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Subscriber-level Response Metrics on the Horizon Thanks to Graymail

'Graymail' is becoming increasingly a concern for ISPs and they appear to be changing, or on the brink of changing, tactics to combat it.

Briefly, graymail refers to legitimate mail that a user signed up to receive at one point, but no longer wants. It can anything from corporate newsletters to coupons to the ever expanding offering of daily deals. Indeed daily deals' proliferation likely have much to do with ISPs' growing concern about these emails. Last year, for example, when Microsoft released is upgrade to Hotmail it specifically referenced graymail as a problem for users, Email Expert noted. Nor is this a problem specific to the U.S.: More than one in two (58%) of e-mail users in Germany are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of graymail they receive in their inboxes, according to a survey by TNS Emnid for Microsoft. The survey showed that greymail accounted for 14% of all e-mails typically received by users of its free Hotmail service, compared to 4% for spam messages. (via Telecom Paper).

Other Sources

There are other sources of "legitimate" email coming to consumers' inboxes which will only worsen the problem - and muddy email marketers' understanding of how ISPs look at deliverability.

Eventually email, Twitter and Facebook will evolve into an almost unified "communication hub," says Future technologies lecturer Dr Mike Reddy from the University of Wales Newport. "With the Windows Phone 7.5, or Mango as they're calling it, Microsoft is talking about the idea of integrating various different sources so you'd have one communication hub," he said, via TMCnet. "This would be information that has come in for you and if it was an e-mail you'd send it via e-mail, but if it was a Twitter account you'd send it via Twitter direct messaging. "But you wouldn't necessarily see it as e-mail as compared with Twitter - it would just be a message that has come in."

How ISPs Deal With Graymail Now

Currently ISPs are cobbling together a hybrid approach to deal with graymail, writes George Bilbrey, president of Return Path for Mediapost. It consists of content filtering that is applied later in the process to weed out those emails with iffy reputation metrics. This approach, however, doesn’t address a vexing issue particular to graymail: namely, that some recipients want to continue to receive such emails, others don't and the standard ways of judging which recipients are which, at least by an ISP's perspective, are of little use. A consumer could ignore a daily deal email for weeks and even months, because the deals in the subject line are of no interest. But that doesn't mean he wants to stop the emails.

And How They are Starting to Deal With It

The next step some ISPs are starting to take to handle graymail, according to Bilbrey, is the addition of new data points to their deliverability algorithm - metrics that allow for individual level filtering. "This would allow email providers to deliver …graymail to the inboxes where it is wanted, and keep it from readers that would consider it spam." These metrics might include, he says:

  • If the sender is in the address book.
  • Replies to messages from a trusted source.
  • If the message has been deleted without being opened.
  • The view rate (percentage of time viewing messages from a trusted source).

Marketers, which don't have access to this level of information, can still prepare for what Bilbrey sees as the inevitable - that is, the adoption of these metrics by ISPs - by starting to think about emails response rates on the subscriber level rather than the campaign level.

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