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AOL Delivery: With and Without Goodmail

  |  March 1, 2006   |  Comments

Is 100 percent e-mail delivery a realistic goal (without signing up for the Enhanced Whitelist program)?

Is 100 percent email delivery a realistic goal for marketers or just the outer limit of possibility? New vendors such as Goodmail aim to close the gap and boost message effectiveness and credibility as well.

We won't know whether paid-assured delivery will gain traction until email marketers test the program and crunch the numbers to learn whether the promised revenue increase outweighs the extra cost.

Meanwhile, if you elect not to participate or don't qualify for Goodmail's CertifiedEmail program or other third-party delivery-assurance programs, you can still boost your delivery rates by addressing the factors most likely to get you blocked or filtered.

If you're considering whether to sign up with Goodmail, this three-step system can help you calculate your current costs and potential benefits.

1. Calculate Your Message Loss Into AOL

Benchmarks from AOL, Goodmail, and Pivotal Veracity, a delivery-monitoring service, assume you lose about 43 percent of your AOL-bound messages, either to filters or lack of action because the messages have disabled images and links. Use your own numbers if you have them in your own delivery reports.

The CertifiedEmail service promises to give you back that 43 percent by delivering all AOL-bound email to the inbox with images and links enabled and to add another 20 percent in "message effectiveness" because recipients will be more likely to open and act on messages with the CertifiedEmail symbol.

Here's our own take. Clearly, having images and links enabled for all your AOL subscribers is a great plus. In our analysis with a number of clients, messages sent to AOL subscribers often can produce open, click-through, and conversion rates half that of other ISPs. So perhaps a starting point to understand "AOL loss" is to calculate your historical difference in AOL domain performance from your "average" results.

2. Estimate Costs

Clients who sign up by March 31, 2006, can buy tokens, the individual code assigned to each email message used to verify the sender and track placement and spam complaints, at 0.0015 cent each, or $15 for 10,000 AOL addresses. From March 31 to June 30, the rate will be 0.0025 cent per token, or $25 per 10,000 addresses. (Rates are for the first year only, after three to six free months; they then move to a percentage of the total token cost after the first year for early signers.)

3. Estimate Revenue

Say you're an online retailer and send 100,000 email messages to AOL subscribers and generate a 2 percent bounce rate, 5 percent CTR (define), 2 percent conversion rate, and average order of $100. Your revenue would be $9,800. Now let's say your non-AOL messages generate a 2 percent bounce rate, but a 10 percent CTR and 4 percent conversion rate, with the same $100 order size. If using Goodmail got AOL responses on par with your other domain results, your AOL revenues would increase to $39,200. Using the 0.0025 cent per token rate, the $250 in Goodmail costs would generate an additional $29,400 in revenue.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. Whether anyone sees this (or anywhere near this) kind of lift in response rates won't be known for several months.

If you're not planning to use Goodmail any time soon, you can still bolster performance at AOL and Yahoo by implementing the tried-and-true best practices and guidelines outlined below.

Three Steps to Boost Delivery

  • Minimize bounces.

    • Examine your list-acquisition policies, and stop using opt-out or unverified co-registration sources.

    • Tighten up subscription forms; use address verification, such as a double opt-in method; two email fields on the form for address verification; and JavaScript to verify email address errors.

    • Monitor blacklists for your domain name or IP address and move quickly to resolve problems.

    • Consider moving to a dedicated IP if you share one in order to better control your reputation.

    • Do a reputation check with a third party such as Habeas.

  • Minimize user complaints.

    • Phase out any prechecked opt-in boxes, and set clear expectations about the type of communications your readers will receive.

    • Send welcome email messages that include information on what address your email will come from, details on privacy policies and mailing frequency, and an additional reminder on how users can unsubscribe and manage their profiles.

    • Create a standardized email subscription management area within your email message.

    • Create profile preference pages to allow more customized and relevant subscriptions.

    • Use a sender address that includes your company or brand name.

    • Test using branded subject lines with AOL users.

    • Don't overmail recipients. It's better to send occasional relevant messages than bombarding your readers with generic blasts.

    • Test message unsubscribe or profile update links periodically to make sure they work.

  • Fix your content.

    • Test HTML email for coding errors using an HTML editor such as Dreamweaver or an HTML validation tool such as the W3C validator.

    • Test for potential content problems using a message content checker.

    • Optimize for AOL following its HTML guidelines.

Two More Positive Actions Can Boost AOL Delivery Rate

  • Sign up for AOL's feedback loop and apply for the white list. If you maintain a clean sending program and enjoy an extremely low spam-complaint rate, you may qualify for AOL's Enhanced Whitelist, which delivers email with images and links enabled and avoids the more sensitive content filters.

  • Adopt SenderID authentication. AOL requires this for any sender applying for the white list. It's an item of code that verifies you are authorized to send email from your server. It's used mainly to thwart phishing (define) attempts or email hackers.

Finally: Get Going With Yahoo

Yahoo has a similar deal with Goodmail covering only transactional email. However, Yahoo also has a white list. If you're not on it, you should apply today and investigate Yahoo's DomainKeys email certification code.

And as always, keep on deliverin'!

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Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirill Popov and Loren McDonald

As director of ISP relations and delivery, Kirill Popov creates and enforces strict usage and anti-spam policies, maintains ISP and community relations, and oversees all abuse and policy investigations and inquiries for EmailLabs clients. Kirill works with clients on best practices, content, design, and list hygiene to minimize potential delivery issues. He's a registered member of the SpamCon foundation and representsEmailLabs on AIM's Council for Responsible E-Mail.

Loren McDonald is vice president of marketing at e-mail marketing automation company EmailLabs, overseeing corporate marketing activities and client consulting services. He has 20 years experience in marketing, consulting and strategic planning. Earlier, Loren was founder and president of Intevation, an e-marketing services firm specializing in e-mail and SEM. He's held executive marketing positions at companies including USWeb/CKS (marchFIRST), NetStruxr, and Arthur Andersen.

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