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May 20, 2004

How Microsoft's Deal with Ironport's Bonded Sender Affects Bulk Emailers

SUMMARY: Loads of you have contacted us in the past week to ask, "How will Microsoft's agreement with IronPort's Bonded Sender program affect my email delivery?"

Here's the answer -- turns out your mail will still get through to Hotmail users if you've taken standard anti-filter measures. It's just that Bonded Sender's mail will get through more easily.

Find out more details, including costs of using the IronPort program, and alternatives you might also consider.
by Contributing Editor, Janet Roberts

What Does the Microsoft-Bonded Sender Deal Means to Bulk Emailers?

Microsoft's recent agreement to pass users of IronPort's Bonded Sender program through its regular spam filters has some bulk emailers worried that they'll have to start paying off ISPs in order to get their email delivered.

"Not now" is our short-term answer, because Microsoft's decision isn't expected to penalize anyone who's not a Bonded Sender user. You just don't get the free bypass around the company's SmartScreen set of spam filters.

Keep your eye on Bonded Sender, because it's turning into the 900-pound gorilla in the whitelisting zoo. The Microsoft deal boosts its coverage to 230 million mailboxes worldwide, or 25% to 30% of the world's mailboxes.

However, the email landscape is about to shift dramatically because new technologies to make email sending more reliable and to choke out spam, fraud and virus-bearing messages are poised to move into wider use.

Anyone who relies on email to market or publish and who wants to stay in the game will probably have to invest time, money or both on whitelisting or authentication services. How much? It depends on what you choose to do and how much help you get now from your email broadcast vendor.

(Keep reading to find out how to tell if you need to call in outside reinforcements to boost your delivery rates.)

The three main approaches rely on reputation, accreditation or authentication to move you through corporate-level spam filters.

Approach #1: Reputation

Reputation services -- think of them as paid I-Passes on the Information Toll Road -- are the most accessible right now, because they don't require a lot of IT investment. Instead, how you send and manage email determines whether you qualify.

You'll have to go through screening to prove you're one of the good guys: You require opt-in, you don't spoof your identity, you either mail to a house list or use high-quality rental lists, you honor opt-outs promptly.

If you pass the screening and certification process (TrustE does it for Bonded Sender), your sending information, either IP addresses or domains and subdomains you use to send email, goes into a database.

When your email hits a Hotmail server, for example, SmartScreen will query the Bonded Sender database. If your information comes up, you zip right through the spam-filter thicket.

All Microsoft email services use the SmartScreen filters, including MSN, Exchange and Outlook, a company spokesman said.

This doesn't guarantee that your email will go right to the inbox, though. Hotmail users can set their email filters so high that they block even legitimate bulk mail from addresses they haven't added to their safelists.

The difference is that you're less likely to produce a false positive at the server level.

If you go with a paid whitelisting service, you'll have to pay application and listing fees, post a one-time bond or a combination of the three.

(Note: We uncovered some disagreement in the anti-spam community about whether Bonded Sender is a reputation or accreditation service. We list it here under "reputation," but it can also be classified as an accreditation service.)

Three new details we didn't cover in a previous MarketingSherpa discussion on using avoiding email filters:

1. With Bonded Sender, the fees range from a low of $375 for up to 1 million emails a month for nonprofits, plus a $250 bond, to a $1,250 application fee, $10,000 annual fee plus a bond of at least $4,000 for unlimited commercial emailers.

A commercial emailer sending 5 million messages a month can expect to spend $3,750 out of the box -- $750 to apply, $2,000 for the annual license and a $1,000 bond.

Or, you can sign up with resellers or partner companies, such as CoolerEmail and Constant Contact, which put up your bond and manage your email within the program.

2. Bonded Sender deducts $20 (was $10 originally) from that bond for every spam complaint it gets (and donates that cash to the Internet Education Foundation). The threshhold is 1 complaint in 1 million, but an IronPort spokesman said the process is weighted to weed out the "noise" from false positives and spam reports.

3. About 50 companies, including name brands such as Amazon, CNet, and, have signed up. The company claims 28,000 ISPs and other email-recipient organizations have agreed to let Bonded Sender email bypass their filters, including RoadRunner broadband,, Frontier and Outblaze.

You can try to get whitelisted with AOL and Yahoo! for free, but it will cost you company time if you haven't already dedicated an employee to email delivery and ISP relations.

It also won't help you with Microsoft email systems because MSN, Hotmail, Exchange and Outlook don't use in-house or third-party whitelists other than Bonded Sender.

Other well-known services in this space are Brightmail's Reputation Service and Habeas, famous for inserting a haiku into an email's header code as the identification key.

Approach #2: Accreditation

Accreditation services establish a set of criteria you have to meet in order to win a designation that an email recipient will honor.

Accreditation backers such as Anne Mitchell of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy and the new ISIPP Accreditation Database, say their services provide "objective" data that companies can use to decide whether to let an email sender bypass its filters.

"Reputation services give you a subjective determination that says something is not spam," she said. "We give people who query our database objective data that they can use to make their own subjective determination."

IADB is also a paid service, although individuals get free listings. Fees range from $10 a month for newsletter publishers to $300 a month for email marketers and broadcast vendors who send on behalf of 30 or more clients.

Approach #3: Authentication

Some say authentication is email's last best hope for defeating spam and fraud email because they use coding, encryption and other IT-based methods to plug holes in current email protocols that allow address spoofing and forgery.

None of the methods being used or tested now is being used by enough organizations to make them as effective as they could be right now. The best-known are Sender Policy Framework, which has the widest use so far, plus Microsoft's Caller-ID and Yahoo!'s DomainKeys, a proposed Internet standard also aimed at ending spoofing and forgery.

Time to Call in Reinforcements?

How do you decide whether it's time to call in outside help to boost your delivery and inbox placement? Ask yourself these three questions:

-- How am I delivering to major domains now compared to a year ago?

Track down your delivery reports and find out how well you delivered to domains such as Hotmail, AOL, EarthLink and Yahoo! a year ago and how you're doing now on comparable mailings. See more than a 20-percent drop? You need help.

-- How important are consumer domains to my company?

If you're mainly a B-to-B mailer, your performance at major consumer email services might not bother you if they don't generate qualified leads, sales or other conversions. Still, if you find Hotmail or MSN are blocking you, then it's pretty likely Exchange and Outlook are too, because they all use the same set of Microsoft spam filters.

-- How much do I have to invest?

If your email-support budget is zero, you'll have to look at solutions that you can create with your existing personnel. See what your email broadcast vendor can do for you. Some already participate in reputation or accreditation services, especially if they belong to the Email Service Provider Coalition.

Bottom line is this: If you don't already have a line item in your budget for email delivery services beyond what you pay your email service provider, you'd better create one.

How much? As we noted above, you can expect to pay about $3,750 in your first year with Bonded Sender if you're a commercial mailer sending 5 million messages a month. It could swell to over $10,000 if you want unlimited messages.

A listing in the IADB could run a comparable $3,600 for a major email broadcast vendor.

Useful links related to this article:

1. Bonded Sender:
The application is at

2. ISIPP Accreditation Database:

3. Background on Sender Policy Framework:

4. Specs for Microsoft's Caller ID:

5. Specs for DomainKeys by Yahoo!:

6. Emailer's Guide to the Top 3 Avoid-Being-Filtered Services: Trusted Sender, Habeas and IronPort:
(for fee)
See Also:

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