If you're interested in finding out how AOL's, Comcast's and Microsoft's spam filtering works, then you should read this recap of the AOTA Summit over on the eec website.
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According to Stefan Pollard, last week's Authentication and Online Trust Alliance Summit in Boston clearly showed authentication is an integral tool in the fight against spam and e-mail fraud -- and is being widely adopted by senders and receivers alike.
The summit also made clear that authentication alone is not enough. You must have a solid sender reputation.
ISPs use reputation to determine not only the legitimacy of incoming mail, but also whether it's wanted by and relevant to recipients. E-mail delivery statistics will get a lift with authentication, but the full benefit is delivered only when a good reputation backs you up.
To borrow the analogy used at the conference: "Think of authentication as your driver's license and reputation as your driver's record." The ISP may know who you are, but if your driving record stinks because of arrests or fines, the delivery cops won't allow your e-mail into the inbox.
In several case studies, Microsoft showed how it uses reputation data to supersede or override content filters that could block or filter messages. Mail that scored poorly for content actually got routed to the inbox because the sender's reputation score was more heavily weighted than the content score.
Conversely, a whistle-clean e-mail message can get stopped cold or filtered if it comes from a sender with a poor reputation score.
MarketingSherpa posted their Top 13 Takeaways + Image-Rendering Tips from last week's Authentication and Online Trust Alliance summit.
Microsoft last week verified it is significantly throttling the volume of e-mail it will allow to come into its Hotmail accounts from new IP addresses.
“If we’ve never seen mail from you before, we’re going to limit the amount mail sent to us,” said Craig Spiezle, director of online safety at Microsoft Corp. “The message to the marketer is: ‘You want to be cautious. Don’t do your major holiday campaign, and on day one, drop a few million mails from a new IP address.’”
When asked how strictly Microsoft throttles e-mail coming from new sources, Spiezle said: “It’s going to be severely throttled.” He declined to get more specific.
He added, however, that a new IP can gain a reputation with Microsoft that will allow the sender to deliver e-mail at full throttle within 72 hours to a week.
“What we want to see is if we let in x amount of thousands of mail, do we get any complaints?” he said. “And then if we double it, do we get any complaints.”
He also refused to get specific about how many e-mails a day a mailer should send from a new IP in order to build its reputation, but indicated 50,000 to 100,000 might do it.
Many suspect Yahoo! is also throttling e-mail from new IP addresses, as well, but won’t own up to it.
There are various aspects that are paramount to excellent deliverability rates. In this article, Kirill Popov takes a look at these aspects and gives some practical advice to improve your deliverability in-house:
Microsoft just published results culminating from a two-year-long study on the effectiveness of Sender ID Framework e-mail authentication in helping counter deceptive e-mail.
Key results from the study:
- Every day, 20 million forged messages are detected by Sender ID-enabled domains.
- Reputable marketers that have adopted Sender ID have realized improved deliverability, with up to 85 percent fewer messages mistakenly marked as spam in Windows Live Hotmail.
- With spam increasing 40 percent in the past 12 months, spam in Hotmail users' inboxes has actually been reduced by 50 percent; Sender ID contributed 8 percent of that reduction.
James O'Brien posted his notes from day 1 of the Authentication and Online Summit on his blog. This is what he says:
The Big News is the coming launch of the unsubscribe button in the new Windows Live Hotmail User Interface. For Microsoft to recognize unsubscribe as a powerful way to give consumers more control over their inbox is a giant step forward for the industry. The button will appear if a user has flagged an email sender as “known”. There are three classifications in the new UI topped by a color-coded bar.
Known Sender- white bar
Unknown Sender - yellow bar
Potentially Dangerous- red bar
There are some great benefits for marketers that go out of their way to achieve “known sender” status. It’s a great example of how following best practices can reward marketers. And how important it is to understand the sometimes nuanced requirements of compliance needed for greater deliverability.
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) announced the launch of its Email Authentication Help Center, which is designed to help email marketers to comply with the DMA Board of Directors’ mandate requiring DMA members to authenticate all outbound email.
It includes definitions, how-tos, test-tools, and a checklist to help marketers make sense of the information requirements. The online resource center also includes a directory of DMA member companies that have agreed to offer technical assistance at reasonable prices.
I just found this article on reputation from the spam fighter's point of view:
Spam has undergone a radical evolution during the past few years, and reputation systems are now a key technology in dealing with the ever-increasing volume of unwanted messages. Reputation systems have been in use for the past three years, but are only now becoming "table stakes" for any vendor offering email security solutions. That is, it's hard for any vendor to substantiate a high spam detection rate without relying on reputation.
