Industry Updates

Yahoo introduces Google-style image caching in email

Geocache Cache Small Geocaching LogbookIn late 2013, Google began to cache all images in email sent to Gmail users, storing remotely-hosted images on their own servers instead of accessing them each time an email is opened. Laura at Word to the Wise wrote up some good info at the time, focusing mainly on the parts of email tracking that were (or were not) affected by the changes.

Fast forward to 2018, and it looks like Yahoo has adopted a similar policy of image caching. According to Litmus, Yahoo recently began caching images on their servers in the same manner as Google. And like Google’s version, this one won’t break open tracking –  but could cause some unusual data points or issues with geolocation or user agent tracking. If you track the location of email opens, you’re likely to start seeing a lot more traffic from Sunnyvale, CA (the location of Yahoo’s servers), and any dynamically-generated content based on the location of the recipient will reflect that. In fairness, IP geolocation has never been a precise science, so most marketers should rely on other signals along with that data to serve up location-specific content.

When Google introduced this feature, they used it as a platform to allow images to load by default for all mail sent to the Inbox. There has been no announcement or indication thus far, but is it possible Yahoo is planning a similar feature? As with most of the changes taking place under the new Oath umbrella; we’ll just have to wait and see.

– BG

Industry Updates

US sees increase in inbox placement, still lags behind world average

In late February Return Path released the 2017 installment of their annual Deliverability Benchmark Report, which tallies inbox and spam folder rates by country and industry. Each year the data is generated by monitoring more than 2 billion consumer emails to identify trends and averages for each region and industry segment.

RM Global Delivery
The data, compiled between June 2016 and June 2017, shows little change overall from last year’s report. On average, around 20% of mail worldwide never reaches the inbox, with the majority of that – 70% – rejected at the server gateway (bounced). As in years past, the US falls short of that average: just 77% of mail made it to the the inbox. The good news for US senders is that this represents an increase of around 4% from ’15-16 numbers.

Around the world, Canada and Australia tied for the highest inbox rates, with 90% of mail in those countries reaching the inbox. The merits of Canada’s Anti-Spam Law may be disputed, but it certainly seems to have had a positive impact on inbox placement there. Prior to the law taking effect in 2014, inbox rates in Canada dipped as low as 79% – but they have hovered around 90% since then. CASL certainly isn’t guaranteed to be the cause, but it’s a good bet there’s some correlation there.

Results by industry

The breakdown of inbox rates by industry uncovered a couple of interesting trends. Among the 16 industries tracked, none averaged below 76% inbox rate on the year. The Automotive industry, previously in last place with 66%, now edges out the Nonprofit/Education/Government sector by a point at 77%. Meanwhile the Insurance industry, perennially at the low end of the spectrum, saw a 13-point jump to 89%. Apparel, Electronics, and Home Improvement all saw decreases but remained at 85% or above, while Finance took the top spot with 94% of their mail reaching the inbox.

– BG

Industry Updates

AOL confirms move to shared mail infrastructure with Yahoo

Last week I wrote about the changes taking place at major email providers, specifically the convergence of AOL and Yahoo’s mail servers. Today on their Postmaster blog, AOL issued confirmation of these changes. The statement indicates the “majority of AOL’s MX records” will be routed to the new combined mail servers with little if any visible impact to senders.

The message also assured senders that established feedback loops (FBLs) should continue to function without interruption. While AOL notes that issues are unlikely, if you see any abnormalities remains the best way to reach out for assistance.

– BG

Industry Updates



New year, new you…that’s what they always say, right? Just a few weeks into 2018, it seems like some of the big 4 ISPs (soon to be Big 3?) are really taking that concept to heart.

Microsoft’s major migration of to the Office365 backend was technically completed in 2017, but based on feedback from senders in industry groups delivery issues still abound. The indications from MS are that the mail handling and filtering infrastructure are a work in progress, but no formal statement has been issued to that end. Some senders have stated MS support is unable to provide remediation for many of these issues, even though there may be backend adjustments taking place. If you’re having trouble getting mail to Microsoft, just know you’re not alone and that someone over there is paying attention.

