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Nothing stands still in the world of email marketing. The only constant is change, and some of the new stuff to rear its head is certainly going to be changing how things happen in future.

That said, some of this “new” stuff isn’t really new at all and has actually been around for a while now, just keeping a low profile.

One such development is Windows Live Sender Reputation Data.

The system that enables recipients to vote for whether certain emails are junk or not has been around for years so why is it so important now, and for those email marketers that have never heard of it, why should they bother about it at all?

WSRD (Windows Live Sender Reputation Data) is an important Hotmail reputation metric, which is used to partly inform the decisions of the Hotmail “Smart Screen” spam filter.

For those unaware of the role “Smartscreen” plays in the Hotmail fight against spam, it is the mechanism used to take data such as user response (spam complaints etc), and use it to classify emails. It’s a sophisticated bit of kit, and probably worth a post on its own, but in this instance I’m focusing on email junking.

You see, one of the things “Smartscreen” does is take response information and then classifies the email as either junk, or not junk (or if you are really bad, you get blocked).    

So how is this WLSRD data obtained?

Unlike other measures such as complaints, WLSRD is the result of research that is actively carried out by Hotmail. This is how it works;

The recipient receives an email from the address: preventjunk@live.com with the subject line “Junk e-mail classification.” The message contains the following introductory text:

Thanks for helping us fight junk e-mail. Please look at the e-mail message below and tell us whether or not you think its junk e-mail. If you’re reading this message on the Web, it will be removed from your Inbox when you make a selection.

The recipient is then presented with two voting options:

Not junk e-mail. This is a message I would expect to receive in my inbox.

Junk e-mail. This is not a message I’d expect to receive. Its junk e-mail and I’d like all similar messages to be blocked from my inbox.    

This is different from the traditional complaints, where the “junk” response is handed back to the sender of the email (so you can take the complainers off the mailing list).

With WSRD, you don’t know who is voting your marketing email as spam, so you’ll keep sending the emails they don’t want, although they’ll never see them in the inbox again. 

Check your inbox placement

Unless you are a member of Return Path's white listing service, Sender Score Certified, you won’t be able to see the WLSRD metric itself, but you can observe the results.

If you are getting too many negative votes, the result is going to be junk box placement in Hotmail. For many email marketers in B2C marketing, this can represent a substantial percentage of your email list, so junk box placement is bad news.

Over the last twelve months, Windows have raised the bar with the way they are implementing this metric. This means that some marketers, that previously enjoyed inbox placement, now find they are going into junk. Ok, it’s not going to affect all email marketing programmes, as there are many now that are well targeted and recipient focused.

But if your email marketing campaigns are measured more by blast radius than response, you’ll probably be feeling the effects of WLSRD.  If you have any doubt as to the status of your IP in Hotmail, ask your email service provider to give you visibility of your SNDS status.

SNDS is a Microsoft service that indicates to your email service provider whether your emails are being junked or not. If you don’t currently have this sort of visibility of your deliverability to Hotmail I would strongly recommend it. 

Dont panic!

If things don’t look good now, don’t panic! Return Path, which operates the largest email white list globally (Sender Score Certified), uses the WLSRD metric as an important quality score for their white listing programme.

Return Path have made a list of the most common causes of negative WLSRD feedback. This list will help marketers identify potential problems with their email campaigns. The common causes are:

  • Making a bad first impression.
  • Sending irrelevant messaging.
  • Mailing at too high a frequency.
  • Mailing to inactive subscribers.

Developing your email marketing strategy to combat the elements above, not only reduces negative WLSRD feedback and improves inbox placement for Hotmail, but will have a positive impact on most of the other webmail providers too.

And remember, the ultimate goal is not the inbox; the ultimate goals are improved response and higher ROI for your email marketing campaigns.

In following posts I will be tackling each of the above issues and suggesting how your email marketing plans can be improved to combat junk folder placement.

Tim Roe

Published 6 March, 2013 by Tim Roe

Tim Roe is Director of Data and Deliverability at Redeye International and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via LinkedIn

22 more posts from this author

Comments (9)

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Tens

Thanks to heavy abuse of this feature, I wouldn't worry too much about it.
According to Yahoo! and IBM, very few users that use "junk" and "not junk" buttons are actual consumers. Consumers prefer to just delete emails they don't want to read.
Most of the accounts that use the "junk"/ "not junk" feature turn out to belong to spammers looking to get through the filters by making fake accounts and hitting the "not junk" button. Less than 10% of all the accounts tracked by Yahoo! and IBM have even used the feature.

over 3 years ago

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Mike

Curious if there is (or will be) any impact on Outlook, especially in corporate instances?

over 3 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

Hi Mike
As far as I am aware, the "Smart Screen" technology first made its association with Outlook in 2003 and then again in 2007. It was also used on Exchange server. Since then, I have not seen any reference to its use in Outlook. That’s not to say they don’t of course!
Tim

over 3 years ago

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Indi Wijeweera

Hi Tim,
Very useful article and many thanks for this refresher and, looking forward to your forthcoming posts.
Indi.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

Tim

I wonder why you chose not to tell us, in the interests of transparency, that Return Path is a partner of your company?

over 3 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

Hi Deri
I am sorry that you did not feel the post was transparent, due to the fact that I did not declare an association with Return Path. The focus of the post, was to bring to the attention of email marketers a measure that is being used by Windows, which isn’t as transparent as traditional complaints.

Many (arguably most) ESP’s have an associtaion with Return Path, as they provide some unique services to email marketers, ESP’s, and ISP’s. I hope that answers your question?

If you feel this answer is not satisfactoy, please be more specific with your concerns over lack of transparency, and how it effects the contents of the post and I’ll do what I can to help.
Tim

over 3 years ago

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Judy Jackson

Thanks for sharing these insights and information. Did got a lot of new informations.

over 3 years ago

Tim Watson

Tim Watson, Email Marketing Consultant at Zettasphere

Has there been a change here with Hotmail (Outlook as it is now)?

WLSRD has been around for 5+ years working in this way. Sending emails to request junk or non-junk is not a new thing for Hotmail.

about 3 years ago

Tim Roe

Tim Roe, Deliverability and Compliance Director at RedEyeEnterprise

Hi Tim
Thanks for your question
In April last year, Hotmail changed the performance criteria for the Junk/Not Junk relating to WLSRD. This meant that the number of people being asked the question increased and the allowable Spam votes to trigger an issue reduced. This change was reported by Return Path as they used the new standards to monitor their Sender Score Certified clients. As I said at the start of the blog, WLSRD isn't really new, but the standards certainly are.
Cheers
Tim

about 3 years ago

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