What Deliverability 2.0 Means for Marketers

Posted by George Bilbrey on

Over the last five to eight years, the rules that the largest mailbox providers use to block and filter email have changed dramatically. Large mailbox providers such as Gmail and Microsoft Outlook have taken advantage of new technologies to build a better understanding of how subscriber users interact with types of messages coming from particular senders to make better decisions about whether to deliver each email message. In turn, email marketers must change to ensure that their mail continues to be delivered to their most engaged (and economically valuable) subscribers.

Here’s a short primer on how the rules of deliverability have changed:

Deliverability 1.0: Global Reputation
From the early 2000s, mailbox providers made their filtering decisions at a largely “global” level for a given campaign. Campaigns from a particular sender were treated mostly the same way based on a combination of content rules and reputation metrics. The most important factors were things like sending domains (envelope domain, DKIM domain) and the sending IP address of the message.

The “classic” negative metrics calculated for these identifiers were complaint rate, “trusted” complaint rate, spam trap hits, and unknown user rates. In some mailbox provider systems, positive metrics were also calculated for sending identifiers. The most common was looking at the percentage of messages that were rescued from a spam folder. In later years, other engagement-based global metrics were added to the mix, including the overall engagement of mailbox users with messages that come from a given sender and the percentage of addresses that are being mailed to which are active mailboxes.

Deliverability 2.0: Subscriber-Level Filtering
Mailbox providers began to realize that a global approach to spam fighting did not take into account the extremely varied preferences of individual mailbox users to messages from a particular source. They started to develop “mailbox level” reputation metrics for mail coming from a particular set of identifiers (domains and IP addresses). These systems decide whether or not to deliver a message to a particular mailbox primarily based on the probability that the recipient will engage with the message.

It’s worth noting that both the global “Deliverability 1.0” and subscriber-level “Deliverability 2.0” filtering systems are being used in combination at the same mailbox providers today. Like all security professionals, anti-spam engineers like defense in depth.

Deliverability 2.0 has profound (and subtle) implications for email marketers. Here are a few to think about:

  • ESP reporting and seed list based delivery monitoring are no longer sufficient. Delivery monitoring is now much more nuanced. The question is no longer “Is my mail getting delivered?,” it is “Are my most economically important subscribers receiving mail?” The reporting that most ESPs provide is from the gateway mail server, which does not give insight into subscriber level filtering. Seed addresses don’t interact with mail the way “real” subscribers do. This means seeds alone cannot accurately show inbox placement.
  • Deliverability 2.0 puts more of a focus on continual engagement than in the past. Mailbox providers place a larger deliverability penalty on consistently un-engaging content.
  • Understanding points in customer lifecycle where customers disengage is more important than ever. Once those points are understood, it is important to devise programs to drive engagement.
  • Content personalization based on observed or predictive behaviors is more important to deliverability than under Deliverability 1.0 rules. Quality personalization drives significantly more engagement. It has a less significant impact on complaints and other traditional global reputation metrics.
  • Personalizing cadence is more important than under Deliverability 1.0 rules. Certain segments of any subscriber list are more resilient to higher volumes of messaging. They can receive more messages per month without disengaging. Sending more to these segments (and less to other segments) is key to keeping mail volumes up without reducing inbox placement.

I hope you find this brief primer on the “new rules” of deliverability instructive. What other implications for email marketers do you see?

This article originally appeared on Media Post.

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About George Bilbrey

George Bilbrey is the founder of the industry’s first deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He is a recognized expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and the Online Trust Alliance (OTA). In his role as president of Return Path George is the driving force behind the ongoing innovation of our products and services. Prior to Return Path, George served as Director of Product Management at Worldprints.com and as a partner in the telecommunications group at Mercer Management Consulting. He holds a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina.

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