Handling Yahoo's Email Retirement Plan

  |  July 3, 2013   |  Comments

Don't start panicking yet; Yahoo's plan to close inactive accounts may not have as big an impact on your email list as you think.

As many of you will have read, Yahoo is pushing an aggressive campaign of address retirement and reuse in an attempt to revitalize its email platform. There's been a lot of consternation about this process and information has been leaking out slowly, leading to a lot of confusion.

The closing of old and inactive accounts is not a new thing; it happens all the time on virtually every platform. At the larger sites the recycling of addresses is also not uncommon. Closed accounts are a major source of spamtrap addresses, for example. That said, it's not clear exactly how many are made available to new customers as policies vary from provider to provider, and for those who want to list large subscriber numbers, keeping inactives open can be attractive.

Right now, though, Yahoo believes cleaning up its address space is a good idea. The plan is that on July 15 any Yahoo account that has not been accessed in 12 months will be closed. Then in mid-August those accounts may be reopened with entirely new owners.

What's got marketers concerned are the speed and scope of the process. On the surface it appears that a potentially large number of Yahoo addresses will start bouncing on July 15 and then stop bouncing in mid-August but be owned by someone else.

If you send to your entire customer group on a frequent basis (daily or weekly), are diligent in your bounce management, and have a good re-engagement campaign running for long-term inactive subscribers, these changes should be of little concern. The reality for many marketers, though, is that this is not exactly how their programs run, and therein lies the rub.

If you mail to your subscribers on an infrequent basis the concern is that the next time you mail to them you may be sending to someone other than your intended recipient. A potential solution is to ensure you mail to every Yahoo address on your list during the July 15 through mid-August window. The problem there is that if you have a lot of long-term inactive subscribers, you may experience such high bounce rates that your current deliverability is adversely affected.

While it's easy to say that companies should mail frequently and remove long-term inactives, there are often solid (and admittedly sometimes not so solid) business reasons for not doing so. Some subscribers wish to remain subscribers but do not wish to receive weekly emails and do not necessarily open emails frequently.

It's equally easy to say that Yahoo is being too aggressive. One month is too short a bounce period for recycling an address. Best current practice for recycling addresses as spamtraps recommends a year of bouncing, for example.

Now for the good news. Carlo Catajan at ExactTarget believes that the problem will not be as serious as it may seem, and as an ex-Yahoo employee he is extremely knowledgeable about such things. His take is that there are two key things that Yahoo did not make clear. The first is that due to existing policies any addresses that are going to be recycled will already have been bouncing for six months. The second is that only 7 percent of the accounts that will be recycled are actual live email accounts.

Another piece of potentially good news is that Yahoo claims it will unsubscribe inactive addresses from newsletters and other bulk messaging.

My takeaway from this is that it's still quite unclear what the actual impact will be and that it will likely vary from sender to sender depending on their list hygiene and mailing practices. I'm skeptical about how effective Yahoo's unsubscription process will be and think the following are important.

  • Don't rely on Yahoo to unsubscribe everyone.
  • Closely monitor Yahoo delivery starting on July 15.
  • Have a plan to deal with any issues that may arise.

That means you should be prepared for some high bounce rates. Be prepared to have to send an email to all of your inactive Yahoo addresses within the coming month, but do so gradually if deliverability is a problem. If your bounce rates are extremely high you may even have to triage your list and just discard the oldest and longest inactive addresses - but hopefully it won't come to that.

Until next time,




Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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