June 19, 2008, 12:00 AM

Internet service providers are moving toward a new definition of spam

Double opt-in, a gold standard among e-mail marketers, is beginning to give way at Internet service providers to the measure of sender reputation, EmailLabs director of consulting services Stefan Pollard says.

Double opt-in has been a gold standard of e-mail marketing among online merchants that want to make sure the newsletters and promotions they send to customers get through ISP spam filters to be seen by shoppers. But Internet service providers are moving toward a new definition of spam in which the sender’s reputation is paramount, says Stefan Pollard, director of consulting services at e-mail services provider EmailLabs.

Double opt-in means that subscribers have not only checked a box indicating they want to receive the marketer’s e-mail but also confirmed their subscription, typically by responding to an automatically generated message sent to the e-mail address. But that’s no longer good enough for ISPs, who believe they are “under attack,” Pollard says, with almost 90% of the e-mail they deliver viewed by their subscribers as spam.

“There’s a changing definition of spam,“ Pollard told attendees at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago. “It’s about ‘unwanted’ e-mail, and reputation is what ISPs are using to identify and grade if e-mail is wanted by the subscriber. ISPs are looking at their metrics to determine reputation.”

Among the elements ISPs consider in assessing a sender’s reputation-and whether the sender’s message constitutes spam-are the sender’s domain, including the domain’s longevity; and recipient feedback such as complaints or marking the e-mail as unsafe. ISPs also look at how frequently the sender’ e-mails are unsubscribed, and reports from third-party reputation companies. “Metrics are everything,” Pollard adds.

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