WhiteSites Blog

Should I become sender score verified

Posted on Apr 8, 2010 by Paul White

After months of dealing with low open rates with one of my biggest client's email lists, I have finally gotten to the point where I am willing to join return path's sender score verified program which is a paid whitelist to ensure delivery into the inbox. I will be documenting my experiences here for good or bad.

Client with low open rates

One of my biggest clients has a maillist of about 7100.  All double opt in.  However a few months back we switched to a new IP ( in our own /26 ) to help prevent collateral damage from spam servers in the shared IP space.  Naturally this meant we were going to have to rebuild our IP's reputation.  So we figured 90 day with low open rates til things leveled off again.

What open rates should be expected?

Currently we are only getting about 500 opens for 7100 emails ( 7% ).  Our Customers break out into the following groups
  • 3175 yahoo
  • 1258 hotmail
  • 1012 aol
  • 520 gmail
  • 152 msn
  • 138 comcast
  • 136 sbcglobal
  • 769 Other ISPs
From what I have read online an open rate of 20% would be good.  So of course being at 7% we are not happy.  We have had times where our open rates have been around 15% but still that leaves a lot of subscribers on the table.  My client's only revenue source are the night club promotions.  The more people that get the event newsletter the more people that show up to the events.

Sender Score Report Card

This is free of charge, just go to senderscore.org to get a report card of your IP's reputation.  If you create an account they give you itemized reports for Complaints, Volume, External Reputation, Unknown Users, Spam Trap Hits, and Last Spam Trap Date.  The report looks like this
Sender Score Report

What is Sender Score Verification?

Its is essentially a paid whitelist.  Most major ISP use your senderscore to determine how to handle emails coming from your server. To put it bluntly if you are senderscore verified, you will get into the inbox of yahoo and many other with images enabled ( allowing your beacon images to work )

Application on Senderscore with return path

I did the submit form to see if I would qualify for the sender score certification program.  I quickly got an email ( not automated surprisingly ) from Ryan with Return Path asking if I had any questions.  He gladly arranged a phone call to discuss my situation, and to see if they could help.  The next day I talked with Ryan.  He explained the program to me.  He said the Application process takes roughly 2-6 weeks.  For a website like mine that does under 50K emails / month the application fee is $200, and the Annual fee is $440.  He also said that the 50K> plan was new for 2010, and before then the only option was the 250K> plan which is much more expensive. At this time there is no plans on making an even smaller plans for people who do 10K> emails / month.  This is too bad because I have several clients that could benefit from this. 

Ryan did not pressure me to join Sender Score.  He clearly stated that its very possible to get into yahoo's inbox without being senderscore verified, and said the return path website has plenty of documents for best practices to running a mail server.  When I get a chance I will have to go over those documents.  Also there is the prep kit for anyone who is considering becoming sender score verfied.  This basically lays out all the requirements to being approved.

First thoughts on Return Path and Sender Score

After my initial conversation with Ryan I feel pretty good about the company and their intentions.  Its definitely  not something that any spammer is going to take the time to join.  The fact that most major websites ( ebay, Myspace, and others) all pay thousands each month to stay senderscore verified makes me believe its worth it.  Another nice thing was Ryan said that even though they don't refund the application fee, there is an exception to this.  If your mail server doesn't do the volume needed to qualify they gladly refund the application fee.  This makes me feel a lot better about the program.

As I move forward I will post updates to this blog on my experiences.  I found very little information from unbiased third parties speaking for or against sender score and return path.  Of course there was the few conspiracy theory guys who claim that return path is turning email delivery into a paid business model ( and are taking over the world ).  I have no problems with this, as it would make it easier to reach users. 

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Categories associated with Should I become sender score verified


vasile | May 4, 2010 6:18 AM
hm . senderscore has no ideea about my ip's although i send ~20k emails/day . so i'd say it's pretty seless (at least for me)
Dan Deneweth | Jun 9, 2010 10:53 AM
We love independent reviews of our services.  One of the tenets of the Return Path Certification program and SenderScore.org site is an open approach to helping email senders with email delivery.

SenderScore.org is a free site where senders can get this information.  The Sender Score is based, as you note, on data contributed by our ISP and Anti Spam partners.  Return Path Certification is a paid program for the best of the best, offering benefits above and beyond delivery to the inbox, things like images and links enabled by default.  Mailers must maintain strict performance standards day in and day out to maintain their standing.  The fees associated with the program are as much about the delivery benefits as it is about the data and reporting that help mailers maintain these great benefits.

Ryan was right though, any mailer can get great inbox delivery without Certification, using data like that from Sender Score and being vigilante about satisfying their subscribers with wanted mail.

Before services like ours, little help existed for senders faced with trouble getting delivered.  We love sharing as much information as possible with both senders and receivers, to pull back the curtain and shed light on problems so that they can be understood and corrected.
Paul | Jun 9, 2010 10:30 PM
I find the minimum volume required to maintain a senderscore is too high.  My Websites are pretty consistent in their sending volume, though senderscore shows my volume to be all over the place.  For a week or so it shows my websites as not even having a history.  I like senderscore, but they need to improve their tracking for lower volume websites.  Also maybe providing a package for smaller sites would be good too.  Its hard to sell clients on the fees.  Its not the setup fees, but the annual billing fee that is hard to swallow.  If they could provide a month by month payment option so clients can see if the system works, before having to commit the $400 that would help. 
pete | Dec 5, 2011 2:35 PM
i just feel this is a big ripoff concoted by microsoft to block hotmails and then reroute senders here to pay.
Paul | Dec 5, 2011 2:46 PM
I feel the same way.  But basically ISPs use several factors to detect Spam.  SenderScore is just another metric they can use in their algorithms.  SenderScore audits your server setup, and verifies you in a way that ISPs are not able to.  Overall its a good concept.  I still have not tried it yet, ( Client couldn't get approved, for legal reasons ), but when I do I will update my review on their services.
skikayaker | Oct 22, 2013 8:01 AM
Return Path SenderScore amounts to extortion with a pay for play partner certification membership.  I much prefer Cisco's Senderbase for accurate and reliable reputation scoring.  Our company had one incident that lasted less than 24 hours over 45 days ago.  Our corporation was blacklisted by a couple of blacklists for a day or two, and listed by Senderbase as "poor" for about 4 days until it became clear that the problem had been resolved.  Still, 45 days after this minor incident where a user allowed their account to become compromised Return Path's senderscore reputation score is still hovering in the 60s with minor drops and increases despite their own graph showing no change in volume from our server.  They inaccurately list our server as "very high volume" when this is not the case.

I can only imagine that using Senderscore would result in unreliable email delivery for any systems using this service as a spam prevention tool.  Most systems that use this service are Microsoft's Hotmail/MSN, Yahoo, and Road Runner among others.

Extortion pay for play tactics by Return Path is the wrong method.
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