Return Path – A Marketer’s Field Guide to AOL Inboxes
By: Return Path
You’ve got mail! After more than a decade, AOL is still a major webmail player in the USA. Most reports rank AOL #4 in total mailboxes behind Microsoft Hotmail Live, Yahoo! and Gmail respectively. The company has a global reach but its presence is about half of the other major players if you count their number of worldwide mailboxes.
AOL’s proprietary filtering technology has always been very sophisticated. In the early days they were transparent with their methodologies but, unfortunately, bad actors exploited that information and AOL became increasingly private about their practices. However, if you are treating your subscribers with respect, by sending them relevant email and unsubscribing them if they are not engaging, then you won’t have a problem getting delivered.
As is typical with many ISPs, the AOL postmaster team is overworked so users (aka “customers”) take priority over senders. If your issues are bulking, you won’t get a lot of attention. However, if you are having issues with whitelisting or feedback loops then you’ll get a relatively quick response. Return Path has always had a solid relationship with AOL and they have been responsive regarding client issues. One thing to note is AOL is constantly improving their Postmaster and Troubleshooting pages. They are actively working on automating much of their Postmaster troubleshooting so keep that in mind when reaching out to the team.
User base profile. You won’t see Gen Y or Z rushing out to sign up for an AOL account. Their core subscribers are your parents and grandparents who probably signed up with a floppy disk or CD that they received in the mail. That being said, if their user base is anything like my parents, they are a very loyal and engaged bunch who check their email on a consistent basis.
Spam filtering. AOL’s reputation system is home-grown. As a general observation, if you are a responsible sender and on AOL’s whitelist you will not see a lot of bulking. Our Professional Services team tends to troubleshoot Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail deliverability issues more than AOL.
AOL maintains a very informative postmaster website that is rich with email best practices for senders. This is a hold-over from the early days when AOL was transparent and disclosed more about their filtering technology than most ISPs. If a gold standard exists for guiding senders in their email practices, this is it. It’s well written and a great reference for anyone looking for deliverability tips written in plain English.
Feedback loops. AOL was the first ISP to offer FBLs. As a matter of fact, AOL’s feedback loop set the industry standard for FBL application, security requirements and processing because it was one of the best models for this process. FBL sign-up is easy from their postmaster site.
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