The general concept behind a reputation system is that you can, with some precision, figure out the likelihood of a message being spam, based on who is sending it. IP addresses cannot be spoofed; they identify the sender and receiver of an email message and are essential to ensuring a message gets to its destination. You can fake pretty much everything else about a message, but not the originating IP address.
So how does a reputation system actually help your organization?
In this blog post, MailChimp explains how spam gets filtered. It gives you some good insights in how the process works and why having a good reputation matters.
The guys at MailChimp put together a short Email Certification Guide in which they explain the basics of email certification:
- How Does Certification Work?
- What is Email Deliverability?
- How Certification Helps Deliverability
- How Can I Get Certified?
- How Much They Cost
- How Do I Pick A Vendor?
- Which ISPs and Spam Filters Accept Which Certification Programs?
In the latest edition of Constant Contact's newsletter "Email Marketing Hints & Tips", Gail Goodman answers the question "I've heard that text emails have a better delivery rate than HTML emails. Is this true?".
The short answer is NO. Here's what Gail has to say about it:
There are two misconceptions about HTML emails:
1) they are more likely to get blocked, and
2) they are less preferred by readers.
These are simply not true. Text emails do not have a higher delivery rate than HTML and many people want the benefits that HTML provides (images, colors, readability, etc.) over text.
The deliverability of your emails is based primarily on the reputation of the sender (if you use a email service provider, they are the sender). What used to be the most important delivery element, the content of the email, is playing much less of a role these days.
And format (HTML or text) has little to no effect. When you use a service to send email, you can offer your subscribers a choice of text or HTML. That way they are getting the kind of email they want. And that is what's most important.
In this article, Bill Nussey explains that there are steps B2B marketers can take to ensure more of their messages get through to the people who have asked for them.
As long as you are already sending permission-based, well-branded messages, promptly honoring unsubscribe requests and scrubbing bounces from your lists, these six tips can help improve your B2B email deliverability:
1. Check blacklists
According to MarketingSherpa's "Email Marketing Benchmark Guide, 2007," most email marketers check whether they are on a blacklist less than once a month, and yet more than a third of the corporations use them in their anti-spam efforts.
2. Look into an email reputation service
Email reputation services such as Sender Score and Habeas compile detailed information in order to categorize senders based on their email reputation, and then they vouch for companies with the best reputations. Such endorsements may help you get through some corporate firewalls.
3. Use a deliverability provider
Companies like Pivotal Veracity or Return Path can help you get a handle on your reputation by auditing your emails to determine why they aren't being delivered. These audits uncover causes and fixes for content and coding errors, rendering problems, "black-holing" (messages that are discarded by ISPs without notice), and other factors affecting your reputation and deliverability.
In this article, Stefan Pollard explains how to address issues with blocklists, how to resolve them, and how to restore both your sender reputation and delivery rates.
How do you know if you're on a blocklist?
The fastest way is to use a blocklist checker that queries multiple lists at once. Many e-mail service providers (ESPs) give their clients tools, sometimes through partnerships with reputation companies, to check if they're currently listed. These include EmailAdvisor's Blacklist Monitor, Return Path's Sender Score, and Habeas' RepCheck.
If you find your sending IPs or domains listed, you should also find a link to the blocklist, where you can look for evidence for the listing. Monitoring your bounce logs can also turn up block messages, which often provide the blocklist name and URL.
Continue reading here to find out what you need to do to get off a blocklist.
Ryan from eROI attended a deliverability workshop a couple of days ago and says he learned a lot more than he expected. Guest speaker at the event was Brian Holdsworth, product planner for Microsoft Hotmail. Here are a couple of highlights on what he talked about:
- Over 50% of email browser use is MS Outlook
- MS Outlook and Windows LiveMail (formerly Hotmail) represent 600 million people / users in the world. Microsoft expects this to climb to 1 billion in the next few years.
- Of the 4 billion emails per day that Hotmail processes, 90% is spam. Much of this is image spam, and spam generated from botnets and zombies.
Interestingly enough there seem to be some communication barriers within Microsoft. The Outlook team makes major changes/shifts every 3 years, and for Outlook 2007, they are moving to a content rendering engine built in MS Word instead of the natural choice of Internet Explorer. Microsoft's deliverability found out about this at the same time the general public saw the press release a couple weeks ago - and he doesn't know why this decision was made by the Outlook team.
