Raising the standard


Last week news broke that Mailchimp had disconnected a number of anti-vaccination activists from their platform and banned anti-vax content. I applaud their decision and hope other companies will follow their lead in banning harmful content from their network.

Measuring stick with an arrow and the words "you must be this tall to ride the ride."

These kinds of decisions, where providers say you can’t do that on our network, are because these are private platforms. As I talked about recently, they own the platform, they make the rules.

The same ownership that gives ESPs the right to ban content, also gives them the ability to enforce deliverability standards. These are the rules they enforce on customers to ensure a reasonable reputation. What kind of rules will a good ESP implement and enforce?

  1. Identify yourself and your company with accurate information. Be upfront and transparent about who you are and what you mail at the point of address collection.
  2. Collect permission directly. Do not outsource your permission to a third party. This means no co-reg, no renting lists, no purchasing lists.
  3. Respect your recipients. Do send email at the right cadence for your particular audience. Remove unengaged users who do not interact with your mail for an extended period of time.
  4. Respect the recipient domain rules. Set appropriate limits on the number of connections and sending speed. Handle bounces correctly. Don’t keep connections open for longer than necessary. Don’t allow customers to send spam.

How ESPs enforce these rules depends on the ESP. Some are more proactive than others. Any decent ESP is going to have a deliverability and/or compliance team that monitors for complaints and blocks and other obvious signs of deliverability problems. But the monitoring doesn’t stop there. There are a number of tools that have recently entered the market that allow ESPs to measure the quality of their customers’ data.

ESPs also monitor things like opens and clicks and engagement statistics. Customers who fall below standard thresholds are asked to improve their lists. For some senders this seems invasive and problematic. But responsible and legitimate senders know that removing unresponsive addresses benefits them. Even if they lose a few might-eventually-respond-someday addresses, there is significant long term benefit to maintaining an engaged list.

Enforcing good practices and data hygiene is expensive and can cause some hard feelings among customers. Companies who don’t enforce minimum standards can often find themselves in a downward spiral headed towards failure. I’ve worked with some of the ESPs in the past, and it’s never a good position.

ESPs that do enforce standards and good deliverability practices have customers that reach the inbox more effectively. Their raising of the standards bar often means smaller lists. But those smaller lists have a bigger reach and are more profitable for their owners.

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  • Unfortunately for Mailchimp and other bulk senders, they tend to be blocked at the border because the few who abuse the system generate complaints which generates a block that persists. This adversely blocks email from legitimate and compliant senders but that’s the trade-off for having a quiet helpdesk.

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