April 27, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Cleaning up a bad e-mail reputation

About a year ago, Publishers Clearing House set out to make sure its e-mail reputation was squeaky-clean.

The company, known for its sweepstakes and magazine subscription promos, stepped up its efforts to be a good e-mail citizen, and to make sure it didn't send out unwanted messages. It developed its own tools. It hired outside consultants. It signed up two full-time employees to oversee all of its e-mail delivery.

Quite an investment of time and money--but worth it, if it meant the company, which relies on mail to do business, avoided having its messages junked by spam filters.

"It has become more of a challenge to send e-mail," Sal Tripi, the director of operations at Port Washington, N.Y.-based Publishers Clearing House, said in an interview. "Because the ISPs are taking certain actions to catch illegitimate mailers, legitimate mailers have to take action to make sure that they are not caught in the same net."

In reputation-based filtering, senders are graded on their practices and assigned a reputation score based on several variables, such as complaint rates, volume of mail sent and response to unsubscribe requests. It's one of the latest techniques used to combat the problem of spam, which makes up more than 80 percent of all messages sent today, according to e-mail security service Postini.

Also in response to spam, e-mail service providers are aggressively filtering messages to keep the medium useful for their customers. That, allied to the reputation push, is putting a burden on companies to meet the requirements of those providers. If they don't, they risk a slur on their character--and a subsequent ding to their business.

"It is a consistent and ever-changing business challenge to keep abreast of changing ISPs, policies and filtering," said Heather Soule, a representative of online invitation service Evite. "We adhere to the policies that most spam filters recognize, like proper formatting, and test through Habeas to ensure that the e-mails are delivered to our users' in-boxes and not junk/spam or bulk boxes. It is a laborious, constant challenge."

As a result, e-mail is no longer an easy and cheap way to get messages out to a large number of people, but one that needs careful management.

The score
Habeas, a Mountain View, Calif. Company, is a reputation-filtering service that also offers to help companies fix their e-mail reputation--for a price. Companies such as WalMart.com, Staples, Vanguard, Geico and Tickets.com have hired its services, Habeas said. One rival, which also specializes in getting mail delivered to the in-box, not the junk mail folder, is New York-based ReturnPath.

What makes a reputation?

These factors are typically used by antispam filters to tag offenders.

  • The number of complaints, often generated by recipients flagging the e-mail as spam.
  • The percentage of mail sent to nonexistent e-mail addresses.
  • The frequency with which mail hits spam traps (e-mail accounts set up to monitor spam).
  • Unsubscribe performance. How quickly is a recipient unsubscribed or are such requests ignored?
  • Sending infrastructure. Spammers tend to have poor sending infrastructure, often stealing resources.
  • Volume--how frequently and how much mail is sent.

Source: ReturnPath

"E-mail is everything but free. Nothing good can remain free," Habeas CEO Des Cahill said. "Just like everyone spends money on search engine optimization, e-mail reputation and delivery is fast emerging as an industry."

Industry experts liken an e-mail reputation to a driving record or a credit score. With a bad driving record, you pay more in insurance premiums. With a low credit score, you don't get good rates on loans. If your e-mail reputation is bad, your mail gets junked.

"We monitor our reputation on a daily basis," Tripi, of Publishers Clearing House, said. "We like to make sure that our reputation remains clean, but it is a big effort."

But if you have a credit score problem, you really only need to hit the three agencies that maintain those records. It's a lot tougher for businesses that want to set their e-mail reputation straight: Hundreds of places compute e-mail reputations, and they may all do it in a different way.

"E-mail senders have not been able to see or touch their reputation," Habeas's Cahill said. "The actual reputation data is distributed among hundreds of antispam vendors and ISPs."

It would be easier if there was a central database of good mailers as opposed to bad mailers, Tripi noted. However, if one Internet service provider delivers a company's mail, others will likely deliver it too, since practices are similar, he said.

