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An Email Retrospective
As a new year begins, many take time for retrospection of the highs and lows of the past year. What a year 2009 was. We had economic turmoil, bailouts, the inauguration of a new President, the death of Michael Jackson and even the balloon boy - 2009 sure kept us on our toes! Of course at Return Path we live and breathe email. Our strong relationships built through our daily work with the worlds leading email marketers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) puts us right at the center of the email universe. As the custodian of the center of the email universe, we strive to make inbox placement more fair, more predictable and easier to understand for everyone. So, as 2009 closes, what about email and deliverability changed during the year? Take a look back with us as we review the top 10 email trends that caught our attention in the industry and fueled our passions during 2009, a very exciting year indeed.

1. Spam Keeps Growing and Growing WHATS INSIDE: The Latest on Phishing
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Beginning early in 2009, we saw a flurry of articles publishing metrics on spam volumes reporting the increase of spam as a percentage of all email. All Spammed Up reported that Spam has increased over 141% since March and also found that spam volumes grow by over 117 billion e-mails a day. [1] McAfee reported that in less than five months there was a 140% increase in total spam volume. Reported causes were a 16% rise in botnet infections from Q1 2009 to Q2 2009. Many also pointed a finger at the exploitation of social-networking sites for sending spam. [2] MX Logic released their July 2009 Threat Forecast report claiming that spam as a percentage of overall mail had reached its highest point ever, currently accounting for 94.6 percent of all e-mail. [3]

The Rise of the Social Inbox Gmail Continues to Grow

Is Email Dying?

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The Q3 2009 Spam & Virus Trends report from Google Postini reported that Q2 and Q3 of 2009 saw some of the largest surges in payload spam activity in the past two years. Postini reported blocking more than 100 million viruses every day during the height of the spamming activity. [4] In particular, early in 2009, image spam came back with a vengeance, as the bad guys deployed new methods to sidestep detection. In its latest guise, image spam can cause problems for outdated email defenses. Software engineers reveal that some spam-producing and sending software is able to modify each image so that no two images are ever exactly alike. And it points to the dangers of remote image spam where the email contains a link to a remote URL. According to Computer World, image-based spam first hit 5 to 10 percent of all spam in March of 2009 before skyrocketing to 15-22 percent in April. [5] Unlike a couple of years ago when stock trading and financial subject matter were more prevalent in image spam (most likely due to the recent financial crisis) 2009 seemed to be the year of pharmaceutical spam.

2. False Positive Problems Increase

False positives occur when legitimate, requested, and wanted email is mistakenly blocked outright or delivered to a bulk folder by a spam filter. The result is that consumers dont receive email they requested; legitimate email doesnt reach the inbox resulting in low response rates and revenue for senders; and email receivers lose the goodwill of their customers. Over the past year, receivers have increased and improved the methodologies used to determine legitimate email. Receivers continue to place more importance on trusted whitelists. A whitelist is a list of IP addresses, email addresses or domain names from which an email blocking program or ISP will allow messages to be received to reduce false positives. In 2009, the footprint of ISPs who use Return Paths Certification program grew to over 1.8 billion mailboxes worldwide with additions like Yahoo!, United Internet and Cloudmark to name a few. ISPs trust the list because of its high quality and size and because it has proven extremely effective in preventing false positives.

Over the past year, receivers have increased and improved the methodologies used to determine legitimate email.

For senders who appear on a whitelist that is used by the most important ISPs relative to their list, images and other enhanced features are enabled which maximize inbox placement rates and positively affect response rates for senders. And with good deliverability comes higher response rates.

3. Phishing is Impacting Everyone

No, phishing is not the leisure activity from a boat with a pole and a worm on a sunny day. Phishing, is the criminal activity where bad guys trick your customers into revealing personal information by sending email that looks like its from your domain. In 2009, phishing continued to be one of the largest worldwide criminal enterprises. During the year, phishing evolved from primarily forging email from banks and financial institutions to more targeted attacks using *any* trustworthy online brand including e-commerce merchants, social networks, and brand marketers. Auction site eBay and its online payment service, PayPal continued to be common phishing targets due to their popularity and large member bases. These services operate entirely online and facilitate millions of transactions every day, many of which are connected directly to users bank accounts. Even non-financial institutions are affected by phishing. The global social networking site, Facebook was hit by several types of phishing scams in 2009 which sent out fake password reset

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messages and took over some of the sites online groups. The damage caused by phishing ranges from the inability to access accounts to significant financial loss. While the most common approach to combat phishing is by correctly authenticating your email, another key strategy is to educate your team on how to recognize phishing attempts and how to deal with them. It is imperative that senders participate at the highest levels in the conversations around phishing. The criminals threatening to take over the internet can be deterred but only with participation by all stakeholders. All sectors - government (policy and enforcement), educational, infrastructure operators, financial institutions, and more - must actively participate in coordinated efforts towards a solution.

