Strictly speaking, AOL and Yahoo! are not charging to send email. Instead, AOL is offering paid assured delivery: It guarantees to deliver email from senders in Goodmail Systems' CertifiedEmail program directly to recipients' inboxes, with images and links enabled, instead of sending it through regular spam filters and disabling images and links. Goodmail participants pay Goodmail a fee per message for this service. (Yahoo! also recently signed with Goodmail but will guarantee only delivery of transactional emails.)
There's one big catch: Applicants must meet stringent qualifications, including these:
• Opt-in address collection only; no prospecting or acquisition campaigns; co-registration only if address is added to one list at a time
• Six-month sending history using a dedicated U.S. or Canadian IP only
• Complaint threshold below 2,200 per 1 million e-mail messages
• High reputation score (other qualifications likely will evolve)
Paid assured delivery may well become an important factor for companies that generate a direct ROI from email, if Goodmail's claims of improved delivery and greater recipient trust in the sender's credibility produce enough increased return to justify the expense. However, it's still early in the game, and it's only one of a set of tools emailers can use to get more out of their email programs.
What we do know is that emailers are increasingly responsible for managing their sender reputations, which they can improve by adhering more closely to email best practices: switching from opt-out mailings to opt-in only; testing messages to detect bad HTML code and spammy content; addressing blocking or blacklisting issues with major ISPs, etc., or contracting with other third-party delivery-assurance, reputation-management or certification firms. If you aren't already listed on AOL's general whitelist, you should be. Details here: http://postmaster.aol.com/
-Loren McDonald, Vice President of Marketing, EmailLabs
Let's be clear that the intent outlined by AOL and Yahoo! is to provide delivery advantages to "certified" email. The advantages that a certified email receives over regular email include guaranteed delivery to the recipient's inbox and no filtering of images when viewing the email. AOL and Yahoo have so far announced that they will accept email as certified if it has been certified using the services provided by GoodMail.
In order to receive these advantages the email sender will have to pay a premium which will be split between the ISP and Goodmail. Initial indications are that sending certified bulk emails to AOL and Yahoo will be approximately double the cost of sending regular bulk email. Note that AOL has also announced it will continue to support the current mechanisms available to bulk email senders for improving delivery including both the regular and enhanced whitelists. The question for bulk email senders is whether or not doubling the price of delivery will actually provide double the value.
Only bulk email senders with a proven history are actually able to apply for the GoodMail service and become accredited senders of certified email. These same email senders generally already have delivery rates well above 90 percent across all their email recipients. At GOT we have less the 1 percent total bounces (hard bounce, soft bounce and complaints) from AOL and Yahoo! across all our customers. By properly managing their contact lists, the content of their campaigns and keeping their subscribers informed of how to whitelist and allow image loading "proven" senders will get high delivery from the remaining 99 percent.
For now it looks like only our longer term customers could benefit and they mostly have well managed lists and campaigns that already achieve high delivery rates. How many are willing to double their sending costs to move from >90 percent delivery to closer to 100 percent we will have to monitor (it won't be 100 percent unless all their recipients are AOL or Yahoo clients). Ultimately if our customers want the capability we will provide it but today there are already ways for proven email senders to keep delivery rates high without doubling the cost of sending.
-Stephen Hillier, CTO, Got Corporation