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You Get the Deliverability You Deserve

You might know Neil Schwartzman. In his long and active career in email and anti-abuse, he once-upon-a-time handled compliance issues for Return Path certified senders,  has consulted with other senders looking to comply with Canada's recent anti-spam legislation, and has long been one of the driving forces behind anti-spam advocacy group CAUCE. Now a member of the sender community via his new role as VP of Receiver and Sender Relations for Message Bus, I'm excited to be able to share some blog space to invite him to share what's on his mind. -- Al Iverson

Do I Deserve This? (Part 1)

I was out with a bunch of email geeks for Dim Sum, the weekend after M3AAWG in San Francisco, and after savaging several typical public policy whipping posts, like big pharma, drug research and public medicine, the conversation ended up, inevitably, on email and commercial senders.

My friend Mike Hammer made a stunning comment. Mike works for a very large sender, who has had their difficulties with getting their email to the inbox over the years.

Mike quipped: “We get the deliverability we deserve."

This is a revolutionary statement. An entire industry has sprung up dedicated to better deliverability. Most of it is focused on implementing and strict adherence to best common practices like the M3AAWG Sender's BCP.

But, some hopes of deliverability is still wrong-headedly predicated upon trying to build friendly personal relationships with the individuals at DNSBLs and ISPs in hopes of asking for a favour, or being treated better than the next sender. That isn’t how email delivery works of course, and Mike nailed it. Fact is, complex reputational systems have been developed by receiver sites that make the second-by-second decisions about how a piece of email, an email stream, and IP or a sender is treated. That is a reality we should be embracing more fully industry-wide, in my opinion, not expensive drinks or trinkets. There is no batphone for message delivery.

If a mail stream isn’t delivered to the inbox, there is probably a darned good reason at the receiver end why this is so, and our job isn’t to pick up a phone and remind people about a drink we had, or a nice meal, but rather, to place a call to our customer, to find out what they are doing about subscriber engagement, or changes list purity.

Of course, ISPs are fallible, and Mike did go on to say that he does use his Rolodex in dire instances when deliverability drops precipitously, on those rare occasions when ISPs make substantive changes, and accidentally fat-finger a filter or an algorithm is acting up. But in those cases, the issues tend to impact far more than a single sender, or IP, or ESP, and errors get fixed, rapidly.

Ultimately, senders don’t have an inherent right to have their email delivered; in fact, consumers have said repeatedly that the email they really care about is personal, one-to-one communications, and transactional email. Two successive MAAWG studies found incontrovertibly that if marketing mail isn’t delivered, most people really don’t care, even if it has a valuable daily deal contained within.

Check out the graph on page 14 of the M3AAWG Consumer Survey  to see how the average subscriber feels about different mail streams.

The bottom line is, if you send email people want, you get to the inbox. Otherwise, bulking & blocking are a regular occurrence, and you really don’t have much to complain about. You get the deliverability you deserve.

In part two I’ll explore how to become more deserving of inbox placement in the present-day messaging ecosystem.

Neil Schwartzman
Receiver & Sender Relations
Message Bus


Comments policy: Al is always right. Kidding, mostly. Be polite, please and thank you.

  1. This is not the way to manage deliverability.

    There are two sides to the equation and there needs to be a way to manage delivery permissions between the sender and recipient so the receiver (ISP) does not need to decide what email gets delivered to my inbox.

    I constantly find email that I have elected to receive in my spam folder. I even tell the receiver it's not spam and they continue to do the same. Personally, I don't care if the sender has a questionable reputation if they are sending me email that I want to receive.

    Some new thinking is definitely required.


  2. Yeah, but like all other solutions to the spam problem, it requires that everybody involved play fair. Since a lot of bad actors don't play fair and never will, ISPs aren't likely to turn off the filters for you at any point in the near future.

    So you can say it sucks, or you can deal with it I prefer to deal with it.

    What's the one thing a spam filter can't measure? Permission.

  3. See - its not always like that. Look at for example an ISP that has deliverability issues to, say, another ISP that has a hair trigger rep system + a policy of silently deleting mail from IPs that it considers to have a poor rep.

    The blocking ISP might have a ton of spam coming in from nigerians and scripters on the blocked ISP. Equally, the blocking ISP might also be sending a massive amount of very similar spam to the blocked ISP's users.

    For the blocking ISP to claim that their filters don't have any whitelisting, and that all they care about is the incoming IP's reputation .. and not responding properly (other than with boilerplate that says "your IP has a bad rep, here is all the stuff you can do to fix it" generic best practices) - well, there's just no percentage in it.

    Neither the blocking ISP nor the blocked ISP deserve that kind of dumb treatment and it escalates into a zero sum game with neither site's users able to exchange email with each other.

    So who deserves what, here?

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