The good news is that the ISPs (and their technology providers) are doing a much better job at preventing much of the truly criminal spam. With the worst mail out of the way, what are they finding? Of the mail that is not criminal spam, the mail streams that are causing the most noise from ISP subscribers (high "this is spam" rates, high spam ratings from spam rating panels, low "this is not spam" rates) is mail coming from legitimate companies with very poor practices. These mailers are now front and center on the ISPs' radar screens, which will result in widespread, critical delivery problems for this class of maile in 2010r.
Moreover, it is also possible, albeit pretty speculative, that ISPs moving to domain-based reputation systems could make it even harder for worst-practice marketers to get their email delivered to the inbox. After a vast majority of "true" spam and phishing is caught at the gateway by IP address reputation systems, domain reputation would be applied to the remaining mail -- which is largely from legitimate companies. A domain reputation threshold will be created and mail from domains with scores below the threshold will not be delivered to the inbox. If this happened, more commercial email will be blocked or delivered to the spam or bulk folder.
So, what are these worst practices?
When we look at our own Reputation Data Network (over 150 million mailboxes reporting), the email marketers with the worst reputations share the following worst practices:
It's not clear what the subscriber is signing up for. What kind of newsletters or offers will they receive once they subscribe? How frequently will email be sent? When you fail to properly disclose type and frequency, you fail to set up the proper expectations and build a strong relationship with your subscribers.
No action was required to sign up. A pre-checked checkbox is the most common practice, as marketers want to quickly build their list. Unfortunately, we see massive volumes of offers for people who simply bought from a retailer but never explicitly signed up for a newsletter. When explicit consent is not given from the onset, it often results in high complaint rates and subsequently low inbox placement rates.
The mailings are not targeted. This is particularly true of lists that mail third-party offers. I sign up for a lot of third-party offers out of professional curiosity. According to the last several offers I received, I am badly in need of 1) a university degree (although I have one, much to my parent's surprise); 2) more hair on my head -- regardless of the fact that it's mostly still there; and 3) glossy lips. Mind you, I have nothing against lip gloss. I'm just an infrequent user. There is no chance that I'm going to buy anything from these messages, but there is a non-zero probability I will complain about these messages.
The volume of messages from the sender is very high. The IPs and domains that are driving the largest problem are sending at very high volumes -- presumably because they have such low conversion rates. However, sending more "bad" email will negatively affect your sending reputation with ISPs and make it even harder to earn the response rates you desire.
Many readers will say, "I don't follow these worst practices" and if that is true, well done. Nonetheless, all mailers will encounter delivery challenges throughout the life of their program -- whether it be in response to a misstep in your own practices, or a change in the email landscape. However, if your mailing program depends on any of the above practices, I suggest you aggressively explore ways to stop using these worst practices right now. What you are doing is interrupt-driven marketing. which is negatively affecting email-sending reputation today and will worsen your revenue prospects for the future. As ISPs work to employ more stringent measures to prevent unwanted email from reaching the inbox, I urge you to work smarter, not harder, to achieve the results you want from your email program. Take this opportunity to raise the bar and discover ways to engage more deeply with your subscribers to drive revenue for your business.
Time may be drawing short.