What we need from accreditation and reputation solutions

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Last year, an article we contributed to this guide urged marketers to learn about - and implement - emerging e-mail authentication standards. In the time since then, marketers have shown their support for authentication in force, and the core audience of legitimate high volume senders are on board.

Internet service providers now have the critical mass of compliant legitimate senders they need in order to move to the next phase - accreditation and reputation. Early forms of these solutions have been in existence for several years, but they continue to evolve and expand their adoption by ISPs.

The marketing community's job over the coming months will be to communicate our needs and collaborate with ISPs to ensure that emerging accreditation and reputation solutions are built on a foundation of fair principles and accurate data. To be viable, these solutions must:

Prove they are worth the investment. First and foremost, for any solution to be successful, it must guarantee benefits and demonstrate a positive contribution to return on investment. Providers must prove to marketers that their schema, along with other best practices, will result in an incremental lift over the current methods used to optimize the success of their campaigns.

Be accessible to large and small senders alike. We must not erode the level playing field enabled by the Internet, and any fee-based program should be structured in a way that's affordable for a wide variety of e-mail senders.

Prioritize end-user preferences. The decision to receive or not to receive e-mail from a sender should reside with end-users, not arbitrary heuristics. Consumers should be given granular feedback options aside from "Report Spam," including an "Unsubscribe" button, which will protect authenticated, whitelisted marketers from overblown complaint rates.

Hold marketers responsible, not IP addresses. Authentication facilitates domain- and even message-level reputation scoring, and it is imperative that ISPs move expeditiously to do so. Delivery decisions should affect the marketers and campaigns responsible, not entire IP addresses and those who may share them.

Be transparent. Marketers must have access to information that explains why their reputation is what it is, so that they can correct their mistakes.

Much progress has been made over the past year. Spam is down, and the focus has shifted to ensuring delivery of legitimate e-mail. My hope is that industry will continue to work together, and that next year's column can report on the progress made on the recommendations above.

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