Feb 6, 2006

GoodMail and AOL – What’s the big deal?

By now. you’ve probably heard about AOL’s plans to implement the Goodmail system, and start charging some email marketers for delivering their campaigns.

Some people think it’s pure evil, and that AOL is a money-grubbing scoundrel. Some people think it’s great, because it’ll let them "bypass AOL’s spam filters" (who’s the scoundrel then?). If you Google the phrase, "AOL Goodmail" you’ll get all kinds of negative press, speculation, and rumors. It’s nuts. We were just recently on a call with AOL and Goodmail, where they presented some information to the ESP industry. Just to clear up a few things, we’ll tell you what we know, and how it affects you…

Goodmail works like this. You, as a marketer, register with Goodmail. Give them your business name. Give them your IP address(es). If you use an email marketing provider (such as MailChimp), give them the ESP’s IP addresses. Goodmail certifies you. You pay them an as-yet-unspecified fraction of a penny for each email you send.

Then, participating ISPs (like AOL) show a tiny little icon next to all your messages in the inbox, which means you’re a "good mailer." They say the Goodmail icon is not spoofable, because it gets placed in the ISP’s interface, not the email message itself.

Anyways, here’s what we’ve been told about the AOL arrangement:

  • AOL was thinking about getting rid of their "enhanced whitelist" program and replacing it with Goodmail’s. That really made a lot of people angry (to say the least). They’ve since changed their minds.
  • According to AOL, being Goodmail-certified would NOT automatically bypass any spam filters. It would only bypass the "blocked images by default" functionality in AOL. Basically, your HTML email would have all the images and logos automatically displayed, and recipients would never have to click the "Show images" link.
  • It’s worth mentioning that in AOL (and most email applications), if a recipient already had you in their address book, your images would have been automatically displayed anyway—with or without Goodmail. That’s why it’s important to ask people to whitelist you as soon as they opt-in to your list.
  • We haven’t heard whether or not Goodmail certification bypasses any of Yahoo’s spam filters. We’d be surprised if they did.
  • If you register with Goodmail, you get spam reports from Goodmail’s system (like AOL’s feeback loop). AOL and Goodmail say that if spam reports hit a certain threshold, they’d remove your certified status.

So what does Goodmail mean to you?

Well, if you’re a humongous retailer sending +millions of emails a day, and making billions online, you might give it a shot. There doesn’t seem like there’s much to lose. They’re giving large, well-known brands the opportunity to try things out for free (after the non-refundable $199 application fee). Who knows, bypassing that "show images" button might help you out with sales, and tracking those open rates. If you’re that big an operation, $199 is chump-change, and paying a fraction of a penny per email is really not bad at all (of course, we’re a little biased here at MailChimp).

If you’re a small company, it doesn’t look like there’s much to worry about. If you worked hard on your reputation, implemented double opt-in, and got onto AOL’s whitelist, you’re not going to lose your status (now that they’ve changed their minds). And if you send emails that your customers actually find useful having (or not having) a little icon isn’t going to help or hurt that much.

If you’re an anti-spammer, the idea of Goodmail should make you smile a little. Making marketers pay a fraction of a penny for every single email they send might make them focus more on quality, instead of quantity. We’ve always been fans of the "pay-per-email" approach for that very reason.

If you’re a MailChimp customer, and want to give Goodmail a try, you’ll just need to contact them to set things up. They’ll ask you for our IP addresses, which we can email to you when you need them.