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Return Path Study Shows Global Email Deliverability Experiences Historic Decline in Second Half of 2011

New York, NY March 20, 2012 Return Path, the world’s leading email certification and reputation monitoring company, today announced that worldwide inbox placement rates (IPR) declined sharply in the second half of 2011 according to the company’s most recent Global Email Deliverability Benchmark report.  Historically, IPR has remained steady at around 80% with one in five emails being delivered to the spam folder or blocked.  For the first time in three years, Return Path has seen a major decline of 6% in the second half of 2011 bringing inbox placement rates to a record low of 76.5% globally, compared to 81% in the first half of 2011.  While deliverability rates vary by region, Return Path research points to more stringent ISP filtering and blocking, deteriorating sender reputations and email overload as accounting for the historic decline.  Return Path’s report also examines email deliverability across vertical industries, B2B and for Gmail’s Priority Inbox.

“The findings from our benchmark report show the effects of a perfect storm,” said Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path.  “Clients are having difficulty in getting their emails delivered, ISPs are tightening requirements on reputation metrics and the number of companies using email to market continues to increase we see both higher overall email volume and an influx of relatively unsophisticated senders resulting in decreased inbox placement rates.”

Key Reasons for Decline
According to the study, reasons for the significant decline in IPR include ISPs raising the bar on reputation metrics, making it harder than ever for marketers to get into the inbox.   ISPs are using metrics that are generally unavailable to marketers through traditional deployment platforms and leveraging new data to determine spam from not-spam.  These metrics include engagement data, subscriber panel complaint data, and trusted subscriber data making deliverability extremely challenging for marketers not using data monitoring tools.  Marketing metrics are also sliding in the wrong direction whether due to slashed marketing budgets, new staffing or reliance on third party ESPs for reputation monitoring.  A third major reason for declining IPR is that consumers are overloaded, especially during the busy holiday period.  Many consumers enthusiastically sign up for new emails, whether to access special deals, get interesting content or as part of a purchase process. When the emails arrive in the inbox the amount appears overwhelming, with consumers using the “report junk” button to unsubscribe from excess emails to cope with the avalanche.

Key regional findings

Reversing the trend of increasing inbox rates from the first half of 2011, North American (NOAM) inbox rates experienced significant declines with an 8% drop, bringing in inbox placement rates closer to 79%.  Spam folder placement jumped 19% to 7.4% in the second half, and missing, or blocked email, increased a whopping 38% (13.3% missing rate) during the same time frame.

In Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), for the second half of 2011, 15% of email never reached the inbox, with 5% being identified as spam and 10% being blocked by the ISP.  EMEA showed the greatest improvement in inbox placement rates compared with rest of world at 85% of email reaching its intended recipient.

Despite showing gains in the second half of 2011, Central and Latin American (CALA) commercial email still struggles to make to the inbox with almost 30% of all email being blocked or classified as spam.  CALA had only 71% of emails delivered to the inbox, and the highest amount of email sent to the spam folder worldwide with 18% of all permission email being banished to the spam folder.  Additionally, CALA senders saw an average of 10% of opt-in commercial emails being blocked.  Central and Latin America still lags the rest of the work in its inbox placement rates, coming in only second to the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.

APAC’s deliverability rates still lag when compared to other regions worldwide; declining further in the second half of 2011, beating CALA for the worst placement rates.  The Asia-Pacific region saw inbox placement rates decline by 14% with only 67% of all mail reaching its intended inbox destination.  Spam folder placement remained relatively unchanged at 5%.  Blocked mail saw the biggest increase a 75% increase when compared to the first half of 2011 with 28% of all mail never even making it to its intended recipient.

Inbox Technologies See Dip

In addition to conducting the Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report, Return Path analyzed a panel sample of over 40,000 Gmail mailboxes from over 110 million messages from July 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011.  93% of all Gmail subscribers now have priority inbox enabled, up 15% from Return Path’s previous study, but Gmail inbox placement rates declined to 79% with 21% of mail being delivered to the spam folder. Out of the 79% of mail delivered to the inbox, only 8% were marked priority, a 54% decline compared to Return Path’s previous study.

Overcoming Deliverability Challenges

While the second half of 2011 proved to be challenging for most every region and across several industries, marketers taking proactive steps to improve deliverability have major opportunities to increase their revenue through the email channel.

“When marketers focus on improving their program’s deliverability, they do,” adds Blumberg. “100% deliverability is attainable.  We know, because we’ve helped thousands of companies significantly increase their inbox placement rates.  Opportunity is there for all smart marketers to beat their competitors by monitoring their reputation, understanding deliverability data and staying ahead of the deliverability curve. “

Report Methodology
Return Path conducted this study by monitoring data from its Mailbox Monitor service for campaigns conducted from July to December 2011. This study tracks the delivery, blocking and filtering rates for more than 1.1 million campaigns that used the Mailbox Monitor seed list system. For each campaign, Return Path recorded whether the email was missing, received in the inbox or filtered to the junk/spam folder (for those ISPs that use such a folder). For this report, Return Path reviewed data from 142 ISPs in North America, Central and Latin America, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Asia Pacific territories from July to December 2011.

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