Verizon ended its own webmail service last year, and consolidated its AOL and Yahoo brands under the Oath moniker. AOL and Yahoo’s email services have remained separate thus far, but indications are that will change in the next few days. It’s been reported that the merger of these mail platforms starts in earnest on or around February 1st. As of that date, mail to AOL will be routed and handled by the Yahoo mail servers. To me this sounds a bit like the SBCGlobal arrangement between AT&T/BellSouth and Yahoo, wherein one provided the mail interface while the other handled the mail routing and filtering. At this time, no formal announcement has been made, so we’ll have to sit tight to find out exactly what this means for sending to AOL recipients.

– BG

Industry Updates

Gmail’s Inbox offers to unsubscribe recipients from mail they’re not reading

Last month Al Iverson at Spam Resource, along with Engadget and XDA developers, reported on a new feature of Google’s Inbox that prompts recipients to unsubscribe from mailings they don’t open. The card, which appears at the top of the interface, calls out mailings categorized as Promotions that the user hasn’t opened in the past 30 days and provides the option to unsubscribe or not, all with a single click.


Introduced in 2014, Inbox is Google’s next-gen email client. The app takes Gmail’s concept of the Tabbed Inbox to the next level, bundling messages by type and showing cards based on data found in emails – receipts for purchases, travel arrangements, and event tickets, for example. At the time of Al’s post the feature was live on the web and Android versions of Inbox, but I can confirm it has now arrived in the iOS version as well.

According to Litmus, Gmail accounts for roughly 26% of all email opens – second only to Apple’s iOS mail client. This doesn’t indicate what percentage of those openers use Inbox as opposed to traditional Gmail, but Google has previously indicated that Inbox has a significant number of users and in 2016 noted that 10% of all email replies on mobile came from the Smart Reply feature found within Inbox.

Google continues to innovate in finding ways to prioritize mail its users want and get rid of mail they don’t. Does your email strategy reflect that? If your sending patterns and list management foster engagement and interaction, you’re likely to see less of an impact from a change like this. Alternatively, if you’re still holding on to the “batch and blast” mindset, you may not be so lucky.

– BG


Best Practices, Delivery Essentials

Zombies are everywhere…including your member database

WARNING: PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ZOMBIESYesterday morning I received a bit of a surprise in the form of an email from Tumblr congratulating me on the 9th “birthday” of my blog. I checked and it seems I last posted on Tumblr just over 3 years ago…and only three times ever. In March 2013, I posted a photo from a photo sharing app called Streamzoo – an Instagram alternative that, apparently, wasn’t a good enough alternative and shuttered in 2014. In 2012 I posted a photo from Instagram, but from an account that no longer exists (it was deleted among the wave of privacy concerns about Instagram around that time.)

The fact that I got this notification is a good thing, as it means I’m still using the email address I used to create the Tumblr account – but what about all those accounts I created with previous addresses?

As I dug through websites I hadn’t thought of in years – MySpace, LiveJournal, even Angelfire! – it brought to mind a common issue for the association groups I work with: zombie members. While the use of zombie imagery in reference to old email addresses and web accounts isn’t new, paying attention to those undead records is more relevant than ever for organizations whose email program relies heavily on membership rolls.

Too often when troubleshooting delivery issues, membership organizations completely exclude their active member list from any sort of list hygiene initiatives. The reasoning makes sense on the surface: if someone is an active (often paying!) member of your organization, clearly they want your emails, right? Unfortunately, that often doesn’t take into account some of your most loyal members.

It’s an oft-quoted statistic that 20-30% of email account owners change their email address each year, often due to a change in internet provider or employer. Over the course of 5 years, that equates to a greater than 1 in 3 chance a recipient has changed their email address – but did they tell you? How would you know?

