Sending More Mail Will Not Make It Suck Less

If you haven’t been keeping up with the current deliverability tempest in a teacup, you haven’t been missing too much. There’s some interesting material on both sides of the argument and at least one amusing troll, but there’s nothing there that, by itself, should make you change how you’re doing things. (Unless you’re spamming. If you are, you should stop doing that right now.)

It all comes on the heels of remarks by a Microsoft representative at a recent email conference, in which he appears to have reiterated that does not measure clicks on links in email. The premise advanced by some observers following the conference seems to be, “Free inbox providers don’t count clicks, so marketers should send more mail.”

Maybe I’m just not the the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I don’t see how they get there from here. Continue reading Tests the DMARC Waters

A colleague of mine pointed out last night that changed its DNS record from publishing no DMARC policy to publishing a record specifying “p=none; pct=100”.

In DMARC, “p=none” is used to collect feedback and gain visibility into email streams without impacting existing flows.

Earlier this spring, both Aol and Yahoo began publishing “p=reject; pct=100” on some or all of their domains’ DMARC records, causing lots of mail to be rejected at all domains that participate in DMARC – and not just spam. The change caused mail lists to break and inflicted serious deliverability damage on small businesses who’ve relied on Aol or Yahoo for their business needs for years. hasn’t made any public announcements about when or if they will publish a reject record, but I take yesterday’s change as a clear sign that they’re thinking about it.

Half-True Predictions

The thought of blogging predictions for the New Year in Deliverability makes me cringe. I’m not exactly sure why; it may have something to do with the fact that everyone else has already done it – we’ve had a bumper crop so far this year. Mostly, I think, I’d hate to be proven wrong later. So, instead of offering my own predictions (which would doubtlessly sound much like anyone else’s), I’d like to take a look at two different trends in deliverability that came only half-true in 2010, but that are still worth your time to continue to watch in 2011. The two trends are Domain Reputation and Engagement Metrics.

Continue reading

Changes Coming to AOL and Yahoo! Inboxes, Too

Much has been written in the last few weeks about big changes to the free e-mail offerings from Google and Microsoft. Hotmail rolled out Wave 4, with Sweep and Time-Traveling Filters that penalize “gray mail” by sweeping it out of the inbox. Gmail’s Priority Inbox now rewards messages that it deems most relevant to the recipient with preferred positioning in the inbox.

In the meantime, AOL and Yahoo! have been working quietly on their own major inbox releases. However, early glimpses at new features hint at altogether different strategies for capturing and holding users’ attention – important changes that may influence how recipients interact with your e-mail and help propagate your message.

It’s been about 20 years since AOL and e-mail became nearly synonymous (“You’ve got mail!”). Today, comScore ranks AOL mail dead last in market share behind Yahoo!, MSN and Google. AOL will attempt to rise from the ashes when they take the wraps off “Project Pheonix” later this year. Few details about specific changes to the user interface have been confirmed, but insiders say we should expect tighter integration with AOL Instant Messenger, SMS messaging and MapQuest. They’re planning a Gmail-like archive feature and enhanced search across users’ e-mail folders. AOL say they will present fewer ads at entry points, but will serve up more targeted advertising when users drill down into AOL’s content sites.

A recent interview with AOL Mail Ops President Brad Garlinghouse also hints at a larger effort to deliver an integrated messaging platform for all of the users’ various inboxes – be they traditional e-mail inboxes at Yahoo!, Gmail or MSN, as well as IM, SMS or social media inboxes. He notes that Internet users now manage an average of 2.4 e-mail addresses, up from 1.9 five years ago. Garlinghouse intimates that Phoenix will position the AOL mail site as a hub for users to manage them all.

Yahoo! has been far less cagey in discussing new features in its upcoming mail release, dubbed “Minty”. Users will be able to update their Facebook status from within their Yahoo! inbox. Earlier this year, Yahoo! made a few other social media moves, announcing partnerships with Twitter and social media game giant Zynga, and the acquisition of location-based social network Koprol.

