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The Best-Practices Pressure is on: Expert

2/14/12

By Ken Magill

The pressure for mainstream marketers to clean up their email efforts or face getting treated as spammers is increasing and it’s not just because of Spamhaus, according to one expert.

While anti-spam outfit Spamhaus has ratcheted up its blocklisting activities against mainstream marketers in recent months—as reported here last week—other forces are also at work, according to Tom Sather, senior director of email research for email deliverability and security company Return Path.

“Major companies are being scrutinized for list hygiene by major blacklists like Spamhaus,” said Sather. “All of these guys [blocklist operators and ISP abuse desk employees] go to conferences such as MAAWG [Mail Anti-Abuse Working Group]. They’re talking about what’s happening and what they’re seeing are list hygiene issues with major brands.

“In the past they [mainstream marketers] may have gotten some leniency because they’re household names but now they’re being told they have to play by the same rules as everyone else and they’re tripping spam filters,” Sather said.

He added that as email inbox providers, such as Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail, increasingly use engagement metrics such as opens and clicks to determine if messages are wanted, email marketers are going to have to take a serious look at their inactive names and try to figure out if they’re truly inactive.

“There is still some debate about how much inactive names are causing deliverability problems,” he said. “If I get an email from Facebook, I don’t click through that email. I just go to Facebook. Likewise with a retailer telling me about a big sale. I may just go to the store.”

However, he added: “In the coming year, I think we will see more engagement-based spam filtering, so it’s going to be important for marketers to look beyond opens and clicks to determine who is actively engaged in their email program.”

And besides ISPs and blocklist owners, email recipients are also increasing the best-practices pressure on marketers by being quicker to hit the spam-complaint button, according to Sather. Spam complaints are a significant metric ISPs use to determine if email from a particular sender is wanted or not.

“Subscribers are complaining more,” he said. “They’re signing up for a lot more stuff and they’re complaining about more stuff because they can’t handle the amount of email they’ve signed up for. The big ISPs have the [spam-filtering] mechanisms in place to adjust for that feedback.”

He added: “The major thing that marketers need to look at in 2012 is analytics. Marketers need to look at their numbers to see what is the right frequency for different types of subscribers.”

Sather said the days of increasing email frequency to make more money are drawing to a close if not already over.

“I think we’re going to see some backlash because of subscriber fatigue in the coming days,” he said. “It’s here now, but we’re going to see it more and more because people are receiving so much email that they can’t handle it.”

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