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A new way of thinking – certification 2.0

A short historical review

Since email exists, it has been the goal to get it delivered to the recipient and destination – today we just call it “the inbox”.

With the ongoing evolution of email, it grew from an individual and personal communication tool for a small group of people into a mass communication tool. While that happened, new ways to manage the increasing volume had to be found and implemented. The main development moved into two directions:

  1. Further evolution for communication between two individuals
  2. Bulk sending services that developed into modern Email Marketing

With the growth of Email Marketing and the related goals of higher effectiveness and generating more revenue, new challenges appeared.

While the definition of Spam in the early days was “unwanted email received without asking for it” or “unsolicited commercial email”, it turned into the subjective judgement of the user being subscribed to a legally compliant mass emailing list but feeling overloaded or badly treated by the incoming email volume.

Also, while the email user received just a few emails per week in the past, we nowadays see up to hundreds of emails coming in every day.

The sending frequency, the content relevancy, the targeting, or even external factors like the general brand reputation are influencing the subscriber’s recognition of an email being spam or not.

This makes the email management and deliverability even more important than 15 years ago and creates new demands to all players in the ecosystem.

Mailbox Providers only protect their users

To help the email user to manage their inboxes and supress unwanted email, the Mailbox Providers implemented filters and rules of engagement over the last couple of years.

Mailbox Provider learned from user’s feedback to distinguish between good and bad email. Content keywords were the most obvious and well-known factors in the early days – but this was just the beginning. The famous spam button appeared in application interfaces to collect the subscriber’s feedback.

Nowadays the evolution of tracking, automation and machine learning made the Mailbox Provider start to include and consider even more data points like reads, filing, forwarding, or other email interactions.

Email Filtering is becoming a more intelligent and complex process based on an extensive list of complex rule sets and dependencies. Having the correct SPF record in place is by far not enough to reach the inbox anymore.

There is no good or bad

The email world appeared to be easily dividable into good and bad – in the mindset of some market members. For many Email Marketeers the Mailbox Providers are the bad guys who only want to stop them from earning money with email marketing, but this is not true, and it is not as simple as that.

The evolved complexity of email deliverability and the related challenges of constantly increasing global email fraud is putting high pressure on the Mailbox Providers.

It is not easy to distinguish between bad and good. The consumer behaviour has been changed over the past years and Mailbox Providers are challenged to consider and respect this user behaviour and feedback.

The minority of emails are filtered just because of dedicated block-listing, the current email filtering technology is based on learnings from the past days, weeks, or month, analysing content and related user behaviour, as well as constantly listening to the current recipient’s feedback.

This leads into a new way of thinking of certification, positive IP or domain lists and the willingness to seriously listening to the Mailbox Providers voices and best practice advises.

Certification 2.0

The new certification and IP lists are no longer tools that automatically guarantee hundred percent inbox delivery anymore.

The majority of email marketeer still think that the participation on a certified list is about their payment and the commitment of the Mailbox Providers to accept every single email regardless of content or practices – but this has become an outdated model.

Spam fighting focusses more on Reputation. Technical requirements like SPF, DKIM and DMARC are just the basics which must be followed. Decisions to deliver an email into inbox or spam are made on the long-term and short-term reputation of IP and domain.

The new certification is turning into a two-way-model of deliverability optimisation rather than only being the tech tool of a list of IPs or domains. This two-way-model means using the IP or the domain as the key to exchange exclusive data feedback from Mailbox Provider to be able to improve the email performance.

Data is the key

The deal between Email Marketeers and Mailbox Provider is changing. Rather than getting delivered into inbox just for payment, it becomes the agreement to commit to best practices and regulations for exclusive data insights from the Mailbox Providers ecosystem. A Mailbox Provider offers insights about the reputation with data like user feedback, spam clicks, filter results or differentiated bounce codes.

This new development can be seen in the development of data tools and services the Mailbox Provider have been developed over the past years. Free tools like Microsoft SNDS or Gmail Postmaster Tools already provide data insights into the Mailbox Provider’s world. Participants of a certified list will further be part of an exclusive group of senders who get an even deeper level of insights, than senders outside the list.

Even local Mailbox Provider such as 1&1 Mail & Media (GMX, WEB.de and mail.com) or Swisscom started to provide data feedback through dedicated partnerships.

The commitment of the sender to follow best practices and strong membership criteria of a certification program are the key to get these deeper insights. The return is the ability of targeted reputation and deliverability management by using the data insights. The resulting improvement of performance will provide the benefits for a preferred and better inbox placement as this meets the Mailbox Provider’s expectations.

So not just the payment for being on a certified list is creating the return for better deliverability – the return is based on the learnings and improving email best practices to further ensure a sustainable inbox delivery.

Domain reputation becomes key

Looking at the email world today, we can see a remarkably interesting trend. It seems to me that the abstract technical email world becomes a little more natural!

Why? The reputation measurement and data collection are further built upon domain basis rather than only on IP level. Just to give you one famous and well-known example – the Gmail Postmaster Tools do not even require the submission of the IP addresses, it pulls the sending IPs automatically from the domain. Another example is the Verizon Media feedback loop, which is completely built on DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Message) domain.

What does that mean? It means it is no longer possible to just switch IPs to reset the bad reputation and proceed sending the same traffic. It is a much bigger hurdle for a serious sender to switch the sending domain, because the domain is often a kind of personal name or includes the brand image and identity.

Reputation building and maintenance will further shift from IP to domain. Senders who maintained their reputation from all perspectives of a domain basis will benefit from a long-term deliverability and email marketing success. Senders who often switch IPs and sending domains randomly will be treated suspicious. That is natural – someone that I know by name for a long time already I trust a lot more, than someone I just got to know the name of recently, even if my long-time contact moved houses in the meantime.

You may change systems or IPs, but if you keep your domain name and you care about it, you will earn long-term benefits through trust.

Therefore, I believe certified domains are the next logical consequence in the email sphere. It is already available in the market and demanded by Mailbox Providers, but it is time to get it rolled out on a broad level.

But the deal between the Mailbox Providers and Email Marketeers will remain the same as before. It may also shift the responsibility about reputation from the Email Service Provider, as the owner of the IPs, to the sending brand, who owns the domain.

Conclusion

The email world will never turn back. The email volume will continuously increase. This requires new developments and further evolution in inbound and outbound email management for mass emailing.

Email deliverability requires a strong, reliable, and transparent partnership between senders (Brands and Email Service Providers) and receiver (Mailbox Providers).

It requires a change in the mindset. „The bad Mailbox Providers fights Email Marketeers “- is the wrong view. „It is all about reputation and protection of the valuable email user “- will help to find open minded ways to increase email business success and growth while following best practices.

Take care about your reputation and maintain it by making use of the exclusive deliverability insights of being part of a certification. The Mailbox Provider will continue and increase their offers about sharing data in exchange of the serious motivation from the senders to reduce spam and applying best practices.

IPs as the central item of reputation management will disappear and the domain move into the centre, not just because IPv4 is becoming increasingly limited, but also because the domain is the key item to represent a brand’s reputation on a long term.

Mailbox Providers will increase their data analytics and offerings for senders and specialised deliverability and certification vendor will translate this exclusive data into actionable recommendations for email marketeers.


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