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20% of Commercial Emails Not Delivered

August 19, 2009

As the global recession grinds on, marketers continue to turn to email marketing to drive sales. But those efforts often confront email-deliverability obstacles: In the US and Canada, more than 20% of commercial email doesn't reach subscribers' inboxes, according to a Return Path study.

Commercial, permissioned emails on average reached only 79.3% of inboxes in the US and Canada during the first half of 2009 (January through June), a Return Path Deliverability Benchmark Report found:

  • Some 3.3% of commercial, permissioned emails is routed to a "junk" or "bulk" email folders, and 17.4% is not delivered at all--with no hard bounce message or other notification of non-delivery.
  • The US deliverability rates of commercial, permissioned emails are slightly better than those for Canada: In the US, the inbox-placement rate is 82%, while Canada's is just 75%.

B2B marketers face an even tougher time reaching business email addresses, which are often protected by additional layers of email monitoring, including systems such as Postini, Symantec, and MessageLab:

  • On average, 27.6% of commercial emails sent to business addresses don't reach the inbox, Return Path found.
  • That is, just 72.4% of commercial email is delivered to business inboxes, with emails more likely to be delivered to a junk folder vs. consumer email (6.1% vs. 3.3%):

"Many marketers aren't even aware that one-fifth of their emails are never reaching the inbox," said George Bilbrey, president and cofounder of Return Path.

"In many cases, marketers [think they] are seeing...a 95% to 98% delivery rate. Unfortunately, many ESPs and marketers have developed the belief that whatever emails aren't bouncing have successfully reached the inbox. That's just not true, as...hard bounces aren't the only emails that aren't reaching your subscribers."

Different ISPs, Different Rules, Different Delivery Rates

Successful deliverability to consumers' inboxes varies by ISP:

  • Google's Gmail is the most stringent US-based ISP for permissioned marketers to reach, according to the report: 23% of emails that marketers sent to Gmail addresses did not reach the inbox.
  • The top 5 US ISPs ranked in order of difficulty for marketers' emails to reach users' inboxes are Gmail, Hotmail, MSN, Comcast, and AOL.

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