"If your business is based on best practices, and your customers are treated appropriately, the ISPs want to deliver that mail," Tripi said. "They are not going to hold back good mail from their customers if they are confident that the businesses sending that mail are doing the right things."

CONTINUED: People vote with the mouse…
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13 comments

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Wednesday's election day wouldn't be the same, without BLT's on Sunday.
(at 4:06pm); Church had just ended and I was on kitchen detail. There was no collection this proticulare morning, but the Deacon running the floor was handing out prizes; low and behold nice ones at that.
Without notice or finishing my perishables log extentions of the tomatoes from this weeks produce order, I walked into the auditorium to pull a grey tote from next to the spread of delicious bacon sandwiches and glazed cookies with sugar sprinkles on them for discovery:

Regarding the greatest prize of all, a clean election vote; I descided to weigh in the bucket as shrink and cut my losses; less my meal expenses and the raffle, to submit as my email for insurance purposes.

Getting something for nothing takes and makes 'Oodles' of paper for pocket change.

'Coffee talk for JBoss"
Posted by Pop4 (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Funny...
How SPAMMERS clean up their reputation so their SPAM can get through to users... How about you just not send SPAM?
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly!
The services in the story are merely attempts to make money from concern over UCE without actually doing anything about it. The worst example is AOL's pay-for service to their subscribers, where spammers who pay vigorish to Times Warner will get whitelisted, but I suspect that the others have similar motivations. Tiered parasites, as it were - pathetic and lame. My recommendation for an organization with more than a handful of email users serverd by a common SMTP delivery point: subscribe to Postini Perimeter Manager. It's extremely effective, has multiple category filters, each of which can be tuned (at the individual address, group, or organizations level) to be stricter or more permissive, and it catches nearly all virus-infected messages to boot. Current pricing at the ~500 user level is a little over $1/user/month. That said, some "stuff" still gets through. As the Postini admin for my employer, I've taken to selectively adding the originators of the UCE I receive to the global blacklist. If there is no unsubscrbe link, I add them right after doing a little research at the DNSStuff.com site. If there is, I try that first, and add them if I get more UCE from them. As CYA, I send an email to the originating address (and the abuse address, if it exists) stating what I have done and why, and inviting them to send me a snail mail letter if they believe the action I've taken is in error. Bottom line is that there is no magic bullet for this, an effective solution requires intelligent insight and directed effort by the email recipient(s), no substitutions allowed...

-Samiam
Posted by samiamtoo (31 comments )
Link Flag
Stop Crying.
These services work great for my company that sends millons of opt-in e-mail a month.

Sure you may not LIKE advertisements in your email box, but then again, watch where you enter your e-mail on the internet.

I hear no one complain about the tons of coupons and crap you get in snail mail, but people want to cry and ***** about email ads.

Please make sure when you talk about spam, you speak of REAL spam. Not just things you DON'T Want in your e-mail.

9 times out of 10 people who complain about spam, put their e-mail address in a box and checked off 'I agree' to something which put your email on a list for mailing. Regardless of it was apparent to you or not, read what you sign before you sign it.

You may think my e-mail is spam when it is really not. I am I'm 100% CAN-Spam Compliant, and all our e-mails are opt in or double opt, but people still complain. "Report as spam" is NOT an unsubscribe link. So as educate yourself on what is and is not spam. People who think anything they don't want in their email box is spam, is flat out wrong. There are criteria and we live by them.
Posted by dahkness (26 comments )
Link Flag
Lazy People Ruin It
I can't tell you how many legitimate subscriptions I've had end up in my junk mail folder.

Often I suspect it's people who are too dumb or too lazy to actually unsubscribe and just junk the newsletter. (Although having had my share of newsletters keep coming after you've unsubscribed, I could believe some complaints of failed unsubscribes.)