4. The Rise of the Social Inbox

Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites, continued their unprecedented growth. Facebook celebrated their 200 millionth member in April and in December were already citing 350 million members. [6] The popularity of the social experience through social networks caught the attention of large traditional mailbox providers who began adding social features to their user experience. For example, Yahoo! added a significant change to their user interface to highlight unread email from their personal contacts in the address book. Even more so, they also added a Whats New tab to allow the user to share what they are doing. Microsoft released a new beta version of Office 2010 which integrates social networking in the Outlook email program. Now, the idea of being a friend or a listed contact of users is more important than ever as listed contacts are given even higher priority in the inbox. Some social networks are even creating their own social inbox systems. In August, MySpace announced a twist on email that blends the best of social networking and traditional email integrated within the MySpace experience. This 2009 trend demonstrated that social networking is not the death knell for email that many have claimed it is. In fact, it is actually helping to drive its success and as we have always believed, people want to have email integrated into their social networking experience.

5. Complaint Feedback Loops Gain Greater Prominence

Complaint rates continue to be one of the most important factors that affect delivery rates at most ISPs. When subscribers who complain are not removed from your list, complaint rates will compound over time and result in more aggressive filtering at an ISP. There are now more feedback loops available than ever. Since complaint rates continue to be a key reputation metric in 2009, Return Path ramped up our coverage. We provide complaint feedback loops for more than 75 percent of the worlds largest internet service providers. More senders than ever are registered for feedback loops. Through feedback loops, commercial senders can monitor, in real-time, when users report their emails as spam.

Return Path provides complaint feedback loops for more than 75% of the worlds largest internet service providers.

This powerful feedback data gives commercial email senders the ability to identify the messages users are complaining about and better understand why recipients are marking their email as spam. With this information, senders can fix the problems that are causing the complaints and improve their own inbox placement rates while reducing spam complaints.

If you have questions or would like to hear how Return Path can help, please call 1-866-362-4577, or email 2010 Return Path, Inc. v033010

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6. More Transparency at ISPs

Historically, commercial senders have commonly lamented that it can be challenging to get the information needed to troubleshoot a deliverability issue. In 2009, understanding the rules of the road at an ISP got much easier for all senders. How? For starters, more ISPs are providing postmaster pages to improve transparency and provide key information about email delivery into their network. In 2009, new postmaster pages were released by AOL, BlueTie, Cox Communications (North America) and T-online (Germany). Postmaster pages typically provide information and troubleshooting steps to follow and for understanding delivery. Many like AOL and Yahoo!, also incorporate blogs into their postmaster site with breaking news and issues specific to that ISP for senders to stay up-to-date. While postmaster pages dont magically solve every delivery issue, they are an extremely useful tool for senders to initiate troubleshooting on their own. Remember, you should always follow the steps suggested in any ISPs postmaster pages before escalating to the ISP abuse team.

7. Moves, Mergers and Acquisitions

In 2009, many ISPs in North America and Europe were acquired or merged with other ISPs. These mergers are always important to marketers who work to understand how their email is being handled at the new ISP. Usually, each ISP has their own whitelist, blacklist and throttle rates that they use to help them make inbox placement decisions. As ISPs are acquired or merge with one another, smart marketers will adjust their infrastructure accordingly to ensure that their inbox placement rates are not negatively affected at the new ISP. IBM acquired some of Outblazes messaging assets in 2009, and went live with an email service called Lotuslive iNotes. Outblaze remains a separate entity with its own hosted email customers and they will continue to maintain the legacy Outblaze feedback loop. In Europe, Tele2 France, Club-Internet, Neuf all were migrated to SFR (originally Socit Franaise du Radiotlphone) a French mobile phone company. In addition, French operator Iliad acquired their smaller rival Alice France. And, after the closure of Lycos Europe and their decision to close Caramail, a popular French webmail service, GMX bought the Caramail domain name and has transferred older Caramail users to their new service.

