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Commercial E-Mailers Boost Delivery Rates

Despite the continued spam problem, top e-mail service providers are having better success avoiding spam filters.

Digital Impact, San Mateo, CA, released statistics this week showing that total failures, which include bounces and blocks, fell from 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter to 8.2 percent in the first quarter.

The company said its delivery rate to the top 15 Internet service providers reached 93.9 percent, the highest it has recorded for a quarter.

“We're not experiencing the delivery challenges that others are experiencing in some of these domains,” said Dave Lewis, vice president of delivery management and ISP relations at Digital Impact.

The company credited its close relationship with Internet service providers for dropping ISP blocks from 3.5 percent to 1.4 percent, and customers' improved mailing practices for lowering hard bounces from 4.5 percent to 3.3 percent.

Bigfoot Interactive also said it saw improved performance in the quarter. The New York company said its delivery rates rose for all verticals in the first quarter. Retail mailers e-mail showed the biggest improvement, with block rates falling from 17.3 percent in the fourth quarter to 16 percent in the first quarter. Media e-mail block rates fell from 8.3 percent to 6.7 percent; financial services from 10 percent to 7.6 percent; and auto held steady at 6.9 percent.

Bigfoot credited good list hygiene and strict compliance with the new federal anti-spam law for the success. It does not track overall delivery rates.

Digital Impact said consumer e-mail continued to outperform business-to-business messages, with business-to-consumer delivery rates at 92.4 percent and BTB at 85.8 percent.

Lewis said a key to Digital Impact's performance was going into detail about why e-mail failed to reach the inbox, from technical failures during sending to network blocks to hard and soft bounces.

“Knowing what's going on is at the crux of the issue,” he said. “It all starts with good data.”

Lewis said many e-mail delivery statistics are faulty, undercounting failed deliveries by taking out certain kinds of failures such as bad e-mail addresses.

“The validity of that metric depends on how it is calculated,” he said.

Despite the CAN-SPAM Act, spam levels continue to rise. Brightmail reported that spam grew from 58 percent of all e-mail at the end of 2003 to 64 percent last month.

More stringent spam filtering has made deliverability the top concern for commercial e-mailers. According to Return Path, one in five opt-in commercial e-mails is relegated to the junk mail folder or blocked entirely.

Jupiter Research estimates blocked e-mail cost U.S. businesses $230 million in 2003; it expects that to reach $419 million in 2008, thanks to increased volume. Jupiter expects block rates to decline to 10 percent in 2008.

Lewis said delivery rates should continue to improve as more commercial mailers pinpoint the reasons e-mail is blocked and address the causes.

“The tenor of the discussion has changed,” he said of talks with clients. “It's now more of what are we going to do together.”

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