8 Things The Top Mailbox Providers Really Want Email Marketers To Know

Columnist Steve Dille shares deliverability insights gathered directly from ISPs at two recent industry conferences.


There’s nothing more valuable than assembling some serious industry brainpower in one room for a good discussion around immediate and future challenges, and we were recently able to get up close and personal with two — two, count ‘em! — panels that brought members of ISP brain trusts together.

In past years, the Internet Service Providers Panel, hosted by Message Systems at the Interact conference, has made for some lively give-and-take. Thus, nobody should have been surprised that the session at Interact 2014 wasn’t any different, with Google, Microsoft, AOL, Comcast and Synacor on hand.

The Keynote Panel Discussion at The Email Evolution Conference (#EEC15) was just as animated, with key anti-abuse personnel on hand from Comcast, Hotmail/Outlook, AOL and Gmail.

Each session saw an emphasis on illuminating ISPs’ approach to engagement and discussing how it stacks up against the objectives of senders. Each side has a different set of concerns and metrics – for ISPs, that includes complaints, deletes and breaches; for email marketers, it’s opens.

Spam has purportedly declined over recent years, to believe the statistics. According to Kaspersky, the share of spam in email traffic decreased steadily throughout 2012 to hit a five-year low, but spam still accounts for more than 70% of email traffic.

Symantec reported over 29 billion spam emails per day last year, and that’s just the malicious stuff: fraudsters, black hatters and bad guys, not legitimate (if unwanted) graymail. ISPs, all told, do an admirable job of screening it. But to keep moving forward, there were key call-outs that ISPs consider crucial to sender success:

1. How We Define “Spam” Makes It A Moving Target For ISPs

John Scarrow of Microsoft made the point that separating graymail from truly heinous spam is never a simple task for ISPs, because we each have idiosyncratic attitudes about what comprises spam.

What complicates it, as Mark Risher of Google explained, is how recipient behavior is inconsistent: what’s offensive on Monday morning might be the same email we’re devouring Monday night.

2. Spammers Are Getting Smarter… And Sexier

Moderator Kate Nowrowzi of Message Systems detailed the growth in spear phishing, as spammers try to game filters by using people’s social preferences to target them.  An HR professional might get a malicious “resume” attachment or “HR white paper” for example.

Taking another tack, 70% of 2013 spam presented itself as being from adult sites or adult dating services, though the sultry seductress craving a recipient’s attention stands a good chance of being a bot in an offshore server farm or call center.  Sexy!

3. It’s A Reputation Game

It was reiterated with emphasis: since they’re acting as proxies for recipients, ISPs put huge weight on sender reputation, so one of the best ways for senders to reach the inbox is to be consistent and predictable, and observe each ISP’s published best practices.

Running a tight ship on authentication – say, via scrupulous SPF records and well-policed domains – is critical for maintaining that good rep.  Being spoofed by spammers who managed to hijack one of your IPs is a recipe for having your legit emails junked.

4. Senders, Segment!

Use different streams to handle different functions, especially marketing versus transactional, or even if you’re targeting different audiences.  This guards against having an issue in one of your programs affecting how an ISP regards the rest.

5. Making IP Changes? Communicate It

If you’re a sender adding new streams for new customers, or migrating existing customers, that means resultant IP changes…and that means ISPs won’t recognize you or your customers as the same upright, utterly legit entities you’ve always been – unless you contact them to clue them in on your moves.

6. Senders, Make It Easier To Unsubscribe

In the long run, it’s not just a service to users, but helps email marketers, too.  Losing disinterested users only increases your overall open rates and sender reputation.

7. Should You Care About Encryption?

Panelists at were all-in on this: not just financial firms should care about TLS/SSL, but any sender should look at encryption as the new baseline, rather than non-encryption.

Spammers are on top of any latest advances almost instantly, and are often well ahead of some ISPs and senders, so end-to-end encryption is essential when some shrewd but nasty people are dead-set on intercepting your email.

8. Read The Policies, Follow Best Practices, And “Talk To Us” About Your Needs

ISPs clearly state their policies and lay out best practices — usually on dedicated Postmaster Support pages on their websites — and work at creating dialogue between receivers and senders to maximize deliverability, benefitting everybody involved… except the spammers.

If you have questions about how a particular ISP is handling your traffic, don’t hesitate to reach out and connect with them via email or online. It’s in their interest that you know how best to get your messages to the inbox.

About The Author

Steve Dille is the senior vice president of marketing at Message Systems, a provider of digital messaging technology. He leads the company’s global product marketing, demand-generation, branding and communications operations.


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