Let’s talk through some of the most common assumptions used to justify why an email address shouldn’t be subject to list hygiene practices and how they can lead to trouble.

1. “They logged into our website.”

This seems like a slam dunk: your website uses email address as username, and the member had to log into their account to renew (or you can see a record of their login.) That definitely means the address is good, right? Nope. Every web browser since Netscape Navigator (and probably before) has been able to save login information so you don’t have to remember those pesky passwords. If members aren’t required to confirm their email address regularly, they have little incentive to change their username (assuming they even realize they’re using the old address).

2. “They attended a conference.”

Like logging into your site, this is a great sign they’re engaged with your organizationbut not necessarily with your emails. If the registration for the event took place on your org’s website (that same one with the saved password, above), attendees may be using the same saved information to register. It may seem unlikely, but I’ve worked with many orgs who were unpleasantly surprised by the number of recent event registrants whose information was out of date.

3. “CAN-SPAM says we can send to members no matter what.”

It is true that CAN-SPAM has an exemption for messages deemed to be pertaining to a transaction or ongoing relationship. The FTC has issued some guidelines around this, but there’s still quite a bit of grey area. Sending a message announcing conference registration to your members? Maybe a promotion for a Continuing Ed course for industry professionals? Most experts would tell you these aren’t exempted messages.

Truth be told, whether they are or aren’t exempt is irrelevant to the discussion. CAN-SPAM allows you to send almost any sort of unsolicited email as long as you provide contact info and an unsubscribe method. This is the bare minimum required to comply with the law (and any reputable ESP will require permission.) However, every major email provider has implemented complex spam filtering systems designed to block or reject mail their recipients don’t want.  If their recipients don’t open your emails, or they mark them as spam or unwanted, your mail won’t get delivered. So yes, you may have legal permission to send them email, but that means absolutely zero when it comes to whether your message reaches the inbox.

How can you be sure your members’ information is valid?

While none of the above methods should be considered a reason to keep an email address in your list, there are a few options for confirming addresses that are a bit more reliable.

Send a reconfirmation email

The gold standard of email verification is the confirmation email. Once per year (often at the time of renewal), send an email to the address on file that requires a click on a confirmation link to stay on your list. If someone clicks, you know you’ve got the right person and the right address. If they open but don’t click? That’s a bit more of a grey area. Depending on the language in your email, you may want to keep them around but limit the emails they receive. Non-openers should be suppressed from your email campaigns going forward.

Look for recent opens or clicks

Most orgs are hesitant to require annual confirmation, which is understandable. It’s likely to shrink the size of the email database, a prospect that rarely elicits a thumbs-up from the executive team. In those cases, you can still look for recent activity from the recipient in the form of opens, clicks, and replies. If you have records indicating a recipient opened, clicked on, or replied to an email in the past 12 months, it’s generally a safe bet to keep them around. You may even want to use this in conjunction with the annual confirmation – only those records with no activity have to reconfirm. That will require a bit of additional work, but could pay off in spades if you avoid the loss of legitimate member email addresses.

Conduct an outreach campaign

If a member has no recorded interactions with an email, they’re not dead to you just yet. Many orgs conduct targeted outreach via phone, postcard, or even in-person meetings to get updated information from members. We’ve seen a number of associations have success driving traffic to their online information forms through these offline methods.

Once you’ve gone through these steps, you’ll likely have to decide to suppress some email addresses from your member list to maintain good deliverability. When this happens, remember that removing a member from your email list doesn’t negate their membership – they may still attend events, participate in forums, and engage with your organization. And each of those interactions is another opportunity for you to get updated information from them and bring them back into the email fold.

– BG

Deliverability 101, Delivery Essentials

Deliverability 101: IP address and domain reputation

Reputation can be very important in all walks of life, and email is no different. For senders with a good reputation, mail is more likely to be delivered to the inbox, giving your recipients more chances to read and interact. On the other hand, if your reputation is “not so hot,” you’ll be more likely to see your messages end up in the spam folder or even rejected altogether. So what exactly is this mystical “reputation,” and how is it determined?


