Apr 182006

A New Season for Bonded Sender (now Sender Score Certified)

A New Season for Bonded Sender (now Sender Score Certified)

(With apologies to my non-email industry readers for such a long detailed posting)

Ah, spring.  New life is everywhere.  Winter clothes are being put away, birds are returning from their winters in the south, flowers are blooming.  We at Return Path are doing our part by announcing the “rebirth” of our Bonded Sender Program, the Internet’s largest and oldest email accreditation program, or whitelist, as Sender Score Certified.

Since we acquired Bonded Sender last fall, we’ve had the opportunity to go on a “listening tour” – talking to marketers, publishers, ESPs, ISPs, spam filtering companies, system administrators, email appliance manufacturers – you name it.  What we learned was that the program was ground-breaking when it was launched in 2002 but that it needed a makeover in order to meet the challenges that have evolved around spam and deliverability for both senders and receivers during the past few years.

Our listening tour revealed that the Bonded Sender of old had four core issues that weren’t sitting well with the Internet community at large:

1.  Data validity:  some senders questioned the accuracy of some of the application and compliance metrics used;

2.  Black box:  a complete lack of transparency led many senders to be unclear as to what was driving them to fail applications or have bonds debited;

3.  Bond:  there isn’t a purchasing department in America that knows how to post a bond or understands why they should; and

4.  Complaints:  as far as ISPs were concerned, even though mailers had to pass some serious hurdles to join the program, mailers who were in the program still managed to generate too many complaints among their end users.

A spring cleaning was in order, and we had the experts to get the job done.   The deliverability gurus inside Return Path — George Bilbrey, Tom Bartel, Robert Barclay, Leslie Price, Dan Deneweth, and others — working with a myriad of external advisors, delivered the makeover the program needed.

So today, Bonded Sender is reborn as Sender Score Certified.  We have worked hard to address all four main beefs about the program, while keeping the elements of the program that have worked well.  So here’s what you can expect of the new program.  First, what’s new and different:

1.  New and Improved Data:  the program is now powered by our newly launched Sender Score Reputation database, which George wrote about last week – a robust source of reputation information sent to us daily by scores of different sources on the Internet, including B2B and B2C, domestic and international, ISP and commercial filters;

2.  Complete transparency:  the Sender Score Reputation Monitor service allows clients to have 100% visibility into every metric tracked for the program, including some super-cool drill-down features;

3.  Bye-Bye, Bond:  these high standards make the bond unnecessary (and they really made us need to find a new name – can you imagine Bondless Sender?).   You’re either on the list, or you’re not.  The transparency makes it much easier for us to work with our clients on compliance; and

4.  Radically Reduced Complaints:  the new standards have allowed us to raise the bar on the quality of the program.  We’ve built the statistical model underlying the program to have a VERY high correlation with some leading spam filters, enabling us to remove a huge number of senders who were previously on the whitelist.  The result?  Our largest ISP user, Microsoft, reports to us a nearly 90% drop in the number of complaints in their network coming from users of the program – and that was off a very small number of complaints to begin with, relative to the rest of the email universe.

OK, you say – sounds great.  But what did we actually keep about the program?

1.  We still partner with third-party watchdog non-profit TRUSTe to perform a critical, detailed practices accreditation of incoming clients as well as help us with compliance;

2.  We still use SpamCop complaint data as one data feed for the program’s compliance – but now it’s just one of several; and

3.  We still have more than 35,000 domains, including Hotmail, MSN, Outblaze and Roadrunner, as well as users of Spam Assassin and Ironport appliances, using the program to help determine what email to let through.

So spring has sprung at Return Path for our delivery assurance business.  The Bonded Sender makeover is done, and the new Sender Score Certified is here to innovate the next generation of email accreditation and whitelists for the industry.

For more on Sender Score Certified, read our press release or the program requirements today.