DoubleClick Sees Stable E-Mail Delivery, Fewer Conversions

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Commercial e-mail delivery rates have stabilized, though slight declines were found in open and click rates last quarter, according to DoubleClick.


The New York online ad company said its clients' overall e-mail delivery rates were 88.8 percent in the first quarter, a slight increase from the previous quarter and up from 87.5 percent in the year-ago period. This marks the second straight quarter of modest improvement in deliverability for the company's e-mail clients.


"The whole topic of deliverability last year was somewhat of a new concept," said Eric Kirby, vice president and general manager of strategic services at DoubleClick. "Awareness now is very high on the issue, and companies are starting to dedicate resources and spending to address it."


Clients have increased targeted campaigns based on prior customer behavior, Kirby said. For example, a customer who abandoned a shopping cart during her last visit might get a follow-up e-mail with related offers to the item she nearly purchased.


Lower open and click rates tempered the good news. Open rates were 38.2 percent, down from 39.2 percent a year ago; click-through rates fell from 8.9 percent to 8.4 percent; and revenue per e-mail declined from 28 cents to 23 cents.


DoubleClick did not report the exact number of e-mails sent in the quarter, saying it was near 2 billion.


Kirby downplayed lagging conversion figures, which also saw average order drop from $104 to $92 year over year, noting revenue per e-mail was well within the two-year quarterly average.


"I'm not quite ready to call this bit of a dip in the first quarter a major trend," he said. "The bigger-term picture is e-mail performance across the board is more steady than anything."


DoubleClick's positive deliverability report echoes recent figures from leading e-mail service providers. Digital Impact said its first-quarter deliverability rate rose to 91.8 percent from 88.8 percent in the previous quarter. Bigfoot Interactive reported its delivery rates improved for all verticals in the first quarter, though it did not release overall rates.


The three e-mail service providers do not calculate delivery rates the same way. DoubleClick defines delivery as total e-mails minus hard and soft bounces; Digital Impact includes bounces, blocks and other failures.


Click rates also are figured differently. DoubleClick said the average person clicking on an e-mail clicked 1.6 times. It calculates its overall click rate using the net number of e-mails, minus bounces, compared with the total number of clicks. Bigfoot Interactive, on the other hand, reports unique clicks. Factoring out multiple clicks, DoubleClick's first-quarter click rate falls to about 5.3 percent.


DoubleClick said bounce rates declined across all industry categories, with the most notable improvement coming in travel, which fell to 9.3 percent from 14.9 percent in the year-ago period. Catalogers and retailers tied with publishers for the lowest bounce rate: 8.4 percent.


Jupiter Research estimates blocked e-mail cost U.S. businesses $230 million in 2003; it expects that to rise to $419 million in 2008, thanks to increased volume.


Blocked commercial e-mail remains a problem, Kirby said. Internet service providers are aggressively filtering e-mail as spam levels keep rising. Brightmail reports that spam grew from 58 percent of all e-mail at the end of 2003 to 64 percent last month.


"It hasn't improved because the underlying issue has gone away," he said. "It's improved because people have done a better job of operating in the environment."


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