And We Thought One in Five was Bad; Now It's One in Four
By Ken Magill
For the first time since email security and deliverability firm Return Path started publishing its Deliverability Benchmark Report in 2004, average email inbox placement rates have taken a significant nosedive.
Historically, email inbox placement rates have hovered at around 80 percent, according to Return Path.
However, global inbox placement rates in the second half of 2011 were 76.5 percent compared to 81 percent in the first half of the year, according to Return Path.
So whereas in the past, one in five emails didn’t make it into recipients' inboxes, now the number globally is more like one in four, Return Path reported in its newest Deliverability Benchmark Report released today.
North American mailers saw the biggest drop in deliverability with inbox placement rates dropping from 86.5 percent to 79.3 percent, according to Return Path.
“We witnessed a 32 percent increase in spam folder delivery and a 57 percent increase in blocked emails,” the report said. “Individually, the U.S. and Canada experienced precipitous drops as well with U.S. inbox rates dropping from 86.5 percent to 80.78 percent, and Canada falling from 85.2 percent to 76.7 percent. The deliverability pain in the U.S. was due to a 30 percent increase in spam folder delivery and a 57 percent increase in blocked or missing emails.”
Tom Sather, senior director of email research for Return Path, said multiple factors are probably in play.
“Obviously in the latter half of the year there are a lot of things going on marketing-wise,” he said. “We’ve got back-to-school and then we have the holidays. That means we saw a lot of email volume. A lot of ESPs were reporting an increase in volume of 20 to 30 percent over the previous year.”
And not only were mailers mailing more, many were mailing more often, Sather said.
“As a result, we saw [spam] complaints increase,” he said. According to Return Path, average complaint rates rose from just over 2 percent in July to a high of 3.5 percent in November.
“Increasing a whole percentage point is a pretty big deal,” said Sather.
A significant percentage of email recipients use the spam-complaint button to stop getting email from specific senders even if they originally subscribed, according to Sather.
“People are having a hard time with the deluge of email, so they’re using the junk button to help them deal with it,” he said. “You could say that people are incorrectly using that button, but they’re using it.”
Spam complaints are one of the main metrics ISPs use to determine whether or not incoming email is spam.
As a result, a significant uptick in spam complaints would logically lead to a significant uptick in messages being treated by inbox providers such as Yahoo! and Gmail as spam.
Another factor in play is the ISPs are increasingly using engagement metrics to weed out unwanted messages, said Sather.
“ISP are tightening their reputation filters, and they’re becoming stricter,” he said. “ISPs aren’t just blocking spam. They’re helping subscribers sort through email. They’re [ISPs] trying to find out what’s important to them [subscribers] and deliver that to the inbox.”
Sather predicted that inbox placement will probably get even worse in the second half of this year.
“Volume will probably increase. Frequency will probably increase and, as a result, deliverability’s going to decrease,” he said.
Meanwhile, for those who still may cling to the idea that email is not a commercial communications channel, it is apparently primarily a commercial channel.
In its newest report, Return Path published statistics from Microsoft claiming that 50 percent of people’s emails are newsletters and deals, 6 percent are shopping messages and just 14 percent are person-to-person messages.
Access Return Path’s full report here.