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What Makes a Good ESP?

Laura Atkins

There are a number of things that make a responsible Email Service Provider (ESP), including setting and enforcing standards higher than those set by the ISPs.

One of the responsible ESPs is Mailchimp. (Full disclaimer, I do consult for Mailchimp.) This ESP focuses on businesses with small to medium sized lists. They screen new customers for source of permission as well as mail content.

As well as putting a human in the loop and identifying problem customers manually, they have also developed an automated process that predicts the likelihood that a certain customer will violate their standards. This process is very similar to the reputation process in place at many ISPs. Customers that are flagged as potential problems are reviewed by staff members who contact the customer for further clarification.

What's the benefit of this process? A good reputation, a clean customer base and positive notice by the ISPs. In fact, just recently I was contacted by one of the very large consumer ISPs, confirming that Mailchimp is one of my clients. He informed me that he'd noticed a few of the Mailchimp IPs had a really high reputation but weren't whitelisted. He asked me to send him all of their IPs so he could make sure all their IPs were whitelisted.

Proactive auditing of customers and predictive modeling of mailing results is working for Mailchimp and their customers.

Some ESPs have aggressive cancellation policies, which helps them police their networks and their customers. I often encounter former customers of these ESPs, either as direct clients or as customers of my ESP clients. In one case, I was asking around about a new client at their old ESP. "They tell me they left you under their own power and there was no spam issue involved, can you comment?" The policy person would not comment specifically about that client, but did comment that "95% of our former customers were disconnected for cause."

These are two examples of ESPs that are working hard to minimize the amount of unwanted mail going through their network. They have invested time and energy into tools and staff to monitor the network. Staff is empowered to make decisions about customers and management believes no customer is "too big to disconnect."

By Laura Atkins, Founding partner of anti-spam consultancy & software firm Word to the Wise
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They also share some attributes with spammers Carl Byington  –  Dec 22, 2009 5:01 PM PDT

There are many attributes or behaviors of spammers that are *almost* unique to spammers, and if you happen to share some of those attributes, you will be treated like a spammer. Some spammers use a large variety of domain names, in an attempt to dilute the statistics of anyone tracking spam by name. If a single organization or spammer uses 100 names, then each of these names will only be seen to send 1% of the email that the organization as a whole is sending.

Now consider branding. Spammers generally don't care about branding, in the sense of a stable brand name that becomes valuable by being advertised and promoted and used consistently. There are good commercial reasons why Ford does not change its name every week, so that you would see a Ford store one day, and the next day it would be SeptemberFord or Dorf or something else.  Ford does not want to dilute the power of their Ford brand name.

Since spammers don't care about having a stable consistent brand name, but they do care about folks counting and keeping track of names associated with spam, some of them use thousands of different domain names. But a real business should be proud of its name, should want to promote a stable brand identity, and should have no need to hide the volume of mail that it is sending. Unlike:

207.97.240.168 mcsv4.net.
207.97.240.169 mcsv5.net.
207.97.240.170 mcsv6.net.
207.97.240.171 mcsv7.net.
207.97.240.172 mcsv8.net.
207.97.240.173 mcsv9.net.
207.97.240.174 mcsv10.net.
207.97.240.175 mcsv27.net.

69.20.90.59 mcsv184.net.
69.20.90.60 mcsv185.net.
69.20.90.61 mcsv186.net.
69.20.90.62 mcsv187.net.
69.20.90.63 mcsv188.net.

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