Although, equally bad... people who pay your ISP to let them deliver mail to you THAT YOU NEVER ASKED FOR. And no matter how many times you hit JUNK, there it is, every week, in your inbox. Yes, I'm referring to Hotmail and the stupid MLB e-mails.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sometimes though
It's a matter of some newsletters NOT paying attention to your request. I'm dealing with that at the moment. I've unsubscribed, and I keep getting it.
Posted by jsmith12 (24 comments )
Link Flag
Sometimes though
It's a matter of some newsletters NOT paying attention to your request. I'm dealing with that at the moment. I've unsubscribed, and I keep getting it.
Posted by jsmith12 (24 comments )
Link Flag
SPAMMINGNEWSLETTERS
It is notlazyness but ifI receive 11 e-mails in the AM and 10 are unsolicited newsletters, halfofwhich violate the requirementforasimple"unsubscribe(whyin hell should I unsub from somethingI never requested in the first plce.someofthese "newsletters arebarelydisguised scams from "universities" andrequire as manyas 10 steps to unsubscribe, omeaking for very privateinfo that couldand often does lead to identity theft.I havea bettersolutionthedeath penaslty for theentire management team of the offenders andpunitive actionsagainstthe employees perpetratingthescams.I also suggestthttheexecutions beby hanging old English style :high andshort and televised as part of prime time news.I would wagera couple of bucks thi would put a serious dent into thespamming scamming even if these felons used offshore propagators.
let's stop be so nice to criminals!
Posted by deylat2 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hotmails "feedback loop," which lets message senders see the opinion...
I couldnt find where the senders can see the opinion recipients have of them at the link feedback loop. Anybody can help to locate it?
Posted by Talar9 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft FBLs
Like all ISPs / ESPs they do require a dedicated IP address(s) for you associated email servers.

The FAQ: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://postmaster.live.com/Services.aspx#ISPSolutions" target="_newWindow">http://postmaster.live.com/Services.aspx#ISPSolutions</a>

The application: <a class="jive-link-external" href="https://support.msn.com/eform.aspx?productKey=edfsjmrpp&#38;page=support_home_options_form_byemail&#38;ct=eformts" target="_newWindow">https://support.msn.com/eform.aspx?productKey=edfsjmrpp&#38;page=support_home_options_form_byemail&#38;ct=eformts</a>

Also the best way to avoid spam filters is ask your subscribers to whitelist you email address. I have a email whitelising generator on my site as a free service to all here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.keywebdata.com/?page_id=28" target="_newWindow">http://www.keywebdata.com/?page_id=28</a>
Posted by ChrisLang (63 comments )
Link Flag
now microsoft is getting into the spamming business
somehow these `less than active braincell' persons

seem to `think' that i have ever even bothered looking at spam

`HELLO' (rapps on skull)

if i wanted something from you

I WOULD HAVE ASKED OR LOOKED FOR IT

i dont care how they try to `justify' it

they(and the other 2 billion spammers out there that clog up my inbox)

are basically wasting my time(and my $$-as im paying per meg..)

the next time some git in some resturant goes `hey bill i got a great idea'

can i buy a small thermonuke

Ripley: I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure ... You're going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. ...
Posted by spammer who whats your .. (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
forgot to include the link
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=internetNews&#38;storyid=2006-05-04T050953Z_01_SP113939_RTRUKOC_0_US-" target="_newWindow">http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=internetNews&#38;storyid=2006-05-04T050953Z_01_SP113939_RTRUKOC_0_US-</a> MICROSOFT-ADVERTISEMENTS.xml
Posted by spammer who whats your .. (2 comments )
Link Flag
Just came across an interesting group, who seems to be taking care of people trying to harm the reputation of a brand/company by using complaint sites. These website are good if used carefully and bad if used for personal attacks. I guess the moderators of these websites should be far more careful and responsible, as one of their wrong gesture/post may harm someone?s bread ?n butter. Yup, you may like to review the group at http://******/TZ3hx
Posted by mridubhattacharya (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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