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Reputation: part 2

Yesterday, I posted about reputation as a combination of measurable statistics, like bounce rates and complaint rates and spamtrap hits. But some mailers who meet those reputation numbers are still seeing some delivery problems. When they ask places, like AOL, why their mail is being put into the bulk folder or blocked they are told that the issue is their reputation. This leads to confusion on the part of those senders because, to them, their reputation is fine. Their numbers are exactly where they were a few weeks ago when their delivery was fine.

What appears to have changed is how reputation is being calculated. AOL has actually been hinting for a while that they are looking at reputation, and even published a best practices document back in April. Based on what people are saying some of that change has started to become sender visible.

We know that AOL and other ISPs look at engagement, and that they can actually measure engagement a lot more accurately than sender can. Senders rely on clicks and image loading to determine if a user opened an email. ISPs, particularly those who manage the email interface, can measure the user actively opening the email.

We also know that ISPs measure clicks. Not just “this is spam” or “this is not spam” clicks in the interface, but they know when a link in an email has been clicked as well.

I expect that both these measures are now a more formal and important part of the AOL reputation magic.

In addition to the clicks, I would speculate that AOL is now also looking at the number of dead addresses on a list. It is even possible they are doing something tricky like looking at the number of people who have a particular from address in their address book.

All ISPs know what percentage of a list is delivered to inactive accounts. After a long enough period of time of inactivity, mail to those accounts will be rejected. However for some period of time the accounts will be accepting mail. Sending a lot of mail to a lot of dead accounts is a sign of a mailer who is not paying attention to recipient engagement.

All ISPs with bulk folders have to know how many people have the from address in their address book. Otherwise, the mail would get delivered incorrectly. In this way, ISPs can monitor the “generic” recipient’s view of the email. Think of it as a similar to hitting the “this is not spam” button preemptively.

This change in reputation at the ISPs is going to force senders to change how they think of reputation, too. No longer is reputation all about complaints, it is about sending engaging and relevant email. The ISPs are now measuring engagement. They are measuring relevancy. They are measuring better than many senders are.

Senders cannot continue to accrete addresses on lists and continue sending email into the empty hole of an abandoned account while not taking a hit on their reputation. That empty hole is starting to hurt reputation much more than it helps reputation.

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