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ISPs Around the Globe Raise the Bar for Email Sender Reputations; Fewer Marketers Make the Cut

The Increase in Worldwide Spam Volumes Leads to Tougher Standards on Reputation Metrics, Decreased Inbox Placement Rates

New York, NY June 19, 2012 Return Path, the world’s leading email certification and reputation monitoring company, today announced the findings from its 2012 Sender Reputation Benchmark Report: The Power to be Heard and Infographic. As ISPs continue to tighten their filtering methods, email marketers with poor sender reputations have unwittingly become caught in the net used to keep out the deluge of spam.

Return Path’s latest study tracked the reputation rates of more than 130 million IP addresses and nearly 20 trillion messages from January to December 2011 using Sender Score, an index of an email sender’s reputation and a measure of the same metrics that ISPs’ use when making deliverability decisions. 85% of these messages were classified as spam, posing an on-going challenge for ISPs. Businesses with high sender reputations or Sender Scores above 90 saw 95% of their messages delivered on average, whereas those with lower sender reputations, Sender Scores between 60 and 89″Óthe majority of businesses, saw delivery rates of only 68% on average.

Return Path studied senders’ reputations across the globe and industry sectors examining the major factors affecting inbox deliverability including:

  • Unknown user rates or those email addresses no longer in active use
  • Complaint rates, when email recipients mark a message as spam
  • Spam traps set by ISPs to deliberately catch spammers”Great strides are being made in the industry to take down botnets — ISPs are using much more stringent metrics to filter spam making it harder than ever for marketers to get into the inbox,” said Matt Blumberg, CEO at Return Path. “As a result, marketers with borderline Sender Scores of 50 to 70 are being identified as spammers. Businesses must monitor their reputations fiercely and continuously. It can’t just be ‘set it and forget it.’ Whether you are marketing daily or monthly, it’s easy to look like a spammer and get blocked as a result. Having a high reputation is the single most important factor for getting into the inbox.”Social Networking, Gaming, Banks and Retailers Need to be Most Vigilant about their Sender ReputationsWhile most industry sectors performed at or near global averages, there were significant outliers in a number of categories. There was a high frequency of spam traps among social networking senders. One of the most important tools social networks use to grow their subscriber base is the address books of their current users. This presents a risk as most email recipients do not actively manage their address books, resulting in numerous unused or abandoned emails being present. As a result, social networking sites were hitting an average of 20 spam traps, as opposed to the global average of 1-3. Social networking and gaming had the highest degree of unknown user rates, around 5% for the same reasons as mentioned above. Banking, retail and social networking had the highest complaint rates coming in at over 3% whereas on average other industries had complaint rates of two percent.Improving the Power to be HeardEmail marketers are getting caught in the crossfire between spammers and ISPs. In order to avoid this situation, marketers must pay attention to their reputation and manage their metrics so they don’t look like spammers. A healthy Sender Score is no more optional for businesses than a healthy credit score. Even if emails are being delivered, a poor Sender Score could mean senders aren’t reaching recipient inboxes. Given how infrequently email recipients elevate messages from the spam folder, that’s as good as being blocked.

    The first step toward marketers improving their Sender Score is finding out what their score is. Senders and receivers can register with for free to gain access to detailed reports and visibility into these critical metrics that drive their sending reputation and effect a positive change in their inbox placement rates.

    Reputation Around the World: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

    As indicated in Return Path’s recent deliverability benchmark report, there is a marked increase in the worldwide number of senders and a sharp decline in IPR (Inbox Placement Rates). While every country and region has different challenges, universally speaking, marketers with a poor reputation have significantly lower chances of making it to the inbox. When emails fail to reach inboxes, businesses fail to communicate, resulting in a direct impact on the bottom line.

    North America’s Sender Score of 67 was the highest of any region. Canada had the highest reputation metrics with a score of 70 while the US weighed in at 67. Despite having the highest sending reputations globally, both the U.S. and Canada have issues with complaints, unknown users and spam traps. The U.S. also has very few restrictions around non-permission acquisition of email addresses, which puts marketers at risk for acquiring spam traps and receiving high subscriber complaints.

    Reputation metrics in Europe were surprisingly poor given the strict laws around acquiring email addresses. In Germany, where double opt-in has been the law, the average Sender Score was 33 and complaint rates, unknown users and spam traps were all above average. At a score of 47, France had one of the highest Sender Scores in Europe, but had the biggest problem with high unknown users and spam traps, at 10% and 11% respectively, indicating that marketers have issues with list hygiene and keeping their lists up-to-date. Italy and Spain also had slightly above average complaints, unknown users and spam traps with Sender Scores coming in very low at 22 and 27 respectively. The UK had the highest Sender Score of 51, but is struggling with unknown user rates of 6% and spam trap rates of an average of 6 per IP address. These findings indicate that European marketers are at high risk for blocking and filtering.

    China’s low Sender Score of 36 is not surprising as it is an emerging market and senders may have a harder time understanding reputation factors and what it takes to get delivered to inboxes outside of China. While their reputation metrics appear to be low, it’s because a majority of their email is blocked and never delivered.

    Australia has typically high deliverability rates, which is somewhat reflected in their Sender Score of 56. However, with unknown user rates at 9% and having nearly 6 spam traps per IP address, marketers “÷down under’ need to focus on how they acquire and handle new and old addresses.

    An emerging market in which email marketing is still relatively new, Brazil is struggling with deliverability and sender reputation. Brazil sends out a lot of email that would be considered spam resulting in the extremely low Sender Score of 16. With a complaint rate of 3%, unknown user rate of 7% and average spam traps at nearly 5, most Brazilian marketers have a long road ahead in resolving their deliverability and reputation issues.

    In all regions, Return Path client Sender Score averages far outperform regional trends. Return Path’s average client Sender Score is 90.46 compared to a 25.96 global average.


    Return Path conducted this study by monitoring data from its Reputation Network from January to December 2011. The study tracked the reputation rates for more than 130 million unique IP addresses sending nearly 20 trillion emails to ISPs in Return Path’s Reputation Network. For each IP address, Return Path recorded total messages sent, delivered and blocked. The company also reviewed unknown user, complaint, and spam trap rates for each IP address. Return Path assigns each IP address its own score, called a Sender Score, based on these data points.

    About Return Path

    Return Path makes email work better by scoring and certifying email senders from around the world. We help marketers, publishers and other large-volume email senders increase their response rates by providing the world’s leading inbox deliverability solution. We help mailbox providers and email administrators at ISPs and enterprises block unwelcome and malicious email by providing near real-time IP reputation scores and other data-driven tools. Taken as a whole, these tools and services improve the consumer experience of email by protecting them from spam, phishing and other abuse. Return Path offers free access to Sender Score, the email reputation measure compiled through our cooperative data network of ISPs and other email receivers, at our reputation portal Information about Return Path can be found at