How Good Is Goodmail?

I’m taking a month off from my dynamic messaging series to speak to a topic that has made headlines in the marketing and mainstream press. The announcement by AOL and Yahoo that they’ll utilize Goodmail’s delivery service caused great confusion. I’ve received many calls and email messages asking what’s actually happening and what it means for the future.

What Is Goodmail?

Goodmail is an accreditation service for email senders. Habeas, Bonded Sender, and others have been doing this for some time. Unlike competing systems, bulk senders pay Goodmail for email delivery. It’s been likened to buying a stamp.

This idea has been floating around for years. What’s new is such a system has actually been implemented, and two of the big five ISPs are involved. Certified email bypasses those ISPs’ spam filters and is designated accredited with an icon or logo. Senders will be charged for each certified message sent to a participating ISP.

What Does It Mean?

Depending on who you talk with, you’ll hear very different stories on what this system’s effect will be.

AOL says it will be business as usual for everyone who doesn’t join the Goodmail system, which it’s calling the CertifiedEmail service. Those who do join bypass spam filters and (barring user preferences to the contrary) are delivered to the inbox with loading images, functioning links, and a certification logo. Both AOL’s whitelist and Enhanced Whitelist will continue much as they are right now. Goodmail simply presents a third option for those who want to use it.

Goodmail says the system will help protect users from fraud, spam, and phishing (define); it’s all about returning trust to email. Senders’ systems can report actual inbox delivery in real time, something no other system offers. Receiving ISPs share some of the payment. That means senders will finally help pay for the cost of processing email and fighting spam.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and claim Goodmail and AOL are implementing a tax on email, that AOL is selling access to its customers’ inboxes. Some smaller senders are also expressing concerns they’re going to be squeezed out, unable to afford to send. Though not directly related, this issue also resonates with the current question of the two-tier Internet being espoused by some ISPs.

Which may explain some of the furor.

Who’s Right?

That remains to be seen.

I believe AOL when it says it intends to maintain its existing whitelists. But it made a huge mistake by initially announcing its Enhanced Whitelist would be replaced by Goodmail. This raised the concern Goodmail would eventually become the only practical means for bulk email delivery to AOL subscribers. Though AOL denies that, concern remains, if not over AOL then perhaps for other ISPs in the future.

I believe the EFF and are seriously overstating the situation. Goodmail isn’t currently an email tax. It’s simply another, optional, accreditation service.

What Are the Risks?

The system has some risks. Many apply with any third-party accreditation system, though some are specific to Goodmail.

As with any accreditation system, a commercial third-party gains some degree of control over your email’s delivery. With Goodmail’s system, senders are reliant on the availability of Goodmail’s servers.

Until now, ISPs have been the guardians of their subscribers’ inboxes. Being paid for delivery encourages them to deliver email they might previously have blocked. The pressure is to let through as much certified mail as possible without undermining the value of Goodmail’s system or causing a customer revolt. If adoption becomes widespread, this could become a significant issue.

Being paid for delivery may also encourage ISPs to drop or deprecate their existing money-losing whitelist systems in favor of Goodmail. That could make it harder for non-certified bulk email to be delivered.

Should You Use It?

The open, well-run nature of AOL’s whitelist plays against it when it comes to being Goodmail’s launch partner. Its openness and available feedback loop mean delivery to AOL subscribers isn’t difficult for most reputable senders.

If your product or service is particularly prone to phishing or spoofing, it may make sense to use Goodmail. If the AOL whitelist just isn’t doing it for you or you’re particularly interested in inbox delivery statistics, it may make sense. Most bulk senders will wait to see with this, as with other accreditation systems.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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