The Good Guys Get Into The Inbox: Delivery Study

Email volume is growing steadily, and a higher percentage of marketing messages is getting into the inbox, according to the 2019 Sender Score Benchmark, a study by Return Path.

Return Path’s first benchmark study in 2012 found that 60% of all email was sent by outfits with a Sender Score of 10 or less. And only 6% came from the most reputable senders.

The Sender Score is the metric used by Return Path to help emailers know where they stand. The score runs from 0 to 100 -- and it pays to be 90 or above.

These days, disreputable mailers account for 16% of email volume, and the good guys for 42%. The improvement is due to evolution of filtering technology and a heightened attention to sender reputation by providers.

Brands in that high Sender Score bracket tend to:

  • Keep their complaints down — They have a complaint rate of only 0.9%. Those below it are likely to have a gripe rate ranging from 4.6% to 6.3%.
  • Maintain clean lists, with the average number of unknown users falling below 1%. Those with a score o 80 or under were likely to see between a 6% and 8% unknown user rate.  
  • Enjoy a high delivered rate — that is, an average rate of 91%. Those in the 81-90 score range saw 71% of their email delivered in 2018, while those with scores below 80 saw “half of their messages rejected at the gateway,” the report states.



As in the past, Microsoft inboxes are the hardest to get into — even the highest-ranking senders achieved that 72% of the time. However, there was some improvement, the study notes.

The highest inbox placement rate per ESP — 93% — occurred in AOL. 2018. However, placement may be falling thanks to a new filtering system.

At the same time, senders were averaging an 88% inbox rate in  Gmail, seeing year-over-year increases ranging from 7% to 27%. At Yahoo, the rate was also 88%, but that reflects decreases of between 1% an 5%.

“Mailbox providers face competition just like any other business, so they are constantly improving their filtering algorithms to create a better inbox experience for their users,” states Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path.

He adds, “Sender reputation offers unique insight into the source of each email, making it a key factor in those filtering decisions.”

Meanwhile, the average read rate in 2018 hit 24%, a 2% rise over 2017. Among verticals, the highest rate was achieved by the distributing & manufacturing sector: 60%. Insurance scored 42%, and banking & finance 38%. The lowest rate—17%--was generated by business & marketing.

Sather concludes: “Since the initial Sender Score Benchmark Report in 2012, our research has consistently shown a clear link between reputation and deliverability.”

Return Path analyzed over 4 trillion email messages sent from IP addresses whose Sender Scores had been calculated.

The study was conducted in 2018. 

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