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Commercial E-Mail Deliverability Rates

  |  April 8, 2005   |  Comments

Which e-mail services deliver legit commercial e-mail to end users? Which don’t?

As ISPs and hosted email vendors try to protect their users from spam, they also block and filter legitimate commercial email messages. A pair of recent studies, one from Lyris and the other from Return Path, measured deliverability rates for legitimate email among different ISP and hosted email providers.

According to Q1 2005 Lyris EmailAdvisor data, the average rate of legitimate commercial email deliverability to user inboxes was 88.5 percent. That climbs a bit to 92.5 percent for average "gross deliverability" of legitimate commercial email. Lyris defines "gross deliverability" as the total amount of email delivered to both regular user inboxes and "bulk" folders; "inbox deliverability" refers to messages that make it directly to the inbox.

The Lyris data was derived using a methodology that sent almost 22,000 opt-in commercial email messages (explicitly requested by recipient accounts) from 49 different business entities to multiple accounts at 41 different hosted email and ISP domains, both in the E.U. and the U.S.

European delivery rates were 90.3 percent for inboxes and 93.7 percent for gross deliverability. U.S. rates were somewhat lower: 87.9 percent for inboxes and 91.3 percent for gross deliverability.

Top Ten U.S. Domains by Inbox Deliverability, Q1 2005
Domain Name Number of E-mails Sent E-mails Delivered (% Gross) E-mails Not Delivered (%) E-mails Delivered to Inbox (%) E-mails Filter as Bulk/Spam (%)
spamcop.net 556 97.3 2.7 97.3 0
580 96.7 3.3 96.7 0
551 96.4 3.6 96.4 0
juno.com 558 95.7 4.3 95.7 0
adelphia.net 557 95.7 4.3 95.7 0
peoplepc.com 373 95.4 4.6 95.4 0
mac.com 556 95.3 4.7 95.3 0
earthlink.net 561 95.0 5.0 95.0 0
lycos.com 561 94.8 5.2 94.8 0
mail.com 569 94.6 5.5 94.6 0
Source: LYRIS Q1 2005 ISP Deliverability Report Card

U.S. Domain E-Mail Filtering to Bulk Folders, Q1 2005
Domain Name Number of E-mails Sent E-mails Delivered (% Gross) E-mails Not Delivered (%) E-mails Delivered to Inbox (%) E-mails Filtered as Bulk/Spam (%)
559 95.9 4.1 34.2 61.7
580 79.1 20.9 63.1 16.0
yahoo.com 558 95.2 4.8 86.4 8.8
sbcglobal.net 559 94.3 5.7 86.2 8.1
hotmail.com 623 90.2 9.8 84.9 5.3
Source: LYRIS Q1 2005 ISP Deliverability Report Card

Return Path’s 2004 data indicate on average 22 percent of legitimate opt-in email wasn’t delivered to user inboxes. That’s a 3.3 percentage point increase over the second half of 2003, when Return Path reported 18.7 percent of messages weren’t delivered.

Lyris’ data show the best services for inbox deliverability were CompuServe, with 96.7 percent gross and inbox deliverability; and Time Warner’s Road Runner unit, with 96.4 percent gross and inbox deliverability.

The best U.S. domain for overall inbox and gross deliverability was SpamCop, which delivered 96.7 percent of all commercial messages to user inboxes.

U.S. Domain E-Mail Delivery Failure and Filtering to Bulk Folders, Q1 2005
Domain Name Number of E-mails Sent E-mails Delivered (% Gross) E-mails Not Delivered (%) E-mails Delivered to Inbox (%) E-mails Filtered as Bulk/Spam (%)
go.com 616 73.5 26.5 73.5 0
iwon.com 573 74.4 25.7 74.4 0
580 79.1 20.9 63.1 16.0
excite.com 560 84.6 15.4 84.6 0
bellsouth.net 567 86.2 13.8 86.2 0
Source: LYRIS Q1 2005 ISP Deliverability Report Card

Lyris’ Shannon Coulter, a marketing associate, says deliverability rates were higher than expected.

"The few scattered reports on deliverability we’ve seen out there have said that over 20 percent of permission-based email is being blocked, while the Lyris study found that less than 10 percent of it is," Coulter told ClickZ Stats. "This may be because the bounce threshold is kept relatively low in our email hosting service; it will automatically unsubscribe a bouncing address fairly quickly, so our customer’s lists tend to stay squeaky clean. Clean lists tend to have higher rates of deliverability, and they also tend to foster excellent relationships with ISPs. Road Runner, for instance, is known for being particularly spam-averse, but they earned third place out of 41 ISPs in our study because we’re sending smart."

EarthLink holds the top spot according to Return Path, only filtering 5 percent of legitimate opt-in email; CompuServe ranks second at 6 percent, and BellSouth is at 8 percent. Return Path ranks Road Runner among the worst ISPs, not delivering 36 percent of email.

Lyris reports Concentric filtered 61.7 percent of legitimate commercial email as spam. Google’s Gmail service didn’t fare well either, filtering 16 percent of legitimate commercial email as spam. Gmail’s gross deliverability was also low, at only 79.1 percent.

In Coulter’s view, the Lyris report is good news for email marketers. "A lot of the coverage... is focusing on the providers that didn’t perform very well, like Google. I think what’s being missed is the positive side: that if you keep your lists clean and use other email marketing best practices, you can actually expect to keep your delivery rates fairly high," she said.

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