AOL 8.0: All Database Rules Have Changed

Amid heightened awareness and concerns about email delivery, strategic discussions are underway on new methods for building email databases. It’s easy to understand why, when you consider that already 12 to 20 percent of email fails to reach the recipient’s inbox. Those estimates are probably on the conservative side.

Until now, email database creation was solely about obtaining permission: opt-out versus opt-in versus double opt-in. All that’s about to change. With new Web clients such as AOL 8.0 already available and others quickly following, the conversation suddenly and dramatically shifts from whether you have permission to email someone to how to get email delivered

Permission is no guarantee.

Based on our own internal numbers and research we’ve conducted, the top five ISPs (AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, MSN, and CompuServe) account for about 75 percent of all email accounts. These companies are the core of the delivery problem. It’s critical to focus on what can be done to get mail delivered to people using those services.

Without immediate, dramatic changes, delivering a newsletter, company announcement, news alert, or other message to AOL 8.0 users now, and other ISP subscribers in the near future, requires getting recipients to give that message “trusted priority” status in their email client.

If an AOL user sends email to to sign up for a newsletter, for example, that address is automatically placed in the subscriber’s trusted priority inbox category because she sent a message to the address.

And as long as the newsletter is sent with the identical sender line (, it will be delivered, not filtered to an “unsolicited low priority inbox folder” where it might never be read. This is contingent on the subscriber never removing the specific sender address from her address book.

Most email lists are built via online forms. Until now, that system presented no problems for email marketers because it didn’t matter what the sender address was, as long as the recipient granted permission to send email to her address. With AOL 8.0, however, the only way to have email delivered to a user’s highest priority inbox is to ensure the sender address is in the recipient’s email address book. That can only happen if the user sends an email to the same address from which future mailings will be sent, which automatically places the address in the user’s book. Unfortunately, this process doesn’t work via Web forms.

AOL 8.0 and other new email platforms are wreaking havoc on email marketing companies, publishers, and just about anyone else who sends email. That’s why the industry must change the way email lists are built. You can no longer rely on implementing an opt-in signup box across Web sites, because increasing percentages of mail will no longer get through.

Here’s one viable workaround. Using the newsletter analogy, if you want mail delivered to those who subscribed, create a system that works as follows:

  1. When a “subscribe here” button/link is clicked, the underlying program opens the user’s email client.

  2. The code must prepopulate the receiver email address with the same one as the sender address used on outbound email. This is both critical and a significant departure from the way things were done in the past.
  3. To subscribe, the user clicks “send.”
  4. A confirmation message can be sent at the emailer’s option.

Using this system, you not only gain a subscriber and a 100 percent valid email address, but because they’ve sent you an email you’ve virtually guaranteed getting your mail delivered to that subscriber. You also have proof they subscribed, should spam issues arise in the future.

We’re using this technology, and it does works. But there are downsides. You need many more domain names and a fairly sophisticated tracking system to determine where each record comes from, both in terms of unique domain name and unique media source.

Please email me if you know of other ways to work around the delivery problems related to new email clients. Thanks in advance, and keep reading.

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