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Goodmail: Beyond the Uproar and Trash Talk

  |  February 15, 2006   |  Comments

Despite the hubbub, life goes on for most e-mail marketers. Here’s what the deal really means.

The recently announced deal between AOL and Goodmail ignited a firestorm of debate and outright misinformation, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Google launched Gmail. E-mail marketing survived that upheaval, and it will survive this one.

The deal, representing an estimated 21 million addresses, will allow senders in Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail program to pay a fee per message to guarantee delivery to the inbox with images and links enabled. Yahoo also announced it will use the Goodmail program later this year, but only for transactional messages.

Despite the uproar, life goes on for most email marketers. The way AOL treats your email won’t change. You’re the one who will decide whether the promised higher ROI (define) and credibility with your recipients will outweigh Goodmail’s cost.

Joining Goodmail is voluntary and subject to the program’s strict qualifications. Nobody can simply cut a check to get in, which should eliminate claims that Goodmail allows spammers to run roughshod over recipients’ personal preferences.

We see opportunities for marketers facing special circumstances (see the list, below). However, even senders who don’t join may benefit indirectly by proactively cleaning up their own email operations to stay competitive with Goodmail clients or those who decide to improve their email practices on their own.

What Goodmail Really Means

In its announcement, AOL said it would phase out its enhanced whitelist and partner with Goodmail to reduce spam and ensure permission-based email is delivered to users’ inboxes.

Since then, AOL has clarified its intent. It will continue to use its enhanced whitelist, which allows inbox placement with links and images enabled for senders who achieve the lowest complaint numbers.

That’s great news for squeaky-clean emailers, and it quelled some of the uproar. To get on the enhanced whitelist, you must meet a stringent set of conditions in a rolling 30-day period for an individual IP address. You don’t always know if you’re on it unless you track delivery closely using a test AOL account or a third-party service.

Goodmail’s Acceptable Use Policy closely resembles AOL’s standards for the enhanced whitelist. If you don’t qualify for AOL’s enhanced whitelist, Goodmail may not admit you, either. The following are some qualifications (which will likely evolve) for the initial Goodmail charter program:

  • Opt-in address collection only; no prospecting or acquisition campaigns; co-registration only if address is added to one list at a time

  • Six-month sending history using a dedicated U.S. or Canadian IP only

  • 30-day active period for unsubscribe links

  • Complaint threshold below 2,200 per 1 million email messages

  • Background checks

  • High reputation score

AOL’s Goodmail implementation will go in to effect in the next few months. Yahoo’s transactional email program is expected to start in the summer. Pricing structures have not yet been publicly announced for either deal, but users should expect to pay a one-time application fee plus a per-message fee estimated at a quarter-cent.

How Goodmail Works

Goodmail inserts a line of code in an email’s header, called an X-header. Once the receiving server recognizes the code, it routes the message directly to the inbox.

That code, called a token, is one factor that differentiates Goodmail from other delivery-assurance, reputation, or certification services. Each email message gets a unique token that the sender and Goodmail use to track delivery, including anomalies like volume spikes, plus inbox placement and recipient complaints.

The Beginning of a Class System?

Does Goodmail create a class system of email in which the haves are able to pay for guaranteed delivery and the have-nots just cross their fingers and hope for the best?

Perhaps, but in reality email has been a class system for a long time. Some marketers pay for full-service email providers, deliverability-monitoring tools, dedicated IPs, and message testing and monitoring, as well as other certification or reputation services, such as Habeas, Bonded Sender, and TRUSTe.

Other marketers either can’t or don’t. Sometimes, their companies don’t allocate enough resources to pay for these enhanced services. Will they soon see reduced AOL delivery rates? No. If they get blocked today, it’s for the usual reasons: high bounce rates, poor list hygiene, high spam complaint rates, and inclusion on blacklists.

Goodmail’s emergence is a bit like that of FedEx a few decades ago. If you need urgent, guaranteed delivery, FedEx offers it... for a price. It’s an alternative to the U.S. Postal Service.

Who Could Benefit?

Senders whose company names, brands, or products have been poisoned by spammers, phishers, or rogue affiliates could benefit. This includes pharmaceutical companies, banks, credit-card providers, and luxury-goods purveyors.

Goodmail’s CEO, Richard Gingras, says Goodmail is primarily intended to rebuild consumer trust in email. CertifiedEmail messages will bear an identifying icon in the inbox so the user knows an email that appears to be from Big Name Company really does come from Big Name Company, not a scammer.

Senders whose email programs depend on transactions, including account statements, order or subscription acknowledgments, financial or order confirmations, and the like, could also benefit. You’ll have to decide whether Goodmail offers greater delivery assurance than other programs or none at all. If delivery is critical to your business, paying to assure it may make sense.

Our next column will analyze the costs and ROI of delivery assurance services such as Goodmail and how senders who elect not to participate can boost deliverability.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the pundits (ourselves included) say about the Goodmail deal. The market will decide. If Goodmail doesn’t deliver its promises of higher ROI and credibility, it will become just another failed startup, and the industry will have to find something else to chat about.

Until next time, keep on deliverin’.

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

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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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