A Long March for Yahoo E-Mail

When spammers change their tactics, so do e-mail providers. Those changes can cause hiccups in deliverability, and temporarily slow the time it takes for mail to get from a sender to a recipient. For Yahoo Mail, a recent hiccup lasted from late February through most of March. In that time many e-mail service providers (ESP) and e-mail senders experienced soft bounces and missing e-mail.

Yahoo made changes to its servers to address changes in e-mail traffic. “Our goal at Yahoo is to make sure users receive all the e-mail they want, and none they don’t,” said Mark Risher, group product manager for Yahoo Mail. “We are not trying to block commercial messages, transactional e-mail, and newsletters.” He said Yahoo tries to resolve any of those problems as quickly as possible.

A Yahoo community manager posted information about delays responding to postmaster requests to the Yahoo Mail Blog on March 11, addressing issues dealing with bulk senders, ISPs, and commercial e-mailers. While ESPs and other e-mail senders were frustrated with bounced Yahoo Mail, none felt Yahoo meant to cause e-mails to bounce. “[Yahoo] was working with its systems and trying to tweak them and try to help the spam. I wouldn’t say they have been malicious and slow to react. They have a lot of servers,” Spencer Kollas, director of deliverability services at StrongMail, told ClickZ News.

Deliverability became a problem as early as late February, according to Risher. The problem became evident by the first few days in March. “In early March a lot of marketing campaigns started to see delays. In some cases if marketing e-mails didn’t get delivered within a number of hours, it was coded as a soft bounce,” said Jeanniey Mullen, CMO of Zinio, founder of the Email Experience Council, and a ClickZ columnist.

A soft bounce means e-mail was making it as far as the Yahoo servers, then being returned to the ESP’s servers. A soft bounce might indicate Yahoo’s servers were full or busy. Habeas director of e-mail policy Ray Everett-Church said rather than a bounce rate, some Habeas clients were getting a 421 error, or temporary “busy, try again later” server blocks throughout the month.

Authentication measures used across the industry, including Sender ID (define) and DomainKeys (define), didn’t expedite deliverability. Some had success with Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail.

Some ESPs report e-mails sent to Yahoo Mail addresses never even arrived. E-mail marketing agency eROI shared statistics from its test servers but not live results. A reported 40.9 percent of e-mail to Yahoo.com e-mail addresses had the status of not being delivered. These were U.S. addresses. Yahoo mail in most other countries registered 100 percent deliverability rates. EROI uses Return Path to monitor e-mail performance.

EROI’s test servers return varying results with each test. StrongMail’s deliverability rates have increased recently. Others in the industry have varying opinions.

“We feel the issue is mostly resolved; we have seen the sender complaints volume drop back to manageable levels,” said Risher. “The tickets coming into the postmaster cue right now have to do with standard transactions, not unexpected deferrals.”

Habeas clients continue to experience some delays in delivery, but Everett-Church is remains positive about Yahoo’s resolution. “As they are switching on and off some of the more recent changes, there seems to be some improvement,” he said.

Yahoo’s efforts to thwart spam are welcome to some degree. “The tighter the screws get turned on spam the better we like it,” said Russell McDonald, CEO of iPost. He did say in addition to experiencing deliverability issues across iPost clients, he noticed various streams he subscribes to in his Yahoo Mail account being sorted into the bulk folder.

It’s not uncommon for Yahoo or any other ISP to experience deliverability outages. “Virus and spam is a chronic problem for all of the receiver community; they are constantly trying to improve and adjust their facilities,” said Everett-Church. “Yahoo has been having issues, Comcast before that, AOL the month before that, Earthlink before that.”

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