By Neil Schwartzman, Return Path
I was at Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) conference this week and, as always, it was very interesting. Most enlightening was a conversation that George Bilbrey and I had with the head anti-spammer at a large receiving site. His sighed at one point and said, "Senders need to quit whining. We are busy fighting spam here!" While I thought it might not be a particularly politically correct or even polite thing to say, perhaps it is a message that needs to be relayed to senders.
The botnet situation is at a crisis point. If the receiving sites don't put all their resources into shoring up the defenses, there may well not be receiving sites to deliver to.
Perhaps marketers could take a look at the volumes they send, and scroll back. We know that targeted email works better anyway. As Seth Godin says, "Small is the new big." Sending targeted messages to a small, but more responsive, list is going to yield better ROI for marketers and help alleviate ISP overload. Talk about a win-win.
ISPs are trying to protect themselves from cold-hearted spammers that have threatened to break their networks and to render email useless for everyone. Good deliverability is the result of good relationships, both with your recipients and with the ISPs who deliver their mail. ISPs are telling you all the time what they think about your email marketing practices, but you need to pay attention.
In this article, Wendy Roth offers four tips to have great relationships with the ISPs and ensure deliverability.
1. Clean up your act
ISPs will be monitoring if your list hygiene stinks and your bounce rate is high. A high bounce rate occurs for several reasons, none of them good. For legitimate marketers, the most typical reason for a high bounce rate is neglect. If a sender neglects to scrub the list of bouncing addresses, the bounce percentage will increase over time. Sometimes, this neglect is due to inaccurate reporting or poor bounce-management by their email marketing software.
But more often, the failure to remove bounces lies squarely on the shoulders of the list owner who resists anything that reduces the size of their list. Bouncing addresses may also be addresses that were never any good to begin with. If users on your website need to register with an email address, they may provide a bogus one if they don't trust that you'll respect their mailing preferences. Some ISPs have identified what they consider to be a high bounce-rate. AOL considers a 10 percent bounce rate excessive, but I have seen mail blocked by other ISPs for much lower bounce rates. A frequently mailed and well maintained list will have a bounce rate in the low single digits.
In this article, Al Iverson talks about what causes AOL delivery problems and how to fix them.Basically, there are three primary things that cause delivery issues when sending mail to AOL:
- You're not whitelisted,
- Your bounce handling is broken, or you're not looking at bounces; or
- You're generating too many complaints or too many bounces.
1. You're not whitelisted.
Fix that! Go here. Read it. Agree to the terms. Fill out the form. Work through this simple process and AOL will respond with a yay or nay. If yay, you're on track to be exempted from some of their basic spam filtering. This will resolve some of your issues, potential or actual. If nay, see steps two and three below, as they're probably preventing you from getting whitelisted.
To get whitelisted, you need to make sure you're mailing from an IP address that is being used just for your mail. If you're small enough to share a sending IP address with other people sending mail, you're not really a sender. You're a customer of a sender. Whoever owns, maintains, or supports that IP address should be filling out the whitelist form on your behalf.
1. Sender sends an e-mail to Receiver.
2. Receiver’s inbound e-mail server receives e-mail and calls its Sender ID Framework.
3. The Sender ID Framework looks up the SPF record of the domain that Sender is using for sending the mail.
4. The receiving Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) determines if the outbound Mail Server IP address matches IP addresses that are authorized to send mail for the user.
This four-step wizard will guide you through the process of creating a new SPF record for your DNS domain.
Spam is back with a vengeance and the effect on ISPs and other email access providers is substantial, requiring ever-growing resources just to avoid drowning in the flood.
In response, ISPs are doing what they've always done: tightening delivery requirements. The good news for email marketers is the use of image spam and extreme variations in content mean that content filtering is less of a focus. The bad news is list hygiene and other chores related to best practices are becoming much more onerous. In particular, ISPs are increasingly aggressive about bounce rates. There's a clear correlation between high bounce rates and spam, so it's understandable ISPs utilize this as part of their defense.
This means marketers must now remain within the bounce rate requirements at all times, making older list cleanup much more difficult. In recent months, some ISPs have become so aggressive about bounce rates that even legitimate communications preferences are no longer tenable.
Unless and until ISPs realize they've tightened requirements so far that some classes of legitimate email simply can't be delivered within the parameters they've set, it will be very difficult to resolve this issue.