Why Your Inbox May Seem a Little Less Crowded These Days

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Sometimes one industry’s bad news is cause to celebrate for … almost everybody else in the world.

Return Path, one of the world’s biggest email certification companies, says the number of emails getting through to inboxes worldwide dropped considerably in the second half of 2011. The decline in “deliverability rates”, from 81% to 76.5%, was the first such dip since Return Path began keeping track in 2004. Put another way, roughly 1 in 4 emails did not get through to you, me or anyone else from July through December 0f 2011. 

Where does the missing email go? After  reviewing data from more than 1.1 million messages, 142 ISPs and 34 countries, Return Path estimates that 8.4% of the MIA mail was sent directly to spam folders, while almost twice that number (15.1%) was blocked by filters at the ISP level. All told, that’s a 20% increase in the number of AWOL messages across the globe. In North America, the deliverability rate was slightly higher, at 79%, but still down dramatically from the first half of the year.

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While this may be worrying to anyone who ever missed an invite to a party or some other e-date with destiny, the sheer numbers suggests this is mostly a problem for commercial mailers. Only slightly more than 1 in 7 (14%) emails worldwide are sent from one human to another human. The rest are sent mostly by e-marketers of all manner and stripe, some of whom are more successful than others at reaching your inbox.

According to this most recent version of Return Path’s Global Email Deliverability Benchmark Report—which for the first time examined messages by industry segment—the unluckiest emailers around the world were those in the gaming industry. In North America, for example, only 1 in 2 emails from gaming companies got through. The most successful e-marketers in North America, in terms of deliverability, are those sending “daily deal” type messages (95% deliverability rate), followed closely by financial service marketers not including banks (93%).

Broadly, Return Path identifies three broad causes for the decline: “sending reputation” (ISPs and the like keep close track on which marketers tend to flood mailboxes in specific ways during particular seasons), consumer complaints (a lot of people use “report-as-junk” designations to opt out of emails they actually signed up for) and, for lack of a better phrase, what might be called the mailbox gauntlet (the path through ISPs that bulk mail must travel to get to inboxes is generally tricky and always changing).

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In any event, don’t feel too bad for thwarted e-markers. They’re still winning the war.