content, bounce processing, and spam traps.
•AOL references the block lists maintained at The Spamhaus Project.
•AOL has an acceptable complaint rate of below 0.30% over a 24hour period.
•Currently, a successful warm-up strategy for IP’s is: sending daily for 7 days with 5,000 messages or less, then increasing to 10,000 messages or less for another 7-14 days, depending on metrics. Future increases in volume will be based on the reputation established.
•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 email as spam will see all future messages from that mailer routed to the junk folder. Link: http://postmaster.aol.com
Gmail delivery has largely depended on domain reputation for years with no signs that is going to change. Authenticating with DKIM and SPF is highly recommended. Unlike the other major email providers, Gmail does not offer a feedback loop or whitelist program for mailers. Gmail does support the mailto option of list unsubscribe only available if the sender authenticates with SPF and DKIM. List unsubscribe will not be available to users with poor reputation or messages delivered to the spam folder.
•In relation to the other major email providers, Gmail is very aggressive in blocking bulk commercial email. 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 email 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.
•The most effective strategy to earning and maintaining inbox delivery at Gmail is to actively remove inactive subscribers.
Microsoft (Hotmail, Live & MSN) continues to release more reputation data than any other major provider through its Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) program. Hotmail has recently stopped using Sender ID for email authentication and switched to authenticating with SPF. Domain reputation is expected to have an increasing effect on delivery.
•Windows Live Hotmail Does not maintain/provide its own whitelist, but also uses Return Path Certified Whitelist. Application can be found here: http://www.returnpath.com/commercialsender/certification/
•While domain reputation can assist with delivery, IP reputation is still the dominant focus in Microsoft’s filtering logic.
•Microsoft employs the Symantec/Brightmail Probe Network 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
•Blocking by Windows Live Hotmail may be a result of being listed with Brightmail. Mitigating this block will require communication with Symantec not Windows Live Hotmail.
To Maintain Good Delivery in 2013 Marketers Must Understand Many Different Elements Affecting Email. 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 email goes junk or inbox.
Domain reputation plays a large part in delivery because many large ISPs 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. Practice good list hygiene and remove inactive subscribers on a regular basis ensuring that you’re earning your highest potential engagement.
Unlike a domain, an IP address is not a part of your brand identity. An IP address is the source of your email. Sender practices directly affect the IP reputation. Complaints, bounces, etc. from any sender on an IP can damage the overall IP reputation.
Authentication is the idea of proving your identity, as a mailer. While authentication standards such as DKIM, and SPF work in different ways, the end goal is essentially the same: the receiving email server can verify that the domain used in the From Address is underthe control of the sender. Simply put, authentication proves that you are authorized to send email from the domain you are sending from. To learn more about Email Authentication, click here
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 email providers calculate and track those metrics in order to make an automatic judgment on where your email 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 email providers. Find out what your Sender Score is at SenderScore.org.
Complaints, also known as FBLs (feedback loops), are derived from recipients clicking the SPAM button in their web-based email 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.
Hard bounces are emails that bounce back because the email address doesnot exist. Hard bounces should be permanently removed from a list the first time they occur. Continuing to send mail to users who don’t exist will dramatically harm Sender Reputation.
Soft bounces are emails that bounce back because the email address is temporarily undeliverable. Common soft bounce reasons include the user’s mailbox being full and the email content being rejected due to server-side spam filtering technologies. Soft bounces should be removed from a list after several attempts. Failure to remove soft bounces from a list can lead to lower user engagement and reduced sender reputation.
Spam Traps are email 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.
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 email providers. The stronger the engaged action the more impact it will have on your program. Encourage your subscribers to add you to their address book, interest them to open, read and click links within your content. Each of these actions will go a long way in earning great reputation.
Another newer trend in email 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 emails to AOL, of which 1,401 hard bounced (0.1% Unknown rate) and 380 complained (0.04% Complaint Rate).
Those aren’t bad numbers however, 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!
The actual content of your email (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 have an even text-to-image ratio (just to name a few).
Coding for email 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 email. Wrong! There are certain tags that are optimal for email. 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.
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 email 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 is necessary for any kind of marketing, but it is even more important when it comes to email 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 email accounts in your database have been cancelled or your subscribers have forgotten about you.
Sometimes whether or not your email 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 email 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.
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.
Lists compiled of “good” senders. Being on a whitelist can allow your email to automatically bypass one or more Spam filters that an ISP uses. There isn’t a global whitelist and in fact, many email services have their own whitelist. Because whitelists aren’t universal, it doesn’t 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. Email 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.
When changes in deliverability happen, it pays to have a partner paying close attention. EmailDirect.com provides a full service email marketing solution for medium to large scale mailers. Beyond providing all the technology needed to send and track effective email campaigns, mailDirect also dedicates knowledgeable email marketing consultants to every customer in order to achieve maximum inbox deliverability.
Discover why top online marketers choose EmailDirect as the best value among leading full service email marketing solution providers. For more information or to schedule a no-hassle consultation, visit