Biggest spammers? Marketers.

Marketers account for 70% of all “this is spam” complaints, much higher than any other email source, according to Return Path’s Q3 Email Intelligence Report, released today.

“This is pretty significant for marketers to take note of,” says Tom Sather, senior director of email research at Return Path. “A lot of these emails are ones that people once opted in to receive, but rather than unsubscribe they hit the spam button and that leads ISPs to designate marketers’ emails as spam.”

In the past year deliverability rates of marketer’s emails in the United States dropped two points to 82%, according to results compiled from 315,000 email campaigns employing Return Path’s seed list and subscriber panel monitoring systems from July through September.  Industries registering the highest inbox placements were financial services at 99%, followed by consumer products and retail at 96%.  The least successful commercial emailers were social media (72%) and non-profits (76%).

“Eighty-two percent is an extremely low opt-in for email,” Sather says. “If the U.S. Postal Service delivered only 84% of its mail, it truly would cease to exist.”

Additional email doesn’t cost as much as postal mailers, however, and that can lead to sloppy targeting practices from marketers. “It’s a batch-and-blast mentality,” Sather says. “We see marketers reach 100% inbox placement frequently. It’s not something that’s out of reach. The best marketers test and use the data to segment. They target more frequently with win-back campaigns, or decreased frequency, or different content and calls to action.”

Such techniques will increase open rates and transactions, but the return on investment for email marketing is so good already that many marketers don’t care, Sather points out. A study released last year by the Direct Marketing Association put email marketing atop the ROI list, paying $40.56 on the dollar. That was nearly double the number two earner, search,  at $22.24. Next came display ads  ($19.72), mobile ($10.51) and catalogs ($7.30).

That makes for a lot of commercial emails and, in turn, a lot of spam.  Although marketers account for only 0.3% of all unique domains seen by ISPs, they account for 18% of total email volume. In addition, most consumers ask for the emails–at least initially. Nearly a third of emails (29%) are newsletters that people opt in to receive. Nine percent are one-to-one direct appeals and 2% are coupon offers.  Only 21% are personal replies.

The deliverability problem requires even closer scrutiny by B2B marketers, who face widely varied inbox placement issues depending on the enterprise spam filters their customers use. Postini, one of the most widely used enterprise filters, allowed only 23% of emails into corporate inboxes monitored in Return Path’s study.  Mailtrust delivered 50% and Fortmail 79%, though 100% of emails were delivered by Brightmail, Proofpoint, and McAfee SAAS Hosted.

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