Study: Nearly 1 in 5 Commercial E-Mails Blocked

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Commercial e-mailers continued to experience problems with filters at Internet service providers, a new study found.

New York e-mail deliverability firm Return Path reported that 18.7 percent of opt-in commercial e-mail sent to the top 18 ISPs was blocked in the second half of 2003, a 3.7 percentage-point increase from a year earlier and a 1.7 percentage-point rise over the monthly average of the six previous months.

Of the biggest ISPs, Yahoo and AOL were the most stringent, both blocking more than 20 percent of commercial e-mail. Yahoo's broadband service with SBC was even more challenging, blocking more than 26 percent. MSN blocked less than 15 percent of commercial e-mail, and EarthLink blocked just over 5 percent.

Return Path determines deliverability rates based on its tracking of 30,000 e-mail campaigns through its Mailbox Monitor system. It counts e-mail diverted to the bulk folder as undelivered.

Yahoo saw its deliverability rates falter due to its more aggressive use of the bulk e-mail folder. Compared with the latter half of 2002, Yahoo blocked 16 percent more e-mail and the SBC/Yahoo service blocked 14 percent more. About one-third of undelivered messages to Yahoo were diverted to the bulk mail folder.

George Bilbrey, general manager of delivery services at Return Path, said deliverability rates for clients ranged from 50 percent to 100 percent. He said e-mailers' rates are affected most by the complaint levels they generated and the quality of their lists.

"Anything the marketer can do to decrease those two problems can help them get their mail delivered," he said.

By industry segment, marketers had the toughest time with ISPs, seeing just 50 percent delivery. Retailers, by contrast, had just over 5 percent of their e-mails blocked.

Bilbrey said deliverability problems showed no signs of abating for at least another year, after which the fledgling efforts by ISPs at developing sender-identification programs might begin to pay off.

"I don't believe the tools that are available to the ISPs are going to change dramatically over the next year," he said.


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