Improving Delivery to Free Webmail Addresses

Today, email marketers send to a substantial amount of free webmail addresses (those free email accounts you have from the likes of Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail and so on). In fact, according to recent statistics, free webmail addresses make up the vast majority of worldwide email accounts, accounting for 76% in 2014.

So if you’re looking to maximize delivery to your subscriber base, it’s probably important to understand how these ISPs view incoming mail and what factors result in successful inbox delivery to free webmail addresses and what results in mails being categorised as spam.

Firstly, let’s talk a bit about authentication. Proper authentication is an anti-spam and anti-forging technique that verifies the source of any message received by a recipient, and most ISPs use this data to determine whether you are a legitimate sender or not, so it’s quite important to be aware of this.

Secondly, ISPs regard the senders’ mailing practice and the recipient’s behavior to those emails received quite highly and pay particular attention to spam complaints, bounce rates, spam traps and blacklisting’s. Experiencing a high amount of any of these could potentially hinder delivery to free webmail addresses and damage sender reputation.

Even if you’re a good sender with a fully opt-in list but your engagement levels are still low, your reputation might take a beating. Particular engagement metrics that ISPs take into consideration are:

  1. Open rates - indicating the number of people who have viewed your mail relative to the number that you have sent to
  2. Clicks - Which suggests whether or not people were interested enough in your content to click through and read more
  3. TiNS Data - gathered from subscribers rescuing your emails from their spam folders by marking it as “This is Not Spam”. A good indicator of false positives as well.
  4. Saving emails to folders - telling ISPs that the message is important enough to be organized or filtered - indicating that the recipient is happy to continue receiving these mails
  5. Inactive accounts - Those that are not opening or clicking on your mail at all. In addition to seeing low engagement levels in your campaign reports, these accounts have potentially gone dormant, and ISPs often turn dormant accounts into spam traps. Sending to these addresses is likely to result in your mail being filtered more often due to high bounce rates or potential spam traps
  6. Panel data - Certain ISPs invest in panelists to go through commercial mail and decide whether they’re spam or not. As this is a specific task some are set out to do, it can actually be more of a detriment compared to a regular user marking your message as spam
Filtering metrics such as feedback loops (FBLs) are used by ESPs to collect such data which then gets returned to the originating sender, giving the sender the opportunity to fix those issues before attempting to send again.

A quick breakdown of some FBLs provided to the public are:

  1. AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo. These providers all offer similar feedback loops that give you insight into what’s happening with your messages; if they’re being delivered or if they’re being marked as spam, and then relaying this information back to the sender/ ESP.
  2. Gmail. Gmail is a little different as it has very stringent privacy policies and cannot relay where the complaint comes from. However, they do provide a summary of user IDs to identify the accounts that are sending the mail - including what campaign they sent and the percentage that is marking that email as spam.
    • Certain ISPs like Gmail and Yahoo provide the recipient with the option to report a message as spam or unsubscribe from those lists instead, which is particularly helpful in reducing the amount of spam complaints. These unsubscribes get sent back to the sender to action accordingly.

Further tools that can be used as FBLs:

  1. SpamCop. If an email is marked as spam, SpamCop looks into all headers and information in that email to determine who the originating sender is and then sends a message to that sender.
  2. Unsubscribes. This is the most straightforward and automated feedback tool allowing recipients to be removed from a list – and not something that should be overlooked. You can also use unsubscribes to find out the reasons behind why they’re unsubscribing in the first place.
ESPs use FBLs to monitor the health of their IP addresses and receive data about their clients sending practices. ESPs find these feedback tools particularly useful in addressing recipient spam complaints, and identifying senders sending unsolicited mail.

It is important to note that there are a lot of factors that will contribute to your email arriving in a recipient’s inbox, however the general practice for all ISPs is the same. Watch out for engagement levels, keep track of who is clicking and opening your messages, and regularly remove those who are unengaged after 6 - 12 months. Basically minimize recipient frustration and webmail filtering by paying attention to:

  1. Negative engagement, keeping a close eye on unsubscribes, abuse complaints, drop in opens and clicks.
  2. View your stats and profile by ISP to understand if you have deliverability issues with a specific provider so that you can remedy this as quickly as possible.
  3. Ensure a low content spam score, ensuring that you’re sending out email content that is perceived to be of high standard.
  4. Watch out for email fatigue by sending emails too frequently. If you’re concerned about the amount of unsubscribes you are receiving, perhaps allow subscribers to provide a reason upon unsubscribing to find out what that reason is.

To give you an actual indication of how ISPs view and treat the mail that you are sending, reputation monitoring tools and Real Time Blacklist (RBL) monitoring tools, are also available for you to check your reputation and find out whether any of your IP addresses and domains are possibly linked to spam. However, if you are signed up with an ESP such as TotalSend this will be done for you, but nevertheless it is something you can look up at any time.

Just remember that there is always a logical explanation for any issues you may be having, as well as a solution for it, which you can remedy. However, if you are unsure about possible solutions, contact us with any questions you might have.

In short, always make sure that all recipients have opted in to receive your mail, provide suitable mailing practices and maintain a healthy subscriber base to ensure further reach with greater delivery of your campaigns.