Challenges in 2018?

It's the first working day of the new year. What do you think are going to be some of the challenges we face in the realms of email and deliverability this year?

Here's three concerns that are on my mind for 2018:
  1. Continuing platform consolidation. Microsoft started merging their Outlook.com (Hotmail) and Office 365 Outlook email platforms in 2017. From the outside, things didn't always seem to go so smoothly, and indeed, are perhaps not today all that smooth in some cases. Some senders were seeing unexpected blocking with confusing (or no) error messages, for example, and the receiving systems appeared as though they were perhaps overwhelmed. That's potentially still ongoing for some folks today.

    And then we have to look forward to a potential merger between the webmail systems of Yahoo and AOL. Now that they're owned by the same company, it makes sense to assume that they would standardize down to one single webmail platform. That's a whole lot of mailboxes and data to transfer (in either direction) and I admit that I'm a little nervous wondering about how things will go if/when they pull that off. (It's not that I think the Oath people are dumb, by any means. Very smart folks-- I just wonder about the scale of such a platform merge.)

  2. Getting serious about DMARC. I might have called 2015 the year of DMARC, as it was all over the news, but 2018 is the year all should start implementing DMARC. Too many folks are ignoring it until they run into problems. Implementing it while something bad is happening can be tougher (like trying to do math while the building is burning) and it takes some finesse and technical skill to ensure that you're doing it right, which is why I think you should partner with a DMARC specialist service instead of trying to do it yourself.

    And don't send mail that wouldn't pass DMARC, even if you don't have a DMARC record set up or policy enabled. My very non-scientific observations suggest that at least one large webmail provider will effectively give you a modest positive delivery boost if your mail is DMARC-compatible and a modest negative deliverability drop if your mail isn't DMARC-compatible.

    And it goes without saying that in 2018, you should no longer use a from address domain that you don't control or own.

  3. More Stringent Filtering. This past holiday season (Q4), a lot of folks saw a higher-than-expected amount of inbound mail being deferred by multiple large webmail providers, possibly because their systems were overwhelmed with so many senders attempting to send so much mail. I'm sure that to some degree, those platforms will be looking to beef up their inbound mail capacity, but that can get really expensive really quickly, and they aren't likely to endlessly scale up to accept all the mail that every sender in the world cares to send. That means that those providers are probably going to have to look to other means to keep their systems up and stable, and that suggests to me that spam filtering could become more stringent. If you don't have enough resources to accept all the mail, you're going to try to figure out which senders are the better senders and accept their mail first. The not-as-good senders might not get as much mail through, or perhaps even be locked out outright. ISPs and spam filters constantly stack rank senders against each other and this is just yet another example of how they could choose to do that. It's not that different than the way things work today, just keep in mind that what is allowed as far as practices and percentages is likely to be tightened up.

    What that means for a sender is, keep your nose clean. Practices that were edge case and perhaps OK a few years ago (old lists, low engagement, etc.) are going to be problematic today. Don't just keep on skating along on what you've been doing for years. Instead, be forward looking and ensure that you're fully on top of everything when it comes to permission and best practices.
Let's regroup in about 350 days and see how things turned out, shall we? I'm sure there will be another five or more big considerations that hit us in 2018 that we didn't consider up front.

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