Authentication sets stage for reputation as spam increases

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Industry adoption of e-mail authentication set the stage for Internet service providers to begin focusing on reputation in 2006.

AOL and Goodmail successfully tested CertifiedMail, compelling senders to follow best practices to avoid having their e-mail relegated to the junk folder. Industry adoption of e-mail authentication set the stage for Internet service providers to begin focusing on reputation in 2006.

"The test showed that a stamp of approval could raise the return on an e-mail program by enough to pay for that stamp," said Kevin Johnson, president of Acxiom Digital, San Francisco. "Assuming initial pilots continue to earn positive user feedback and financial returns, expect postage to proliferate and the development of classes of e-mail."

This year also saw a number of key legal actions in the e-mail space brought on by ISPs and the FTC against senders for non-compliance with CAN-SPAM.

"This past year's high-profile litigation further discourages senders from engaging in abusive e-mail practices," said Dave Lewis, vice president of market development at StrongMail, Redwood Shores, CA.

"Even inadvertent glitches such as opt-outs falling into a junk mail filter may lead to liability under CAN-SPAM, as evidenced by the lawsuit brought against Yesmail," he said.

But not all cases were against those sending e-mails. Some were against spam blockers as exemplified in the Spamhaus case.

"The courts also seem to be taking a dim view of vigilante justice on the part of the anti-spam community, most visibly with Spamhaus being sued for its work identifying spammers," said Matt Blumberg, chairman/CEO at Return Path Inc., New York.

This year saw the rise of transactional e-mail messaging, as well as database marketing companies entering the e-mail space. Expect more of this in 2007.

Also, expect to see more spam.

"In 2007, the volume of spam and phishing e-mails is going to continue to increase," Mr. Blumberg said. "Just in the last two months alone the amount of spam in major e-mail networks has exploded, and there's no reason to believe that trend will stop."

As receivers respond to the increased volume, legitimate e-mail risks getting caught in the net. However, receivers are trying harder to reduce false positives and are engaging with different service providers to help accomplish this objective.

This includes the rising trend of reputation systems and sender accountability.

"The industry's success with e-mail authentication has set the stage for reputation systems, which will dramatically alter how ISPs detect spam and hold spammers accountable for their practices," StrongMail's Mr. Lewis said. "The importance of senders' reputations will get an additional boost with the new FTC rules expected early in 2007."

With these new rules will come new ways of approaching best practices. No more focus on content will be necessary.

"As marketers figure out that their reputations, and not content, drive filtering, content will again take its rightful place as a fertile ground for testing response drivers, and marketers will be able to optimize their deliverability without sacrificing the effectiveness of their campaigns by avoiding the word 'free,'" Mr. Blumberg said.

E-mail marketers should also expect to invest more to stay competitive in 2007, according to Mr. Johnson.

"Marketers will have to increase their investment in 2007 just to stay even because of the increasing sophistication of the advanced programs, plus increasing user control over what messages are received or seen," Mr. Johnson said.

"Fortunately, the right incremental investment will drive increasing returns as the gap between relevant, customer-focused programs and 'spray-and-pray' e-mail widens," he said.

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