By Clea Moore, Deliverability Manager

AOL-PostmasterAOL announced the release of a new Postmaster website last week, and the industry was abuzz at the relaunch of such a critical tool.

AOL set a high bar when they first launched their Postmaster site more than a decade ago. It was the first time a major receiving ISP detailed the rules of engagement for high volume senders. For example, AOL famously was the first ISP to publicly document their bounce codes, making it simple for senders to understand why their email wasn’t delivering.

At the time it went live, email marketing resembled the Wild West, but AOL’s efforts helped set the standard for how senders should engage with mailbox provider personnel, their systems, and their customers’ inboxes. Sites like AOL Postmaster remain an invaluable resource for helping new marketers and established providers alike ferret out their deliverability problems.

I spoke with Lili Crowley, a member of the AOL Postmaster team about the new site, and here’s what she had to say:

What prompted the change?

LC: We really felt that our site was out-of-date, both informationally and the look and feel. A team edited and re-wrote a lot of the content and also reorganized how it was presented.

What did you hope to accomplish? Fewer tickets?

LC: We really wanted to make it easier for people to navigate and provide a better resource. If that was less tickets, yes that is a great outcome, but our main goal was better information.

Whats new? I noticed the FBL signup process looks a little different.

LC: We removed obsolete and unhelpful content and added new information based on changes in the industry. We tried to provide more guidance where it made sense for users opening tickets.

What should the takeaway be for senders? 

LC: The website is a resource and an aid, but there is no replacement for good sending practices.

There you have it folks. Now you have an even better resource for troubleshooting delivery issues at AOL. Be sure to check it out!

And, as always, the deliverability team here at Message Systems is working closely with big receiving ISPs like AOL to help our SparkPost Elite customers achieve the industry’s best deliverability, period. Find out more at https://www.messagesystems.com/products/sparkpost-elite.

deliverability_panel_eecI’m in Miami wrapping up #EEC15, The Email Evolution Conference. The closing Keynote Panel Discussion organized by Dennis Dayman and Ryan Phelan was worth the price of admission; the panel they organized featured key postmaster/abuse personal from Comcast, Hotmail/Outlook, AOL and Gmail. Although regular fixtures at M3AAWG meetings, the folks in this room don’t normally have a chance to hear first hand how an ISP measures activity within the inbox and responds to emails as they arrive. There were furrowed brows, heads nodding and a plethora of other emotions as questions were asked, assertions made, accusations levied and laughter enjoyed by all.

 

One of the most important things I took away from this session and I think you may find this valuable too are the signals that most ISPs read as good vs. bad. Here’s a cheat sheet and take away that you can help you better understand how engagement, which was called ‘a philosophical principle rather than a secret sauce’, is measured by a mailbox provider or an ISP. One of the major disconnects I’ve seen between senders and receivers is the idea that engagement is a single measure. Quite the contrary, senders are not privy to the metrics that receivers are and vice versa, there may be some attribution, analysis through web behavioral data, that leads to a very different picture of engagement on the sender side. This is the fundamental conundrum that I think is best represented by the metric system vs. the english system. Both are valid (well one’s more practical than the other), both are capable of measuring the same distance but use different units. One doesn’t invalidate the other, hence the philosophical nature of the construct.

Positive Signals

  • Open an email
  • Adding a sender to the address book
  • Moving a message to a specific folder (filing)
  • Rescuing a message from the spam folder
  • Replying to a message.

Negative Signals

  • Deleting a message without opening it
  • Marking a message as spam
  • Reporting phishing

Thankfully there are more positive signals that inform engagement at a mailbox provider than negative ones. One thing to consider: I’ve seen a number of senders instruct their recipients not to reply to an email, that the email box will not be checked or monitored. Given that replying to emails is a positive signal that will ultimately improve a sender’s engagement, leading to better reputation and finally deliverability, it might be worthwhile to make the sending addresses accept replies and even review them for customer correspondence.

Another major mailbox provider has moved to the DMARC policy reject mode due to recent spoofing attacks on its members. Yesterday, AOL announced that it was following in Yahoo’s footsteps with p=reject.

aol_600x315Over the past few days, “You’ve Got Mail” users have complained about hackers gaining access to their AOL accounts and sending many emails with malicious links to their friend lists. The link in the email leads to malware, phishing attacks and viruses. If you have an AOL account, it is highly recommended that you check your sent folder to see if your account is affected. If you see a suspicious email in your sent folder, you need to delete the email and change your account password immediately.

Although the number of affected users is unknown, this attack has received a lot of attention on Twitter with the trending hashtag #AOLHacked. The AOL anti-spam team regard this as a serious attack, and has taken firm action to defend their users (full disclosure: I’m a former AOL employee). In order to stop hackers and cyber criminals, as well as restore trust in their brand, they announced publicly yesterday that their DMARC policy has been changed from (p=none) to reject (p=reject). With this DMARC policy change, AOL will now only allow traffic from AOL.com users through their mail servers. Other providers who honor DMARC policies such as Gmail, Yahoo and outlook.com are now been instructed to reject mail sent on behalf of AOL Mail users via non-AOL servers.

This big step and revolutionary DMARC reject policy was recently initiated by Yahoo following the earlier lead of Twitter, Facebook & Linkedin, and is now followed by AOL. Hopefully, other major mailbox providers will soon follow suit. The Message Systems’ team fully supports Yahoo’s and AOL’s decision to put stricter DMARC policies in place to battle spam and phishing attacks. Our core messaging engine, Momentum, fully supports all authentication methods such as DKIM and DMARC out of the box, and our support and technical teams are available to address any questions and concerns customers might have with regards to complying with these new email authentication polices.

Want to learn more about DMARC? Read the How DMARC Is Saving Email E-Book today!

How DMARC Is Saving Email

When senders and receivers work together, we all win.

Twitter, Google, Microsoft, AOL and Comcast?

That’s right. We promised that Interact 2013 – The Digital Messaging Industry Conference, would be bigger and better – and we’re making good on that.

The five online titans form the A-list ISP panel that will be spearheading the discussion on Preserving the Email Ecosystem. They’ll be discussing sending best practices and acceptance policies, as well as ways senders and receivers can cooperate to keep the email ecosystem clean and spammers at bay.

Josh Aberant from Twitter will be moderating this event, while the panelist line-up includes:

John Scarrow – Microsoft
Lachian Maxwell – AOL
Olga Gavrylyako – Google
Severin Walker – Comcast

If you’ve ever had burning questions about email deliverability, this is the forum to get those concerns addressed by the gatekeepers themselves.

When it comes to actionable takeaways to increase email deliverability, there’s no better way to learn. Aside from the A-list panel, Interact 2013 features two separate tracks: Digital Messaging Best Practices & Interact Bootcamp, where you’ll hear from email experts – both senders and receivers – from Oracle Eloqua, Groupon, Alchemy Worx, Acxiom, Barclays, OTA, XING and more.

There has been a great deal of talk in the email marketing industry recently about tuning for delivery and effective IP reputation management, but much of it seems to be misguided or misinformed in my opinion. Many of the articles I have read in past months focus on the concept of “getting around” ISP spam filters, or “bypassing” the bulk folder. (more…)

The goal of any email marketer is to get email delivered to inbox and not get blocked at the ISP gateway or diverted to the spam folder. What makes this so challenging is the very high volume of spam traffic on the Internet, and the spam filters put in place by ISPs. But while priority #1 for email marketers is getting messages to the inbox, ISPs have far different priorities. In fact, of the top 10 priorities for ISPs, taking care of the concerns of email marketers comes in around #11. (more…)