You’ve Come a Long Way, Email!

Just three years ago “Spam” email was as abundant in people’s inboxes as the breakfast meat was in Hawaiian diners. Ninety-five percent of all email sent rated low enough on Return Path’s Sender Score rating to be considered spam. But due to increased diligence on the part of ISPs and improved personalization initiatives from senders, the level of junk email has fallen to only 56%, according to the email tracking service’s latest Sender Score Benchmark study. Sender Score distribution graphs from Return Path’s current and 2013 studies shows the complete reversal in sender behavior and deliverability rates.

“Sender reputation filters from ISPs like Yahoo and Google have stopped a lot of spam, and many of the botnets that were hijacking computers to deploy spam have been taken out by Microsoft and [others],” says Tom Sather, Return Path’s senior director of research.

Email marketing became a black-and-white world in 2015, if you follow Return Path’s Sender Score ranking,  the email industry’s version of a credit score. Last year emailers with scores between 0-10 and ones scoring 91-100 each sent about a trillion-and-a-half emails. The elite level saw 95% delivered to inboxes while the bottom-dwellers only 2%.

Distinct cutoffs existed among the top 10%, as well. Those with scores of 99-100 had 98% of emails  delivered while those in the 91-94 range managed 92%. The filtered rate was also three times higher for the latter group. “If you score in the 90s, it doesn’t mean you can stop monitoring your email reputation. Eight percent of emails not delivered is still pretty significant,” Sather says.

An easy method for improvement, and one ignored by many marketers, he says, is to more closely monitor  complaint rates. Senders in the 91-100 score segment averaged complaint rates of just 0.17% while those scoring 71-80 saw rates 14-times higher. Often, emailers think their complaint rates are lower than they are because they calculate them as the percentage of complaints registered per emails sent, instead of per emails received.

Sather also counsels emailers to clean their lists of spam traps and unknown users. Keeping them can have an unfavorable impact on their sender reputations at the top ISPs: Gmail, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL. All four have initiated engagement filtering, which at present is not a measure considered in Sender Score.

It all goes back to the basics of keeping clean lists, since no rating or scoring system will ever be perfect.”The problem with any scoring procedure like this on is that there are outliers, and a scoring mechanism is only as good as its underlying reporting structure,” says GB Heidarsson, CEO of email-tracker eDataSource. “We do see significant outliers with this scoring procedure, especially on Gmail and Yahoo, as those seem to be traditionally left out of Return Path’s scoring model, causing some confusion. But Sender Score catches good averages; and outliers aside, serves as a valid benchmark point.”

Return Path’ Sather acknowledges that Gmail and Yahoo don’t contribute data to the ranking, but maintains that fact is immaterial to the validity of its ranking. “Sender Score isn’t intended to diagnose reputation issues at any one particular ISP,” he says. “Similar to a credit score, missing a payment for one creditor is an indicator that future payments at other creditors are likely to be missed.”


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