AOL EWL: low complaints no longer enough


This morning AOL announced some changes to their Enhanced White List. Given I’ve not talked very much about the AOL EWL in the past, this is as good a time as any to talk about it.
The AOL Enhanced Whitelist is for those senders that have very good practices. Senders on the EWL not only get their mail delivered to the inbox, but also have links and images enabled by default. Placement on the EWL is done solely on the basis of mail performance and only the best senders get on the list.
The new announcement this morning says that AOL will take more into account than just complaints. Previously, senders with the lowest complaint rates qualified for the EWL. Now, senders must also have a good reputation in addition to the low complaint rates. Good reputation is a measure of user engagement with a particular sender.
This change only reinforces what I and many other delivery experts have been saying: The secret to good delivery is to send mail recipients want. ISPs are making delivery decisions based on those measurements. Send mail that recipients want, and there are few delivery problems.
For a long time good delivery was tied closely to complaint rates, so senders focused on complaints. Spammers focused on complaints too, thus managing to actually get some of their spam delivered. ISPs noticed and started looking at other ways to distinguish wanted mail from spam. One of the better ways to separate spam from wanted mail is to look at user engagement. And the ISPs are measuring engagement and using that measurement as part of their decision making process. Send so much mail users don’t read it, and your reputation goes down followed by your delivery rates.

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  • Loving the new sleekness of the site, Laura.
    Great post, it really hit home a point that cannot be stressed enough – that authentication, reputation & compliance are all crucial factors in deliverability, but content integrity and reader engagement should always be at the forefront.

  • I read this on the AOL Postmaster blog as well this morning. I always ask what defines user engagement from ISP to ISP. Obviously, as a sender, you want to provide the best possible content to your users. But inevitably there will be campaigns and emails that just don’t quite live up to what they want. I think it would be interesting to see a comparison (if one were to have the ability to find out this information) of what Yahoo! considers engagement vs. AOL vs. Comcast etc. I think knowing this would help senders provide those who create the emails with better information on when they succeeded/failed.

  • History says that the more information the ISPs share with senders the more the bad guys take advantage. Thus, they’re going to keep the details of how and what they’re measuring quiet. When the ISPs started sharing complaint data what happened was a lot of spammers subverting the data. Some of them even went so far as to register thousands of accounts at the ISPs and hit “this is not spam” when their mail ended up in the bulk folders. Others set up entire fake ESPs to wash lists to clean them.
    I’ve talked a lot about engagement and what senders can do to improve it. You can search through the blog for “engagement.” Two of the more useful posts include:

  • Also, because spammers are always changing, the metrics ISPs use to catch the spam have to change too. Even if you had an accurate checklist of things to avoid today, it’d be outdated tomorrow.

  • I do not have an AOL account but I have been receiving email from someone, who I finally blocked, of very disturbing nature. How do I report this person without having an account?

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