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2/9/2012
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SMTP.com Aims To Cut Spam Complaints

Email specialist will pool spam complaints to cleanse its customers' lists and keep aggressive marketers out of trouble with ISPs.

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Bulk email delivery specialist SMTP.com is adding an email suppression tool to help marketers avoid spam complaints by dropping recipients from an email broadcast before they even have a chance to complain.

SMTP.com, which established its niche early enough to capture a domain named after the Internet's standard Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, will accomplish this by pooling and analyzing its records of which emails have bounced, or generated complaints, across all of its customers.

"We're going to keep you from making the same mistake your competitor just made," CEO Semuyon Dukach said in an interview. "Overall, the trend is to analytics, to real business intelligence, moving toward really meaningful spam detection."

[ Are cybercriminals' inventories overstocked? See 'Factory Outlets' Sell Stolen Facebook, Twitter Credentials . ]

Although Dukach contends that "no one wants to send spam," SMTP.com does not necessarily play by the consensus rules that services such as Constant Contact and MailChimp do their best to conform to. The blacklist operator Spamhaus defines a spam list as any mailing list that falls short of the standard of a confirmed opt-in request from the recipient. Also known as "double opt-in," this process is typically implemented as a Web form where a user signs up for a list, followed by a coded confirmation email sent to the specified address. Only if the recipient clicks a link embedded in the email to confirm that request is the address added to the mailing list. To upload a batch of emails, the user of a service like Constant Contact must promise that permission was obtained by some comparably rigorous process.

Reality is sloppier than that, particularly for large organizations conducting aggressive campaigns, Dukach said. "Spam has nothing to do opting in. It's all about whether the recipient wants the email, at this time, from you. You can have someone who signed up but doesn't want it, or he may have never signed up but he's receptive to the message." Some users forget what they signed up for and click the AOL or Gmail spam button rather than the unsubscribe link. Some marketers import lists they honestly think have the right opt-in pedigree, but it's not true, or the list is so old the recipients don't remember what they agreed to when, he said. Internet service providers who receive a flurry of spam complaints or a large volume of email to invalid addresses will flag senders as suspicious and eventually block them from sending to any address on that service.

The scummy underside of the spammer economy operates through botnets and other deceptions, in a never-ending arms race with anti-spam countermeasures.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Constant Contact approach is fine for conservative marketers who are content to grow their lists by a few opt-ins per month, but SMTP.com's clients are more aggressive than that. This year, it will see a big influx of political campaigns seeking to email everyone who ever filled out an endorsement card or made a donation--opt-in or no opt-in.

The campaigns and the aggressive marketers "push harder and harder until the ISPs push back, so we're always in that world of pushing and being pushed back," Dukach said. SMTP.com earns its keep by reigning in its customers when they get a little too aggressive, in ways likely to get them in trouble; monitors the anti-spam feedback loops operated by the major ISPs; and pleads its clients' case (promising to do better) when they step over the line.

Although each client maintains its own lists, interacting with the service through the standard SMTP protocol, SMTP.com now offers to pool its records of which emails correspond to bad addresses, or the addresses of people who have shown by their actions that they don't like pushy email marketers, filtering those messages before they go out.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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