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.