May 8, 2008

95% of problems come from newsletters, not promotions

I just got off an ESPC call where Cloudmark was presenting. Very cool stuff. Learned they protect over 600 million inboxes around the globe via just about all the major ISPs.

Anyway, the guy from Cloudmark said he knew he’d be on a call with a bunch of email service providers (ESPs), so he looked us all up in their database to see if he had any records on us (this is the part of the call where you could hear a pin drop).
Then he said something along the lines of, "95% of problems that ESPs have seem to be coming from relationship newsletters, not sales promotions."


Newsletters are the problem? Newsletters are supposed to be the safe bet in email.

The speaker hypothesized that it’s all math. When you send a "promotional email," you’re probably sending it to a very large list (like 10,000 people). So when 10 people report it as spam, it’s not so bad. When you send your company newsletter, you’re probably sending it to a smaller group (more like 1,000 recipients). So when those 10 grumpy people report the newsletter as spam, it’s a higher percentage of your recipient list, and looks worse. Now, he admitted that he didn’t have a lot of time to research the cause—he was just guessing.

But then some people from another ESP said they were experiencing issues that seemed to indicate that his hypothesis might not be correct. Darn.

So we have no definitive answer.

Still, it’s something to think about. Cloudmark looks up ESPs in their spam database, and sees that our customers are getting marked as spam more for newsletters than promotions. That we know.

I have my own theory, based on my experience running the abuse desk here at MailChimp.

Promotional campaigns are hard. Usually, it’s the experienced email marketers who do promotional campaigns. People who run e-commerce websites. People who generate promo codes, and build landing pages. They code emails with tables and product photos and use Google Analytics integration to track conversion. They’re syncing their databases using our API so they can segment based on customer behavior. The skill level and experience is higher, so they’re more likely to be aware of email marketing etiquette and spam laws and ISP feedback loops.

Newbies don’t do promotional campaigns so much. They just do newsletters. Newsletters are easy. Newsletters are fast. And newbies are more likely to make these mistakes (I see it over and over and over again):