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E-Mail Accreditation: Giving Credit Where Credit's Due

  |  May 24, 2004   |  Comments

Third-party e-mail accreditation becomes a reality at last. E-mailers who do their homework will get good report cards.

I don't care how it happens, who provides it, or even how much it costs. If a third-party email accreditation service can solve the false-positive problem, sign me up.

Notice I didn't say "help mitigate" the false-positive problem. I said "solve." We should be asking if any provider can truly make this claim, and is anything less than a real solution worth subscribing to?

The problem is more nuisance today than the "keeping me up at night" dilemma it was a year ago. Now emailers are more educated and have better tools to help them know exactly when, how, and where their email is delivered. More important, every major email service provider (ESP) and mass emailer has a person like me on staff to oversee deliverability issues and maintain regular contact with the right people to help resolve issues and set matters straight.

Creating an E-Mail Identity

In the offline world, the USPS offers bulk mailers a special discount for their continued support. In the email world, the more you send, the more difficult it is to get delivered. In the offline world, a mail house gets credit for having multiple large clients and the ability to deploy large quantities of various products quickly and easily. With email, ESPs that mail for multiple clients with various products on a shared IP network are often penalized by ISPs for a lack of consistency across their networks.

E-mailers must create a real email identity. Too often, they shift IP addresses to increase deliverability, at least in theory. Shifting IP addresses tells an ISP you're either a spammer, on a shared network, or switching providers. If your email is mission-critical and you plan to invest in long-term success, it's time to consider a static IP address.

The only real downside to a static IP address is accountability if your email practices are suspect or lagging and the fees associated with set-up and maintenance. You already make similar efforts to adequately secure domain names and hosting. A static IP address is a natural extension of that investment.

Accountability Is King

With your own IP address, ISPs can more easily recognize you and begin to track your behavior over time. AOL is the pioneer of sender accountability, hinging its Enhanced White List (EWL) on volume email senders' reputations.

Think you're on AOL's EWL just by filling out the whitelist form on its Web site? Think again. Inclusion on the whitelist is only the first step. It takes a history of managing bounces and limiting complaints to ensure EWL status and full image delivery to AOL subscribers.

We can only hope other ISPs will publicly state they're tracking accountability in a fashion similar to AOL. In reality, they are tracking to a certain extent. Bounces are the lifeblood of spam detection and accountability as far as ISPs are concerned. They know when a mailer bounces a certain percentage of messages. They have set policies to block that sender when bounces reach a certain threshold.

The upside of being on a shared IP is these bounces should never reach a critical percentage of your total messages. The fact remains even if you manage bounces, complaints, and permission practices better than others on your network, those other senders may harm your reputation.

Accreditation Can Begin

Once senders are separated by IP address, third parties and ISPs can track and monitor deliverability. They can then credibly say this sender follows good practices and manages complaints and bounces on their own network and across the Internet.

For such accreditation to happen, ISPs must enable that third-party service to monitor their networks for bounces and complaint receipts and to manage the diligence that goes into an accreditation process. E-mailers on a shared IP network shouldn't fret too much. Solutions are being developed to better identify client-specific campaigns within message headers to track sender accountability.

Microsoft's new partnership with IronPort's Bonded Sender Program is a great first step in a major ISP's willingness to publicly work with a third party to help emailers become accredited. E-mail filtering leader Brightmail is also considering a reputation service across its vast network of client ISPs. Others, including Habeas, the ISIPP Accreditation Database, and the Vouchlist Specification Proposal, are vying for positioning with ISPs in the rapidly growing accreditation marketplace.

Regardless of first- or third-party solutions, accreditation is a necessary element of email communications that's currently missing from most ISPs' offerings. Let's hope not for long. Do you believe accreditation is necessary, or is the status quo acceptable? E-mail me your thoughts.

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

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Ben Isaacson

Ben Isaacson is the privacy and compliance leader for Experian, overseeing Internet and advanced technology privacy and compliance affairs across Experian Marketing Services products including CheetahMail, Digital Advertising Services, and Hitwise. Mr. Isaacson's previous roles include serving as the executive director of the Association for Interactive Marketing (AIM), a former DMA subsidiary. He regularly blogs at EmailResponsibly.com.

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