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Email marketing ulcers for the holiday

I’ve mentioned here before that I can usually tell when the big ISPs are making changes to their spam filtering as that ISP dominates my discussions with current and potential clients and many discussions on delivery mailing lists.

The last two weeks the culprit has been Yahoo. They seem to be making a lot of changes to their filtering schemes right at the busiest email marketing time of the year. Senders are increasing their volume trying to extract that last little bit of cash out of holiday shoppers, but they’re seeing unpredictable delivery results. What worked to get mail into the inbox a month ago isn’t working, or isn’t working as well, now.

Some of this could be holiday volume related. Many marketers have drastically increased their mail volume over the last few weeks. But I don’t think the whole issue is simply that there is more email marketing flowing into our mailboxes.

As I’ve been talking with folks, I have started to see a pattern and have some ideas of what may be happening. It seems a lot of the issue revolves around bulk foldering. Getting mail accepted by the MXs seems to be no different than it has been. The change seems to be based on the reputation of the URLs and domains in the email.

Have a domain with a poor reputation? Bulk. Have a URL seen in mail people aren’t interested in? Bulk. Have a URL pointing to a website with problematic content? Bulk.

In the past IPs that were whitelisted or had very good reputations could improve delivery of email with neutral or even borderline poor reputations. It seems that is no longer an effect senders can rely on. It may even be that Yahoo, and other ISPs, are going to start splitting IP reputation from content reputation. IP reputation is critical for getting mail in the door, and without a good IP reputation you’ll see slow delivery. But once the mail has been accepted, there’s a whole other level of filtering, most of it on the content and generally unaffected by the IP reputation.

I don’t think the changes are going to go away any time soon. I think they may be refined, but I do think that reputation on email content (particularly domains and URLs and target IP addresses) is going to play a bigger and bigger role in email delivery.

What, specifically, is going to happen at Yahoo? Only they can tell you and I’m not sure I have enough of a feel for the pattern to speculate about the future. I do think that it’s going to take a few weeks for things to settle down and be consistent enough that we can start to poke the black box and map how it works.

3 comments

  1. Steve White says

    It’s me again,

    The latest change at yahoo is not one of content or body or links, etc. It is the implementation of Abaca. Prior to this, Abaca was only in testing mode, and it has now been implemented 100%

    My source on this is one of the 800 that was laid off on Monday.

    The new spam filter is giving the best senders (Fortune brands) deliverability nightmares. Even the most legitimate senders (who I won’t mention) are experiencing issues.

    Great filter, good job guys!!!

  2. laura says

    Interesting filtering technology. I remember hearing about some folks trying to look at recipient profiles (ie, if these addresses get spam and they get this email that that email is spam) as a way to filter spam. I’m not sure that Abaca is responsible for all of the filtering changes I’ve seen recently, but it may very well be responsible for some or all of it.

    I am unsurprised that Fortune brands are having problems, many of them are incredibly sloppy with permission and do a lot of purchasing and trading of lists. They often get away with it because people see the brand and don’t complain or just unsubscribe or whatever. Moving filtering away from public perception is going to actual sending patterns will remove the exceptions that the big brands have been relying on in order to get mail delivered to the inbox.

  3. The Proverbial Barry says

    this is the perfect time to test new filters and then go on vacation, it forces marketers to be careful instead of blasting

    i wish i had thought of it!

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