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Permission Based Emails? Are you sure?

Yesterday I wrote about the ReturnPath study showing 21% of permission based email does not make it to the inbox. There are a number of reasons I can think of for this result, but I think one of the major ones is that not all the mail they are monitoring is permission based. I have no doubt that all of the RP customers say that the mail they’re sending is permission based, I also have no doubt that not all of the mail is.
Everyone who sends mail sends permission based email. Really! Just ask them!
In 10 years of professionally working with senders I have yet to find a marketer that says anything other than all their email is permission based. Every email marketer, from those who buy email addresses to those who do fully confirmed verified opt-in with a cherry on top will claim all their email is permission based. And some of the mailers I’ve worked with in the past have been listed on ROKSO. None of these mailers will ever admit that they are not sending permission based email.
Going back to ReturnPath’s data we don’t really know what permission based email means in this context and so we don’t know if the mail is legitimately or illegitimately blocked. My guess is that some significant percentage of the 20% of email to the probe accounts that doesn’t make it to the inbox is missing because the sender does not have clear recipient permission.
When even spammers describe their email as permission based email marketing, what value does the term have?

3 comments

  1. Mike Hillyer says

    Aah but Laura, all of the mail going *to the probe accounts* has clear recipient permission, after all Return Path permits their customer to send to the probe account so they can retrieve it.
    Now as for the actual recipients of the campaign, that’s a different matter. 😉

  2. George Bilbrey says

    I think you’ve focused on the wrong thing. Permission is just an ante to get into the game. Inbox placement is largely a function of an engaged subscriber base (as you’ve said on several occasions in this blog.)
    You are correct that many email marketers use the term “permission-based” too freely. However, you are wrong in saying that a
    “significant percentage of the 20% of email to the probe accounts that doesn’t make it to the inbox is missing because the sender does not have clear recipient permission.” It’s not a significant enough portion of the mail stream to skew the results. Mailers with good permission practices don’t get delivered every day. That’s because these permission-based marketers don’t engage their clients as well as they could, their reputation suffers and mail doesn’t make it into the inbox.
    ~ George Bilbrey

  3. laura says

    Hi, George,
    There are certainly a lot of reasons that mail doesn’t make it to the inbox, from permission issues to relevancy issues to content issues. Also, you cut the quote a bit in a way that changed my meaning to something I didn’t intend to say. The full quote is

    My guess is that some significant percentage of the 20% of email to the probe accounts that doesn’t make it to the inbox is missing because the sender does not have clear recipient permission.

    When I wrote “Some significant percentage of the 20% of email” I was thinking in the 20 – 25% of the blocked mail, meaning 4 – 5% of the overall mail stream is mail that doesn’t have permission associated with it. I agree with you and I don’t think this is sufficient to skew the results, but I think it’s very relevant to point out some of the blocking is very well deserved. As well, those senders will swear blind they are sending permission based email even when they’re clearly not.

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