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Social Networking Sites are Spam-Metric Kings: Return Path

6/19/12

By Ken Magill

Social networking sites hit astronomically more spam traps with their email than other industry sectors, according to a study released today by email security and deliverability firm Return Path.

What’s more, social networks scored worst in all three key metrics email inbox providers use to determine whether or not to junk incoming messages, according to Return Path’s 2012 Sender Score Benchmark Report.

Social networks hit an average of 20.8 spam traps per IP address, according to what Return Path claims was a study of 130 million IP addresses sending close to 20 trillion emails.

By comparison, emailers in the consumer packaged goods sector hit an average of 2 spam traps per IP address, and they are the second worst sector in terms of the number they hit, according to Return Path.

Tom Sather, senior director of email research for Return Path, said social networks’ high spam-trap rates are probably the result of allowing members to upload their address books.

“To me, this was a warning to social networking companies that if they are going to do it, they need to have limitations on it,” he said. “Or they need to find ways to grow their lists organically and not rely on address-book uploads. … They have horrible list-quality issues.”

The number of spam traps a mass emailer hits is one of three key metrics email inbox providers, such as AOL, Yahoo! and Hotmail, use to determine if incoming email is spam or not.

Spam traps come in two types. They can be so-called honeypots—dummy addresses published online that have never been signed up for anything—or abandoned addresses the ISPs have determined are no longer in use.

Hitting abandoned accounts signals a lack of list hygiene, something for which spammers are notorious.

People’s address books are likely to contain abandoned addresses that have been recycled into spam traps, Sather said. Hence, social networks’ high spam-trap rates.

According to Sather, hitting even just one spam trap can cause deliverability issues.

Social networks also saw the highest average spam-complaint rates, hitting 3.5 percent, according to Return Path.

Next worst in terms of spam complaints were the banking, corporate services and retail sectors, at 3.2 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent respectively, according to Return Path.

Too many spam complaints can get a mailer’s messages shunted off into would-be recipients’ spam folders or blocked from reaching them altogether.

According to Sather, an emailer’s spam-complaint rate should be less than 0.1 percent.

Social networks—along with the gaming sector—also had the highest average unknown-user rates at 5 percent, according to Return Path.

Unknown user is the term for email addresses that don’t exist. A high unknown-user rate can also trigger ISPs’ spam filters.

“Once you hit that 5 percent level, you’re probably going to experience deliverability issues,” said Sather. The best marketers have unknown-user rates below 2 percent, he said.

Interestingly, while the gaming industry had an average 5 percent unknown-user rate, it scored zero—zero ostensibly being the best possible score—in both spam-complaint spam-trap rates.

However, in the gaming sector’s case the low spam-complaint score is a terrible indicator: People don’t complain about email they don’t get.

“The reason they’re not getting spam complaints is because their mail is not getting through,” said Sather.

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