Hotmail fights greymail

I’ve heard a lot of marketers complaining about people like me who advocate actually purging addresses from marketing lists if those addresses are non-responsive over a long period of time. They have any number of reasons this advice is poor. Some of them can even demonstrate that they get significant revenue from mailing folks who haven’t opened an email in years.
They also point out that there isn’t a clear delivery hit to leaving those abandoned addresses on their list. It’s not like bounces or complaints. There isn’t a clear way to measure the dead addresses and even if you could there aren’t clear threshold guidelines published by the ISPs.
Nevertheless, I am seeing more and more data that convinces me the ISPs do care about companies sending mail that users never open or never read or never do anything with.
The most recent confirmation was the announcement that Hotmail was deploying more tools to help users manage “greymail.” I briefly mentioned the announcement last week. Hotmail has their own blog post up about the changes.
It seems my initial claim that these changes this won’t affect delivery may have been premature. In fact, these changes are all about making it easier for Hotmail users to deal with the onslaught of legitimate but unwanted mail.

[W]e realized that getting rid of true spam wasn’t enough, because 75% of the email messages that people reported as spam are really legitimate newsletters, offers, or notifications that you just don’t want anymore. We call this type of unwanted email graymail, and we’re excited to announce five powerful tools to help you take control of your inbox, get rid of graymail, and keep track of the email that’s important to you.

75% of mail reported as spam by Hotmail users is mail that Hotmail defines as legitimate mail. But they understand that it doesn’t matter that this is legitimate, that it’s opt-in, that it’s not spam. It’s still mail their users don’t want.
One of the reasons it’s a problem is that it clutters the inbox. Inbox clutter is a huge problem, and many of us have filters to try and keep marketing mail out of our inbox (I have boxes labeled “newsletter” and “commercial” and “lists” to keep bulk mail out of my inbox.
The good news is that Hotmail is trying to make it easier for their users to unsubscribe from your newsletters.

Click on unsubscribe, and we’ll do the rest – let the site know to stop mailing you, use Sweep to immediately clean up your mail and remove all the old newsletters from that sender, and finally send any new ones that come in to your junk mail until the sender takes you off their list.

In the past, Microsoft has used the List-Unsubscribe header to offer unsubscribe options to recipients. This functionality disappeared in a previous update. Hopefully, this blog post signals the eventual return of this functionality.
In any case, these tools are clearly designed to make it easier for the Hotmail user to organize and sort their mailboxes. It means that senders are going to have to work harder to engage recipients and make offers that much more appealing. Otherwise, your mail may never get read.


  1. Alfonso Jardon says

    wow, you are the queen of spam. Thanks for this. . . .

  2. Jeff says

    There is a rumor that Hotmail will absolutely require “List-Unsubscribe”
    ( )
    But I haven’t seen anything from Hotmail about that. Any thoughts?

    1. laura says

      Generally, I tend to trust that if Return Path says something about Hotmail that it’s true. However, in this case I’m skeptical. First off, Hotmail broke the list-unsubscribe headers a while back. Secondly, not every bit of mail is commercial and there’s a lot of legit mail that doesn’t have a list-unsubscribe header.
      I wonder if it’s just on the messages Hotmail marks as ‘newsletters’?
      I think they will be using the headers again, but I’m not sure all mail without them will automatically go to the bulk folder.

  3. Ros Hodgekiss says

    @laura – Paul Midgen at Microsoft has confirmed the renewal of list-unsubscribe headers (see comments: So far, I haven’t seen any of our newsletters filed into a ‘Newsletter’ category, but I’ll be certainly keeping my eye on this in the future. Thanks for the great post!

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    […] industry. Just today there was a long discussion on the Only Influencers list about the new Hotmail filtering. There was even some discussion about why the ISPs were doing […]


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