Nov 10 2011

Protecting the Inbox

Protecting the Inbox

We only have one out of our 13 core values at Return Path that’s closely related to the content of our business. But as with the other values, it says a lot about who we are and how we approach the work that we do. That value is:

We believe inboxes should only contain messages that are relevant, trusted, and safe

We occupy a pretty unique space in the email universe – we serve senders and receiving networks, but aren’t directly in the mail stream and therefore don’t directly touch end users.  So much of our business, from our Certification or whitelisting business, to our new Domain Assurance anti-spoofing/anti-phishing business, revolves around building trust in our company that this core value is critical to our survival. If we ran afoul of this core value — and it comes up all the time — we’d be dead in the water.

Here’s how it comes up:  because our Certification program is the closest thing on the Internet to guaranteed universal email delivery, every spammer and grey mailer in the world wants to be on it. We don’t just SELL access to our whitelist. Even once a prospect has been converted to an under-contract client, they have to APPLY for Certification.

It’s not easy to GET Certified. You have to be a really, really good mailer. Not just a real entity. Not just a big spender. You have to send mail that is safe and secure and wanted by end users. We have a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods we can use to determine this, and the requirements for Certified status and therefore Inbox placement are carefully negotiated and regularly reviewed with our ISP partners. Once a client is Certified, it’s not easy to STAY Certified because we are monitoring all of those same standards in real time, 24×7. Clients who go out of bounds get immediately suspended from the program until they are back in bounds. Clients who go out of bounds enough, we just terminate from the program for good.

By the way, just because we won’t certify a particular client isn’t an indictment that they are a spammer. It just means that their email programs still need to be subject to all the state of the art filtering and security measures that our ISPs have in their arsenal.  And most of the time, it doesn’t mean that we won’t work with them to improve the quality of their mail programs so their messages are relevant, trusted, and safe.

But at the end of the day, we’d rather not take money from questionable clients than compromise the quality of our Certification program. That’s a hard decision to make sometimes.  I’ve had to call large clients who are poor mailers and fire them more than once, and I’ve had to take angry phone calls and threatened legal action from clients or prospects many times over the years.  But for us, respect for end users and inbox security are deeply baked into the culture.  It’s why we developed the Domain Assurance product and launched it earlier this year.  And that’s why it’s one of our core values.