E-mail deliverability firm Pivotal Veracity and email list broker Eclipse Direct Marketing have teamed to offer a new auditing service for list owners and email service providers.
The Independent Deliverability E-mail Audit (IDEA) assesses factors that affect the deliverability of a marketer's email campaigns, including the marketer's and service provider's infrastructure, reputation, permission polices, messaging practices, inbox penetration, and advertiser/partner policies.
"We look at their policies and practices to see what they're doing with online communications, and identify the potential problems," said Deirdre Baird, president and CEO of Pivotal Veracity. "Our goal is to assess all these things holistically, and then provide detailed guidance on the best practices to resolve any problems."
IDEA reports provide a scored analysis of current email practices, systems and methodologies, as well as detailed best practice, legal, technical, and strategic guidance on resolving any issues that are identified. Pivotal Veracity and Eclipse DM are already offering the service to existing clients of each company's services. Eclipse DM will be the exclusive reseller of the product to the marketing community, outside of Pivotal Veracity's current clients. Pivotal Veracity will conduct the audits.
The audit can benefit both in-house mailers and marketers who outsource their email efforts to an email service provider (ESP), Baird said. The difference, she said, is that in-house mailers often have issues with their system configuration -- such as reverse DNS or bounce management -- while outsourcers tend to have more problems with things like opt-out policies.
"There's an unfortunate misconception in the industry that if a mailer outsources their email to an ESP, they'll automatically take care of all of these deliverability issues. That's just not true," Baird said. "Mailers are often not as involved as they need to be."
Even an ESP with the best intentions cannot guarantee inbox delivery at various ISPs, said Tim Marusich, president of BlueHornet. A mailer on an ISPs whitelist can still be impacted by spam complaints, repeated bounces, and other factors, he said.
"If you do not address the fundamental problems and policies that resulted in your being blocked in the first place, that whitelisting won't last no matter whom or how much you paid," Marusich said. "Our goal with IDEA is not to perpetuate the false and opportunistic notion there is a quick fix, but to empower our clients with the knowledge, policies and processes they need to effectuate a long-term solution."
Pivotal Veracity clients include ESPs such as Blue Hornet, Digital Impact, Exact Target, Responsys and Silverpop. Each ESP plans to use the IDEA service in varying degrees to either help current clients improve their deliverability, or to attract new clients by showing prospects the issues with their current setups.
"In the past when we've had a prospect with deliverability issues, we've done our own review of their practices. With IDEA, we're able to provide them a detailed snapshot of issues with their current system," said Chip House, VP of deliverability at ExactTarget.
Baird said the service goes beyond what accreditation and reputation service providers like Habeas or Bonded Sender offer. Pivotal Veracity competitor Return Path is currently testing an approach similar to a consumer credit score, called Sender Score, to rate a sender's reputation and deliverability issues.
While ESPs could be opening themselves up to exposing shortcomings if they offer the service to their clients, Baird says that's not likely. Many of the issues that may be revealed in an audit will have come up in Pivotal Veracity's work with its ESP clients in the past, but have not been addressed in such a standardized way.
"The goal here is to start an open dialog with clients in respect to what policies the ESP enforces, and why," she said. "It creates an opportunity for clients to learn about these issues."
For list owners, the service can enhance the value of their lists in marketers' eyes by showing third-party verification of deliverability, said Jane Kaiser, president of Eclipse DM.
"It's like a stamp of approval. A good score on the audit will bring their list to the top of our recommended list," Kaiser said. "As a broker, I'd love to see an IDEA ranking become like a BPA audit, where we won't even have to look at a list that hasn’t done it."
Kaiser expects most legitimate list owners to embrace the IDEA ranking, since it will not only identify any problems, but help the list owner fix them to improve the quality of their list, and garner a higher rental fee. Some push-back might come from list owners who know they have problems with their list that they'd rather not have exposed.
"My first question to any list owner that would question the quality of an audit would be, if they can't put their list to the test, why should I rent it?" Kaiser said.
Currently the full IDEA service may be executed in one to two weeks and costs an average of $1,500 to $2,500.
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
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