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The Politics of Email Deliverability

Thomas Senne
Senior Director of Global Deliverability

During this exciting political season, that seems to be offering change to the status quo at every turn, it’s interesting to compare how our own industry offers up change. When we look specifically at the email deliverability space and how we deal with that, it becomes even more interesting. The ISP side of things which is evolving and constantly adapting to new market forces. If you were to listen to the “incumbent” deliverability folks out there, you might think that things haven't changed for the last 10 years.

I find a real correlation with the way that early on in the US political race, pollsters had to begin looking in a different direction to make sense of the results they were seeing that didn’t make sense in the historical context that we had grown accustomed to interpreting.

Let me give you some real world examples where we see this happening. Let’s start with reputation. Reputation is certainly a very important factor in the success of an email program. All major ISP’s (and lots of minor ones) have some sort of reputation to guide inbox placement. We can’t underestimate the importance of building and maintaining a great reputation.

What Does Reputation Exactly Mean?

It’s about list quality (few bounces), great engagement (opens, clicks, scrolls), and the lack of spam complaints, user initiated filtering, and deleted without reading counts. In the election vernacular of today, the “establishment” candidate would have you believe that reputation is something that is a universal credit score used across different ISP’s. Reputation is not shared across ISP’s and they don’t share data.

They correctly look at the email they receive and the impact on their own users. The establishment candidate has even recently admitted that their score doesn’t include the large ISP’s like Gmail and Hotmail, but rather they include smaller ones like Comcast. I guess, that could be okay if you were only sending mail to one domain, but you aren’t.

The second example of the old way of doing things is email certification. Another metric that’s been around forever, but upon further review isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Certification purports to guarantee inbox delivery for “certified” clients, except it doesn’t. We have many examples of certified clients who are within the metric thresholds, seeing bulking at supposedly certified partner ISP’s.

How Is That Possible?

It’s possible because the ISP’s don’t whitelist customers anymore, period. Why would they take 3rd party numbers as the gospel for inbox fitness? In fact, numbers we’ve seen with our clients show that for mainstream marketers, certification doesn’t provide any material improvements to deliverability. In fact, we’ve seen numbers go the other way because Hotmail, for example, holds certified senders to a higher standard of entrance than non-certified senders. We do know there are a substantial number of senders in that program, who come from very difficult verticals from which to deliver email to the inbox. These guys have little to lose by signing up with a program like this and those guys probably see some lift.

Whether this comes from certification or just from some semblance of a program beyond batch and blast, can be debated. Bottom line, it’s almost assuredly not worth the extra money you are going to spend on certification. You would be much better off investing a fraction of that money in strategy or data mining.

It’s a tough world out there this political season. You have the incumbents desperately hanging on to their old and outdated principles. They try to sell you with fear instead of evolving with the rest of us. As usual, the old guard is swept out with sometimes surprising suddenness. Don’t be the last one looking to those outdated metrics. It’s past time to take a realistic look at what’s actually driving the deliverability success and failure of your campaigns.

Download the Email Deliverability: Guide for Modern Marketers now to improve the success of your future campaigns.  

Email Deliverability: Guide for Modern Marketers

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