Deliverability Shouldn’t Be King

“Content is no longer king,” Craig Spiezle, director of online safety strategies and technologies at Microsoft, told Email Insider Summit attendees last week. “If you don’t have email authentication, your emails are going to be throttled.”

Spiezle then told the audience about a large flower retailer that used a new domain to send out its Mother’s Day campaign this year, sending millions of emails from a domain with no reputation. “Did we deliver those emails [to our Hotmail users]?” he said. “No we did not.” And now they have a warehouse of wilting flowers, said Spiezle in a matter-of-fact tone that said, It serves them right for what they did.

Deliverability was a big topic at the Summit, which is unfortunate. Content is the rightful king. Content is strategic, while deliverability is simply tactical. A focus on deliverability is a distraction and takes us farther away from C-suite conversations we want to have about email by turning email into an IT discussion.

Spiezle, who presented email authentication as the golden path to deliverability, said that 43% of legitimate email volume is certified by Sender ID, and he later told me that adoption is north of 85% among volumne email marketers and that 9 million domains have been authenticated. And among the major online retailers that I track via RetailEmail.Blogspot, Sender ID adoptin is at 59% while DomainKeys adoption is at 48% (read reportlet on DomainKeys adoption among retailers). So authentication is rapidly approaching the point where if you don’t have it then you’ll be in the minority.

While authentication adoption is growing, some audience members were angry, saying that Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and AOL make permission-based marketers jump through too many hoops, have different standards and don’t allow marketers to transfer their reputation from one IP address or domain to another. Spiezle said that they were working on this last point, saying that “reputation should be portable.”

However, Spiezle and Miles Libbey, office of postmaster at Yahoo Mail, who also spoke at the conference, really had no satisfactory answer for their varying standards. Spiezle said that Microsoft will protect its customers and Yahoo will protect its customers. There’s clearly an opportunity for collaboration to create a single standard that would make it easier for legitimate marketers to send their email and customers to receive it.

At the end of the conference, Bill McCloskey, CEO of Email Data Source, astutely remarked that while everyone claims to be protecting the customer, that’s not what’s really happening. That certainly wasn’t the case in Spiezle’s flower retailer example, said McCloskey, who said that his first thought after hearing the story was that there were a lot of mothers that didn’t get flowers this year.

That’s what’s wrong with the current state of deliverability—it doesn’t always serve the customer’s best interests. Even though these customers opted in and wanted to receive these emails, they were blocked. If the ISPs truly care about their customers, then they’ll work with legitimate marketers to simplify the rules so that their mutual customers can be better served. Then we can get back to talking about content, customer-centricity, user-friendliness and other more strategic issues that can take email to a higher plane.

—Chad White