But the most noticeable changes will be to the user interface. Yahoo! is promising a leaner, faster-loading site that more closely resembles the mobile apps (read: iPad) versions of its offerings. The interface changes are designed to increase market share in non-US markets, where consumer broadband is not as common, and load times can still be an issue for larger percentages of the user base.

It doesn’t appear that either AOL or Yahoo! are planning any major changes to the way it filters or delivers inbound mail in these releases. The message for senders is that social media and e-mail are converging quickly: Google’s abortive attempt to socialize e-mail with Buzz did not spell the end of other efforts, and it’s possible that more than one will succeed. If that happens, senders may have the chance to turn their recipients’ entire social networks into prospects.

Reply-All: Three Day Weekend Edition

  • From all the coverage of Gmail Priority Inbox, you’d think nothing else happened in the e-mail deliverability world this week. Well, actually, not much else did, but we’ll get to that later.
  • MSN/Live/Hotmail, hot on the heels of their own re-tooling of “hands free” inbox management
    tools, announces (or re-announces) that they, too, are using engagement metrics to make delivery decisions – and furthermore, user level preferences will override server-level filtering policies. Proof that one man’s trash may truly be another’s treasure.
  • Not everyone is happy about these developments: E-mail marketing agency CEO and “thought leader” Dela Quist asserts in a rambling screed that “interfering with someone’s email [sic] infringes on their rights”, and doing so invites a class action suit. It’s plain to me (and others, judging from the comments on the piece) that he’s actually arguing for senders’ right of unfettered access to their recipients’ inboxes. No such right exists, of course: courts in the US have considered and rejected the notion on at least two occasions – once as early as 1996 (AOL v. Cyberpromo). And of course, there’s both the CDA and CAN SPAM, both of which hold ISPs harmless for filtering mail.

What color is your (Hot)mail?

E-mail deliverability folk are all abuzz this week about the roll-out of major changes to Hotmail that began Tuesday. It’s hard to accurately predict what impact they’ll have on senders, but we can make some early, educated guesses.

The feature that’s receiving the lion’s share of attention is the one Hotmail has dubbed “Sweep”. Sweep helps recipients to move what Hotmail calls “gray mail” – mail that is not spam, but that may no longer be relevant to the recipient – out of the inbox. Like an inbox janitor, sweep declutters the inbox by automatically moving gray mail to the trash or to another folder for later action.

What makes Sweep different from existing user level filtering tools is ease of use. Recipients won’t need to build cumbersome filtering rules to manage gray mail; Hotmail presents a simplified button interface to set and apply sweep preferences.

That’s good news and bad news for senders. The good news is that recipients will have an alternative to reporting permissioned mail as spam. Senders have long bemoaned that lazy recipients  all too often use the “This is spam” button as a sort of malformed unsubscribe request from permission-based mail. Sweep will move gray mail out of users’ inboxes without a hit to sender reputation. The bad news is that Sweep remembers user preferences, so if a user sweeps a sender’s mail once, Hotmail is likely to continue to sweep that sender’s mail until the user intervenes.

If the recipient deletes a particular sender’s mail unopened several times, Hotmail will eventually prompt them to unsubscribe with a new feature called (appropriately enough) Prompted Unsubscribe. Again, a mixed bag for senders: it will undoubtedly reduce list size by some amount; however, it removes recipients who are no longer engaged anyhow, which should actually improve open and conversion rates.

One final feature of note from a deliverability standpoint is Time Traveling Filters. Hotmail will retroactively filter unopened mail that had already made it to the inbox if the sender’s reputation later tanks. That means there’s no longer a guarantee that a message delivered to the inbox will actually stay there until the recipient can act on it.

Hotmail’s changes emphasize the growing importance that reputation and engagement will play in the e-mail universe. The take-away for senders: don’t send gray mail. Keep your recipients engaged with relevant, compelling content, so that what gets to the inbox stays in the inbox.