As Internet service providers and security applications vendors become more aggressive at filtering unwanted inbox traffic, businesses are again looking to certified e-mail systems as one way to ensure their message gets across to customers.
To that end, publishing giant Time Inc. is touting its use of the certified e-mail system currently being offered by AOL and Goodmail Systems as beneficial to its own efforts to communicate with its subscribers electronically.
While the AOL-Goodmail service, which charges customers like Time to send bulk e-mail to users, has garnered some protest from organizations that claim it is merely a money-making scheme meant to fill the two companies coffers, executives at the magazine publisher say the cost to play ball is worth it.
As AOL and other ISPs already block images sent in mass e-mail campaigns—specifically because spammers and hackers have begun using the visual files to help evade existing anti-spam technologies that scan message text to weed out unwanted mail—it has become harder for Time to send its own materials to subscribers, said Ernie Vickeroy, marketing director at Time, based in New York.
In addition to Time Magazine, the company publishes titles including Fortune, People, Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly.
CertifiedEmail was first introduced by AOL in May of 2006 and will debut on Yahoo in August.
Roughly one quarter of the companys customer use AOL e-mail accounts specifically, so the firm was tasked with finding a way to get its content through to those people.
Using the AOL-Goodmail CertifiedEmail service, which charges $2 per 1,000 messages to ensure delivery of e-mail, including links to Web sites and images, the company has been impressed thus far, Vickeroy said.
Overall, Time reports that in its maiden effort using CertifiedEmail to inform subscribers about a new customer service Web site, it saw a 27 to 30 percent increase in the number of positive responses received from its campaign compared to earlier mailings.
Under a three-month test of the system, Time customers were offered various options to manage their subscriptions such as renewing, paying bills and making changes to their account information.
Compared to the same messages sent out without using CertifiedEmail messages, Time said its click-through rate to the service site was 130 percent higher, the number of people logging into the site was 128 percent better and the volume of people engaging in online self service was 127 percent greater.
"As with any mass-mailer, we were running into problems with AOL specifically since their default is to block images and links," said Vickeroy.
"We saw that we definitely had more people logging into the site, and completing customer service transactions, and thats what were looking for at the end of the day."
In addition to getting people to open the messages and follow through to its site, Time is also monitoring how people reached via CertifiedEmail continue to interact with the information sent via the e-mails.
Goodmail and AOL executives contend that by establishing a more trusted relationship with marketers that identify themselves using the system, people will eventually be encouraged to do more business with them, or spend more time on their sites.
Goodmail said it is working with a number of ISPs, site owners and Web-based e-mail providers to adopt the system into their services.
Companies in a number of vertical markets, including the financial services, retail, travel and health care industries are also planning test runs of CertifiedEmail, said John Ouren, senior vice president of business development at Goodmail, which is based in Mountain View, Calif.
While services that use authentication systems to help battle spam are nothing new, CertifiedEmails combination of assured delivery for mailers, full message functionality and the presence of the companies trusted source icon will allow marketers and users to use the service without the need to go through additional steps to verify e-mail legitimacy, he said.
"Authentication protocols have been around for quite some time, but certified e-mail is still new," said Ouren.
"Standards are great and help ISPs identify particular e-mail domains, but they dont equate to access privileges, and certified e-mail was designed to help create that trusted relationship between the sender and end user that will eventually allow for that type of an open relationship."