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Return Path – How Inactive Addresses Hurt Deliverability plus 3 Tips on What to Do


Return Path – How Inactive Addresses Hurt Deliverability plus 3 Tips on What to Do




By: Return Path

This article was originally featured on Deliverability.com

Inactive subscribers are a liability to anyone who sends email.  They hurt deliverability, which in turn reduces your response rates, and before you know it, your email program isn’t making as money as it use to.  Marketing managers usually understand that they key is to get rid of the dead-weight to solve these problems, but most executives try to solve the revenue problem through a numbers game and sending to even more email addresses, many of which are inactive as well.  So why should you care about removing inactive addresses?

ISPs define active vs. inactive addresses in a variety of ways through things like last log in date, how long they spend in their email client, and if the behaviors resemble that of a real person, such as reading, deleting and even marking email as spam or not spam, as well as other actions that we generally call engagement-level filtering.  Marketers look at it slightly different based on the data at their disposal, such as opens, clicks, conversions, or website activity.  ISPs care about active users because spammers have always been looking for ways to game the system, and one successful way has been to load their lists with inactive email addresses, because inactives will never hit the spam button, and complaints stay artificially low.  ISP postmasters are a smart lot though and caught on, and as a result, ISPs calculate complaints based on active and trusted subscribers.  This means that complaint rates are much higher for not only spammers, but any other sender as well.

So what does that mean for marketers?  Most marketers have been calculating complaint rates incorrectly for years by doing it off of total volume, rather than email delivered to the inbox.  If you’re mailing to a million addresses, and only half reach the inbox and 5,000 subscribers complain, then you have a 1% complaint rate, instead of 0.5% complaint rate based on total volume.  Let’s say you only have 250,000 of those subscribers active according to the ISP.  You now have a 2% complaint rate which is high enough to get you delivered to the spam folder, or maybe even blocked, at Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and AOL.

Let’s say you turn a blind eye to those inactive addresses.  Given enough time, they’ll turn into unknown users and spam traps.  Again, spammers ruin the email party through shady list practices that have high unknown users and spam traps.  ISPs respond by blocking and sending email to the spam folder when unknown users start to exceed 5% since that is a common link with spammers.  Additionally, ISPs recycle abandoned email addresses into spam traps because spammers buy and steal lists and this method is an easy way to find out who’s doing it.  Unfortunately for marketers, this means that mailing addresses that haven’t been mailed in awhile could result in spam traps.  Just one spam trap hit can cause deliverability issues, which is also supported by research we’ve done at Return Path.



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  • Profile:  Jeff Ginsberg has 17+ years’ experience and is an industry known authority on email marketing who gets in the trenches with clients and helps them fulfill their marketing objectives, increase revenue and brand engagement. Clients rely on him and his team at The eMail Company to provide them with expertise from strategy to technology and from campaign management to channel integration. Jeff has worked with clients across all spectrums in the financial, automotive, retail and consumer packaged goods space. His experience covers both B2B and B2C markets. He has a strong background in educating and training agencies and clients about email best practices and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to marketing tools and vendor selection. While Jeff’s team may be small, they know how to solve BIG email marketing problems. Looking for help with your next campaign? Don’t be afraid to give him a call – Jeff and his team ready to help you today. Give me a call: Toll Free: 877-We-eMail (877-933-6245) Local: 416-225-7711 eMail: jeff@theemailcompany.com
  • Website:  http://www.theemailguide.com
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  • LinkedIn:   http://ca.linkedin.com/in/chiefemailofficer
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