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Pssst! 1 in 5 of Your Emails May Never Make It

If you're reading this blog, the chances are pretty good that you've signed up for one or more email alerts(*), e-newsletters, or automated updates over the years. Plus, if you work inside almost any part of the media industry, the odds are also good that you or your company sends out bulk emails.

And if you're by any chance a blogger, you'd be hard put to build an audience if you didn't at least try the F&F approach via email now and again.

A new report from Return Path indicates that not as many of those email alerts may be reaching your intended audience as you might have expected. Based on 500,000 email-based campaigns in the first half of 2009, the company said more than one in every five -- 20.7 percent --of the consumer emails never made it to the intended recipient.

B2B emails performed even worse, with 27.6 percent undelivered.

Spam or junk filters were not a significant factor, causing only 3.3 percent of the failures, but a surprising 17.4 percent of the emails were not delivered at all. The report notes that this contrasts to what marketers are normally told, which is that the percentage "delivered" ranges from 95 to 98 percent.

The differential is whether "delivered" means the message reached the email-host as compared to whether the host passed it through to the intended recipient's in-box. Factors that affect this include how each email provider rates the sender's reputation, as well as a mix of other, proprietary filter settings.

But, the report suggests that technical issues are not the main factor at work here, rather that emailers are not following best practices that would improve their chances for success.

In its summary of the report, the Center for Media Research states: "Most of the major drivers of poor deliverability rates are the direct result of marketing practices, not technical ones. These include complaints when email is unexpected or undervalued by the recipient, and spam traps, which are most often found on lists that are old or have been built with poorly sourced data."
Recommendations for improvement include better subject line messages, clear opt-out procedures, and making sure you have appropriate "permission levels."
What compounds this for those in media trying to communicate via email is the extreme fragmentation of the email market. The most recent data I could lay on hands on quickly comes from Hitwise, and indicates that the top email services in the U.S. as of late 2008 were Yahoo Mail, with a 4.7 percent market share, followed by Windows Live (1.94 percent), and Google Gmail (0.8 percent).

(For a variety of technical reasons, this estimate of GMail's portion is probably low, as a significant number of users access Gmail from some other part of the Googlesphere.)
This leaves well over 90 percent of all U.S. emails to all of the other services out there, from Hotmail to Eudora to Mindless.
According to the Return Path study, the email service with the lowest percentage of undelivered mail was Cox, at 8 percent. Here were the worst six using the non-delivery metric (by percentage of emails sent):

  1. Gmail 23
  2. Hotmail 20
  3. MSN 20
  4. Comcast 17
  5. AOL 16
  6. Yahoo! 15
(*) You may even have recieved notice of this post from me! I send out email alerts for posts to this blog to a small list of people who've indicated interest in knowing when the blog gets updated, or who have been recommended by others. To opt-in -- or to opt-out -- contact me at <david.a.weir@gmail.com>.