IP Address Reputation

Before we address (no pun intended) the reputation aspect, let’s have a brief refresher on the nature of IP addresses. Every device connected to the internet – computer, router, even your smart thermostat – is assigned a numeric value known as the Internet Protocol address. This IP address is how your mail server is identified on the internet. When you send mail to a recipient, their mail provider will see where the message originated, identified by that IP address.

Most inbound mail servers will also attempt to use that IP address to determine whether the sender of the mail is trustworthy. If mail from that IP address is often sent to invalid addresses, or the mail generates too many complaints, the inbound server may choose to route incoming messages from that server to spam, or block them outright. Many mailbox providers also use third-party IP address blacklists like Spamhaus or Spamcop, choosing to filter or reject mail from IPs that appear on those lists.

A few years ago, IP address was the gold standard for sender reputation. As content filters that looked for “spam words” became less effective (MILLI0NS OF DOLLAR$ IN VI4GRA, anyone?), IP reputation helped receivers identify habitual bad senders. The receivers could then act on all mail sent from those servers instead of chasing down ever-morphing content to filter inbound mail. This often caused issues for ESPs with smaller clients, because many clients were often sending from the same IP address (This is one of the reasons many ESPs tend to be more strict with shared-IP clients – because mail you send can impact delivery for many other senders on your IP).

A fact that is not widely known outside tech circles is that the internet is running out of IP addresses. As a result, a new standard for IP addresses was created: IPv6. This standard allows for a seemingly infinite number of IP addresses – theoretically 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 to be exact. With that many IP addresses, anyone whose IP is blocked can simply start using a different IP address, essentially bypassing IP address-based filtering.

Domain Reputation

There are times that an IP address alone doesn’t give the whole picture. The shared IP pools used by some ESPs, as mentioned above, are a prime example. Another example might occur when multiple divisions of a single company or organization use the same IP addresses to send mail. Because of this, and the onset of the IPv6 standard, domain reputation has become increasingly important in mail delivery.

How domain reputation is checked can vary depending on the mail server. Some providers check only the domain the mail is actually sent from, while others look at all the domains in the message headers. Some providers, including Google, check every domain in the body of the message as well. So if you send your mail from, you can bet the reputation of will be checked, but other domains in your message could be checked as well. If you are using an ESP or other hosted mail solution, there may be domains in the header that belong to your host that will also be checked (another reason authentication is so important). And don’t forget those links in the body! Many filters will block a message if it contains links to domains that have been flagged as spam or dangerous. If you’re linking to a domain you don’t own, it’s a good idea to check its reputation using one of the handful of free online tools available (we’ve compiled a few on our Resources page).

Not surprisingly, a domain’s reputation is typically impacted by mail sent from that domain or using that domain in the body. However, it can also be affected by the reputation of that domain on the web as a whole. If a specific website has gotten a bad reputation for, say, gaming Google’s search engines or potentially scamming customers, that can also impact mail delivery.

The ‘Secret Sauce’ of Sender Reputation

When it comes to actually filtering inbound email, every mailbox provider uses a unique combination of factors to determine whether mail reaches the inbox. For many providers, IP address reputation still ranks at or near the top of the list of these factors. Domain reputation is typically very close behind, if not in the top spot. After that, there are typically various ingredients that make up the proprietary methods used by each organization. Trying to figure out the secret sauce for each ISP is a fruitless effort – even if you do manage to find a trick that bypasses or overcomes a specific filter for a time, it will invariably change and you’ll be left looking for another backdoor.

While the specific components of spam filters change constantly, your sender reputation – both IP and domain – will continue to play the largest role in getting your mail to the inbox. Manage that reputation well, and you’ll save yourself a lot of delivery headaches.

For more information on IP addresses or the IPv6 standard, check out these resources:
What is an IP Address? on HowStuffWorks
Word to the Wise – IPv6 archives – A Beginner’s Look

– BG