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December 14, 2009  

According to DIRECT's Ken Magill, a recent announcement from AOL hints at where Internet service providers' spam-filtering techniques are headed, and "what marketers had better start doing if they want their email lists to continue to perform."

Here's the scenario: Until now, senders with consistently low complaint rates earned a coveted spot on AOL's enhanced whitelist (EWL)—meaning the ISP didn't block graphics or links when delivering messages to subscriber inboxes. AOL discovered, however, that the metric was letting a few unscrupulous senders slip through the cracks:

  • Some senders were artificially suppressing complaint rates by keeping unresponsive subscribers on their lists, a practice inbox providers would like senders to avoid, Magill reports.
  • Spammers, meanwhile, were gaming the system by creating thousands of dummy accounts and hitting the "this is not spam" button to lessen the impact of genuine complaints.

As a result, AOL has announced that, going forward, senders must also demonstrate high user engagement if they plan to make the EWL cut.

"How do they determine engagement?" asks Magill. "Hard to tell. But common sense says they'll look at such factors as open and click rates, how many people dig through their spam folders to move the mailer's messages into their inboxes, how many forward the mailer's messages, how many reply to the messages—where applicable—and how many add the mailer to their address books."

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