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And We Thought One in Five was Bad; Now It's One in Four

3/20/12

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.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Andrew Stephens
Date: 2012-04-20 12:40:24
Subject: Untwisting the Spin

Ok, I just read this article even more thoroughly and I have to point out that what Sathers is reporting here is so damn twisted it makes no sense. Let me help the readers out a bit: In 2009 I stated that British Spam filters such as Spamhaus were attacking American economy by including non-spammers in their database and acting as a Caller ID for the ISP (not recipient) more than a 'Do Not Call List'. This article states it in a statistical way: "North American mailers saw the biggest drop in deliverability..." "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.” In 2010 I stated that, for the first time in history a consumer is able to complaint about being marketed to in a way that it is effective and they are reporting things improperly. These improper social reports cause damages that are unwarranted and economically regressive. I said that NO SPAM COMPLAINT NEEDS TO HAVE ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES PRIOR TO INVESTIGATION INTERNALLY. “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.” In 2009 until present I stated that Spamhaus (and other poor DNSBLs) are an agenda to control the communication that a SUBSCRIBER gets and this is far more aggressive and damaging than 'blocking spam'. It harms communication paths, economy, and is abusive to both a sender and recipient of a message. Imagine if the Post Office only sent you the mail they thought you wanted. This article clarifies it in a much more ambiguous manner: “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.” Now, do I need to say it again or is it finally sinking in a bit..."THEY WANT TO CONTROL COMMUNICATION". Why? It's BIG BUSINESS.
Posted by: Andrew Stephens
Date: 2012-04-20 03:53:55
Subject: A Day Behind the Insiders

So, the ISPs and mainstream are finally admitting to what I have been screaming for over a year now; that there is an interest in 'Controlling your communication" that far outweighs the desire to stop spam and malice. Although I feel that the motive is far more commercially motivated than the the pitch to 'protect the use of email', it's about time someone admitted that there is a distinct and real desire to take the authority away from the recipient and act as a 'virtual door man' while never be real transparent as to what they are doing or how they are doing it. For instance; how many Gmail users realize that Spamhaus filters their email? Did you see a 'Proud Supporter of Spamhaus" on Google's site when you signed up for Gmail? How about when you signed up for Yahoo? No...well, why not? I proudly support my host, my merchant gateway, and my trust shields...so why don't they 'proudly display' their support for third-party unregulated self-appointed spam fighters running private DNSBLs?
Posted by: Tom Sather
Date: 2012-03-21 12:12:59
Subject:

Bill - We were tracking messages from thousands of marketers of all sizes, as well as most ESPs, including large and small, from around the world. We also tracked this across different campaign types, including both marketing and transactional messages. The problem with looking at deliverability rates at one specific ESP is the niche that they occupy. Some ESPs only have big brands for clients, while others focus on smaller marketers, and others focus on B2B for example. Some ESPs are great at managing their network and their deliverability, while others aren't. In our report, we include the "sophisticated marketers using professional in-house messaging teams or one of the leading ESPs", as well as many other ones that do not fall into that category. The report is extremely comprehensive in terms of the types of marketers we track.
Posted by: Bill Kaplan (FreshAddress, Inc.)
Date: 2012-03-20 17:59:39
Subject: Deliverability and inbox placement rates

Without examining the details of this study, it's difficult to know whether the stats provided here are reliable or statistically significant. And do these "average" rates, as referred to in this article, apply to sophisticated marketers using professional in-house messaging teams or one of the leading ESPs? Most ESP studies show dramatically different deliverability and inbox placement rates. I certainly know from my own personal experience that almost none of my 100+ daily opt-in communications lands in my junk folder and I would bet this is the case for everyone. Nevertheless, as most marketers have experienced, ISPs' screens for bulking, blocking, and blacklisting have certainly become more stringent over the years. So keeping your list clean and maintaining a close eye on your deliverability metrics, including opens, click-throughs, opt-outs and the like is certainly critical to optimizing your campaigns and leveraging your email marketing efforts.

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