E-Mail Delivery Rates Fall in Q4

E-mail marketers saw rising failure rates at the top Internet service providers in the fourth quarter of 2002, according to a new report.

The research, conducted by email marketing company Assurance Systems, found that permission-based email failed to reach recipients at the top 10 ISPs an average of 15 percent of the time — an increase from the 12 percent recorded in the third quarter. The ISPs handle about 60 percent of email in business-to-consumer campaigns, according to the company.

“E-mail marketers and publishers spend a lot of time creating targeted offers and high-quality creative,” said George Bilbrey, chief executive of Superior, Colo.-based Assurance Systems. “However, all that effort is worth little if the campaign doesn’t make it to the in-box.”

NetZero led the pack with a 27 percent non-delivery rate. It was followed by two key providers: Yahoo, which had a 22 percent failure rate, and AOL, with 18 percent of mail not getting through.

The ISPs with the lowest block rates, all weighing in at 6 percent, were EarthLink, MSN, Mail.com, USA.net and Bell South. Hotmail, which last September contracted with Brightmail to improve its spam-fighting capabilities, was not far behind, with 8 percent of marketing messages failing to get through.

Assurance Systems examined 800 email campaigns its clients ran from October to December 2002, finding failure rates varying from 4 percent to 38 percent. The study found delivery failures had myriad causes, including poorly written subject lines or text that would set off spam filters.

The problem of non-delivery has grown for email marketers as spam has become Public Enemy No. 1 on the Internet. With top email providers like Yahoo and AOL rolling out more robust capabilities for blocking unwanted commercial email messages, email marketers have felt the sting.

Spam has risen from an annoyance to a plague. Brightmail’s Probe Network detected over 6 million spam attacks last month, a 119 percent increase from a year earlier. Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this Web site, estimates that the average email user will be subjected to 3,900 pieces of email a year by 2007.

The spam issue was the major factor leading to the creation last month of a coalition of email service providers under the auspices of the National Advertising Initiative (NAI). The coalition joined other email industry groups formed to address issues affecting email marketers.

“This is exactly the issue that we’re concerned about,” said Trevor Hughes, the executive director of NAI’s email coalition. “I have every reason to believe these numbers are accurate. The anecdotal evidence that we have is that the problem is indeed of this magnitude.”

In addition, email marketers are under threat of anti-spam legislation, both on the state and federal levels, which could further hinder them. According to SpamLaws.com, 26 states have passed a law aimed at curtailing unsolicited commercial email. The Federal Trade Commission earlier this week announced it would hold a forum on spam in late April to address a number of issues, including legal remedies.

“We’re not just talking about marketing,” Hughes said. “We know we’re talking about legally critical messages to consumers” from banks, insurance companies and other businesses.

The fallout from spam has been a blemish on an otherwise bright area for the interactive marketing industry. E-mail marketing held up strongly during the pronounced online advertising downturn, growing into at $1.4 billion industry in 2002, according to Jupiter Research. By 2007, email marketing is forecast to take in $8.3 in revenues, as more companies see the value of email for customer retention.

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