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Question: Will the adoption of e-mail authentication be a cure-all for e-mail delivery problems?

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Answer: There is no magic cure for e-mail deliverability problems—even with new authentication systems such as Sender ID and SPF, or whitelist programs like Ironport’s Bonded Sender. These services will help delivery rates in different ways but don’t replace the need for constant vigilance on the part of commercial mailers.

E-mail authentication eventually will be a requirement for e-mail to be accepted by ISPs—but it won’t be the only requirement. Marketers will need to make sure they are compliant with the various authentication systems being tested. AOL will begin watching for SPF adherence on Aug. 31, and Sender ID will come into play this fall. Marketers will have to use these systems for their e-mail to be accepted.

However, using them tells the ISP that you are who you say you are, and from there, all other filtering can still take place.

Reputation-based whitelist programs will be more helpful in solving delivery issues. They will not, however, be the so-called "cure" because their effectiveness relies on wide adoption and because not all e-mailers are eligible for them.

The most popular reputation system currently is the Bonded Sender certification program, which is now accepted by MSN and Hotmail—a big step forward on the adoption front for that program and the companies that use it. It also works at Roadrunner and domains using SpamBouncer and SpamAssassin.

Bonded Sender works like a debit system. If an e-mail recipient registers a complaint about your e-mail, you could get a fine deducted from a bond you posted to guarantee your status as an opt-in mailer. This means that to determine whether this program is right for you, you need to assess your complaint rates. If they are low, Bonded Sender can help you avoid filtering at the aforementioned domains. For those with high complaint rates, however, the program will prove to be ineffective and costly—if you even make it past the prequalification process to give it a try.

Again, Bonder Sender isn’t a silver bullet because you still need to find ways to monitor and improve deliverability at the corporate level and at the other 15 to 25 major domains out there that don’t use it.

With both reputation systems and authentication standards, companies using e-mail still need to:

  • Monitor seed addresses to see where your mail is ending up;
  • Keep a sharp eye on your SMTP logs;
  • Maintain copies of filtering applications and use them to check your message status;
  • Keep a lookout for spikes in complaint rates;
  • Maintain good relations with ISPs and apply for any whitelisting programs that are offered.

While this sounds like a lot of work, it’s needed to keep your mail in the in-box today.

George Bilbrey is VP-general manager of deliverability solutions for Return Path (www.returnpath.com), an e-mail performance company that provides deliverability, list quality and strategic solutions.

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