THE FROM LINE EXTENDED: Email Service Providers' Dirty Little Secret

There is a dirty little secret with email service providers (ESPs) and it’s about time it has been brought to the forefront of industry discussions. I learned about the intricacies of this secret while culling Gold Lasso customers that exceeded our spam complaint threshold. After politely showing a few of them the door, out of spite they revealed to me that they were simultaneously using the services of five other competitors unraveling a twisted web of ESP “switch-a-roonie” that promotes spam and hurts the industry. This dirty little secret is so obvious that I’m surprised it hasn’t been exposed by privacy and anti-spam advocates and used to smack the smug faces of ESP executives. Surprise! The dirty secret is that most ESPs have no economic incentive NOT to do business with customers who refuse to use good list practices. Let me say it this way: Email service providers make good money from bad customers who in some circles could be considered spammers.

You might be scratching your head thinking most ESPs have strict anti-spam policies and lobby hard to clean up the industry. For the most part this statement is correct; however, there are always a handful of bad customers that are tolerated because of the big checks they stroke. These customers come in the forms of traditional direct marketing agencies that have to blow their client’s budget, affiliate marketers, and idiots who have deep pockets but not a clue about how email marketing works. One thing these types of customers have in common is that they want or have to send large volumes of email and have either purchased an email list or have appended a purchased direct mail list.

Contrary to popular belief, most ESPs don’t give their high paying bad customers the boot. Most try to force them through a reformation process. However, if the customer continues to ignore best practices some ESPs will do one of the following: either isolate the customer on an IP block reserved for wrongdoers (a sort of purgatory) or mix their bad customer’s email across multiple IP addresses of customers with good sending practices increasing the bad customer’s chance of making it to the inbox.

In the first scenario, the ESP milks the customer as they are well aware their email will either wind up in an ISP black hole or get bounced faster than an Atari Breakout ball. The bad customer, fed up with bad deliverability, will feverishly switch to a new ESP as soon as their contract is up. In the second scenario, the ESP increases the deliverability risk of their good customers. The attitude is akin to “so what if some customers get 90% deliverability instead of 96%. What’s 6%?” Eventually this attitude catches up with reality and good customers start complaining. This is when the ESP gives the bad customer the boot as their foot is already in the door of another ESP. Contrary to what Ken Magill of Direct Magazine says—”a marketer can’t ride an ESP’s e-mail reputation, folks”—a marketer CAN ride the reputation of an ESP’s customers… for a while at least. In either case the ESP is doing a disservice to not only their customers (good and bad) but to the industry at large.

The time has come for ESPs to get together and create their own blacklist of customers who they have booted because they refused to clean up their act. This would prevent these bad customers from trying to hop ESPs causing headaches and silently undermining the industry. The secret is out! Let’s do something about it.

—Elie Ashery of Gold Lasso

–>Read other posts in The From Line Extended series.