8. Gmail Slides Into #3

In 2009, Googles Gmail became the third most popular web based email application. While, Gmails visitors still trail Yahoo! and Microsoft, they have surpassed AOLs Web mail. According to marketing research company comScore, in 2009, Gmail grew from 25 million to almost 37 million users -- an increase of over 45 percent. [7] Gmail continues to aggressively block commercial email. As more of your list contains Gmail addresses, it is especially important to publish records with the most common authentication mechanisms -- SPF, SenderID, and DomainKeys. Each of them use the Domain Name System (DNS) to publish records. Each record, which is available to the entire Internet community, (including Gmail) details the specific machines that are authorized to send mail for a specific email domain.

Gmail climbs to the 3rd most popular web based email application by increasing its user base by 45%.

While other email providers offer feedback loops or whitelisting program, Gmail does not. According to their website, the two most important factors to help messages arrive to Gmail users are ensuring that the From: address is listed in the users contact list and having users clicks Not Spam to alert Gmail that messages sent from that address are solicited.
If you have questions or would like to hear how Return Path can help, please call 1-866-362-4577, or email 2010 Return Path, Inc. v033010

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9. Outbound Abuse on the Rise

During our regular interviews with the major ISPs, one thing we heard across the board about 2009 was that abusive email sent from their own networks to other networks continues to be a significant challenge and concern. Outbound abuse is spam emanating from an ISPs own network. In other words, outbound abuse takes place when an ISP is inadvertently spamming itself. This causes issues as their own mail is throttled and blacklisted by other ISPs. This negatively impacts their good customers. Compromised accounts, reputation hijacking and botnets have been infecting the major ISPs and it is increasingly more difficult to find the culprits of the abuse in their own networks. Finding new tools and better ways to identify and stop outbound abuse will continue to be their top priority in 2010.

10. Email did not Die!

Phew! Thankfully for us, the predictions of the death of email did not prove true. Lets turn to the facts about email: it has enormous reach, the highest ROI of all direct channels (including search), is central to how business is conducted, and subscribers continue to sign up for marketing messages! Proving the staying power of email came the news that Gen Y still loves email. A survey of college students age 18 to 24 found them more likely to give up watching TV, social networking and talking on the phone before they would give up email.[8] Instead of crying a death knell, we are encouraged to see that marketers are responding to our Web 2.0 world by making email more social and flexible. Adding share with your social network links in addition to forward to a friend is just a start. Smart marketers are also adjusting frequency and contact strategies to reflect that subscribers have more online diversions. For example, many email marketers now send more messages after a purchase or site visit, and less when the subscriber is between activities. Other marketers are synchronizing their social marketing and email marketing through coordinated campaigns, featuring comments on their blogs in the email newsletter and collecting email addresses through social media.

All of us in email marketing would do well to remind our marketing colleagues and executives about the staying power of the email channel. We can be even more successful if we combine that reminder with suggestions on how to adapt our email marketing programs to emerging trends in the industry. By following best practices and continuing to create relevant messages, you have an opportunity to engage with subscribers and get your email delivered straight to the inbox. This evolution of email marketing strategy will strengthen the channel, no matter what or who the next new cool thing is in 2010.

About Return Path

Move your email program from ordinary to extraordinary by increasing inbox placement rates, subscriber engagement and response. Return Path helps commercial email senders get more email delivered to the inbox. Our tools and services give senders the insight and resources to diagnose and prevent email deliverability and rendering failures by improving and maintaining their email sending reputations. For more information, visit us at, email us at rpinfo@ or call us at 1-866-362-4577.

If you have questions or would like to hear how Return Path can help, please call 1-866-362-4577, or email 2010 Return Path, Inc. v033010

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Resources Cited:
1. Walsh, Sue. Spam Volumes Shoot Up 141%. All Spammed Up July 30, 2009 2. Q2 2009 Threats Report. McAfee. Second Quarter 2009 < avert_threat_0709.pdf>. 3. MX Logic Threat Forecast and Report. MX Logic. August 2009 < threatforecast0809.pdf>. 4. Q309 Spam and Virus Trends. Google Postini. October 2009 <>. 5. Keizer, Gregg. Image spam returns with a vengeance. Computer World May 6, 2009 6. Facebook Press Room Statistics. Facebook . December 2009 <>. 7. Schonfeld, Erick . Gmail Nudges Past AOL Email In The U.S. To Take No. 3 Spot. Tech Crunch August 14, 2009 8. Della Penna, Michael . Gen Y Would Abandon Social Networks Before Email or Texting. Participatory Marketing Network November 11, 2009

If you have questions or would like to hear how Return Path can help, please call 1-866-362-4577, or email 2010 Return Path, Inc. v033010

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