Return Path Changes certification standards


Return Path recently announced changes to their certification program. They will no longer be certifying 3rd party mailers.

We will no longer certify mail streams which are strictly comprised of “third-party marketing” email (e.g., email-based advertising that is not accompanied by content and is sent on behalf of a different company than the one to which the end user subscribed in the first place).

The changes are, I think, a reflection of where access to the mailbox is headed. Third party marketing is really mail that recipients can take or leave. They may open or click through the occasional email, they may even make a purchase from a particular email. But the overall mail stream is not something they care about. If the mail shows up and it’s something they’re interested in, that’s great and they’re happy. But if the mail doesn’t show up, they don’t miss it and they’re still happy.
This is the crux of what  talking about when we use the term engagement. Engagement is a measure of how much your mail is missed when it doesn’t show up.
Return Path, and the ISPs, and the anti-spam filtering companies are all about making sure users get the mail they want. But if the user doesn’t actively want a particular email, if they don’t miss it when it’s not in their inbox, then they’re not engaged with the mail.
These are exactly the changes I, and others, predicted at the beginning of 2010. No longer are ISPs focusing on stopping mail that users complain about, now they’re looking at enhancing the inbox experience. The key to that is delivering the mail that users are very happy to receive.

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  • Great post Laura, I wonder how that will work in practice and what the caveat means
    I am currently working with a 100% bonafide client who operates a true closed-loop confirmed double opt-in subscription to a fashion newsletter. Which I have lobbied them to include content but at this stage it really does not it is ”purely email based advertising” promoting a company other than that which they signed up to. Each newsletter carries the newsletter template and branding and then 3 to 6 third party offers in their local city (on the high street usually). However that is the point of the newsletter third party fashion promotions in the recipients local area.
    The open rates are great for the newsletter, complaints – I have worked with them for 40 days and seen not a single one, etc etc so it is mail that appears to be wanted. The unsubscribe rates are low and the new sign-up rate, fwd to friend is all looking good.
    Would such a client really be precluded from RP certification? How would they overcome this – sounds like it is simple enough, add a few lines as an introductory paragraph talking about local events/relevant shows etc (which is what they plan to do anyway). If thats the case what have RP really done in this latest move except gain a few valuable column inches on the blogs with a nice little PR campaign.
    Do not get me wrong, anything that can be done to incentivise clients like mine who are generally very good mailers but could take the next step to being excellent mailers by making a little extra effort can only be a good thing.

  • I wasn’t talking about ‘tricking’ them. I am trying to clarify the difference between someone like my client who segments they’re mailings and is always working to add value to their double opt-in list recipients vs list rental companies whose recipients probably really arent actually expecting the promotions that they will be sent.

  • Andrew — Thanks for your comment. We can’t for certain say whether or not a program could be Certified based on the quick information you’ve provided here, however your description does suggest a program that would not be eligible under our new standards. It’s great that your client is getting the kind of results you describe. Our experience with third party only emails suggests that low complaint rates are not unachievable, however even when they do look okay, other reputation metrics, such as the Windows Live panel data we’ve cited in the post, are consistently poor. The email that we have now excluded from our program was consistently driving complaint metrics far in excess of other types of email. Like you we hope this standard change can inspire companies to think of ways to create email that is truly wanted and engaging for subscribers. Given how far your client has come with the current content it actually doesn’t sound like that will be so difficult! Of course if we can provide any guidance or assistance please let us know. We’d love to help!

By laura

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