Email Marketing

Published on February 8th, 2006 | by Janine Popick


Breaking Down the AOL/GoodMail Stir

So, you may have read in a recent press release, AOL announced that it would be phasing out its “Enhanced Whitelist” program and replacing it with a third party service called Goodmail Certified Email. Goodmail offers a program for mailers looking to get a higher delivery rate by ponying up dollars to have their emails tagged with a unique “token.”  So when AOL screens incoming mail, messages containing the Goodmail token are routed directly to the recipient’s inbox with all images and links enabled.  But, just a few days later, AOL issued a correction to clarify one specific point: they were *not* getting rid of their “Enhanced Whitelist” but rather they would begin supporting Goodmail’s service and thus it would augment, rather than replace, any of their existing whitelist programs.

Feeling a bit confused? Well you’re not alone.  The mass media pounced on the initial press release, as they normally do when any major ISP comes out with such a bold statement.  As a result many of the real facts got lost in the “hype”, leaving legitimate mailers like you and Email Service Providers, like us, scratching our heads.

“What is this Goodmail thing and how will it really impact the emails I send?” Today I want to help clarify some of the misconceptions flying around so let’s dive right in.

Before going any further, it’s important to explain the entire AOL “whitelist” system.  AOL currently has two whitelists in effect: the Standard Whitelist and the Enhanced Whitelist.  Qualified companies with a strong mailing history and a low percentage of spam complaints can request to have their IP addresses (i.e. the servers used to send their mail) added to the Standard Whitelist.  It has been proven that acceptance into the Standard Whitelist provides a significant increase for delivery to AOL users however, this does not guarantee automatic delivery into the recipient’s inbox.

The Enhanced Whitelist (EWL from now on) is a program that AOL uses in conjunction with the Standard Whitelist to provide additional benefits for select mailers.  Companies consistently receiving low spam complaints from AOL users (almost zero by the way) have the potential to be “automatically” added to the EWL so that images and links are enabled by default.  It is important to note that there is no application process or manual way to be added into the EWL.  Entry into this list is systematic based on AOL’s internal mailing/complaint metrics and acceptance into the EWL is not permanent.

Realistically speaking, getting on to the EWL is nearly impossible and AOL has publicly stated that even the highest quality mailers will find it difficult to gain entry into the EWL, let alone stay there for good.  Yes, it’s really that hard to get in to the EWL!

So where does Goodmail fit in?  Well carefully screened mailers can reap the benefits of the EWL using dollars rather than beating lottery-like odds.  Recent reports say that pricing might be around $2.00 to $3.00 per thousand and while this may seem cheap, larger mailers can expect to see their overall campaign costs increase, in some cases significantly, based on the sheer volume of mail they are sending.  Although this may seem like a “pay to play” system, both AOL and Goodmail have repeatedly stated that only the most qualified and responsible mailers will be accepted into the program — no real surprise there.

Rest assured, VerticalResponse is a long-time member of the AOL Standard Whitelist and this actually may be one of the reasons you’ve signed on with us in the first place.  That said, it’s fairly safe to assume that most of our users have never achieved “EWL Status.”  Don’t feel bad, even the best mailers in the world get spam complaints from time to time so as long as you’re following best practices you should continue to see strong delivery results into AOL.

“So does this then mean that if you don’t use GoodMail your email will not be received by AOL users?” Absolutely not. As mentioned above, AOL is still relying on both their Standard and Enhanced Whitelists so as a VerticalResponse client you’ll remain in a prime position for continued stellar email delivery.

So why did the Goodmail announcement cause such a stir? Well anytime a major ISP comes out in favor of one specific third party solution, it tends to creates some ripples (or Maverick-like waves) across the industry “pond.” VerticalResponse, like most players in this space, is looking to better understand exactly how AOL plans to implement Goodmail and specifically, the types of solutions that will be available for the small and mid-size customers that we support. As far as timelines go, Goodmail does not expect to formally implement its solution until later in 2006.

At this time we are also in discussions with Goodmail regarding their partnership programs so we’ll be in a position to streamline the application/certification process if necessary.  We hope that this information helped to “clear the air” in regards to the recent AOL/Goodmail press release(s) and we’ll be sure to update you as things progress.

Got any comments on this? Bring them on!

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About the Author

is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse.

7 Responses to Breaking Down the AOL/GoodMail Stir

  1. Zythman says:

    That was a terrific explanation of Standard versus Enhanced WhiteList (EWL). From what you outline so clearly, I’m don’t feel as concerned about making it onto the EWS. Thank you for making crystal clear this once vague matter in your report.

  2. Anne Holland says:

    Janine — this is one of the best posts I’ve seen on the topic of AOL/Goodmail (and I’ve seen dozens of them.) Great work.

  3. Terry says:

    I am just getting started in the email-marketing thing and most of my opt-in list customers are using AOL. Since this could have a great impact on me, I greatly appreciate the explanation!

  4. Jerry says:

    Its all about charging PER EMAIL and has nothing to do with spam. Why doesn’t GoodMail take the application and if approved give them a revokeable token to add to there own email.
    Setup a Approved List DNS that AOL and others can check for approval.
    This PER MESSAGE bull crap is just that.

  5. RJ Loggans says:

    Have nothing good to say about AOL or their practices. Too many people get hung up with aol and learn how hard it is to get rid of them. I warn my Newsletter subscribers, with aol addresses, that they may or may not get all, or even any, of the Newsletter and the odds of getting photos is almost guaranteed to be zero.

  6. Steve says:

    Hey Janine:
    I’m confident VR will continue to guide all businesses through this “email labyrinth”. Knowing that, I can turn my focus on other business issues.
    It’s nice to know you’re at the helm … I appreciate the update.
    Steve Ziemba

  7. Travis says:

    Very helpful explanation, thank you!

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