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AOL Mail Certification Blues

Yes, the rumors are true. "Certified" senders can now send email to AOL users if they are willing to pay for the privilege. For the record, ICG Link is currently on AOL's enhanced whitelist program and we have no plans to pay for email now or any time in the foreseeable future. It is also our position that you probably shouldn’t either. Following is our take on the subject.

What is email certification? Briefly, anyone who wants to send certified mail to AOL can sign up with Goodmail. A certification process is completed and senders keep their certification as long as they don’t get many spam complaints. In addition to paying for the certification itself, senders pay for every certified message sent.

What is going on here? First of all, there are a few things this is not. This is not a way for spammers to send you mail by paying for it. Complaints will cause them to be decertified. Secondly, this is not going to prevent regular, non-certified email from being delivered since it's not a mandatory program. Lastly, and most unfortunately, this is not going to reduce spam for AOL users; in fact it will likely increase their mail volume. What is this then? It's yet another AOL boondoggle. Initially, AOL badly morphed an old dial up portal into an Internet service. To this day, they have non-standard mail and a unique browser that creates all kinds of problems for their unfortunate users. Next, they established their “enhanced whitelist” in a half-hearted effort to reduce spam. This system causes AOL users to lose legitimate mail (see past articles) and businesses like ours to regularly support AOL clients for related problems. Paid email is now the next folly in their battle against spam.

As we have mentioned, those who use AOL's service for business purposes are taking a chance they will miss valuable communications or web information intended for them.

What does it mean to you? Having said all that, it is true that many potential retail customers still use AOL. They won't understand the associated risks and probably wouldn't care much if they did. If you wish to be absolutely certain about getting mail to these people, you will have to consider paying to be certified by Goodmail and paying for every email message you send them. That's a choice each list manager will have to make individually. However, all things considered, it is our opinion there is normally little value in doing so because not much has really changed. You can continue the same things you have always done and our enhanced whitelist status should keep doing what it has been doing. Now, however, you do have the addition of Goodmail certification as another delivery option to consider.

What else can you do?

  • You might make a separate list for AOL users and monitor its effectiveness compared to your other list so you can take action in the future if needed.
  • As always, keep your lists free from bad addresses and those who have made unsubscribe requests to minimize bounces and negative feedback.
  • Do everything you can to make sure your recipients really do want your mail.
  • Consider other content delivery methods such as RSS, physical mailings or others.

What are the long term consequences? First, it is unfortunate that the public has now assimilated the shock of paying for email and the next time it comes up, there will be less resistance to this foolish notion now that AOL has legitimized it. Secondly, there is little doubt that this will produce negative results in the end for AOL's customers. If there was a fee for all email, then spam might actually be reduced because the fees would cause spammers to consider only those messages with a high potential return. However, since this new tool is just an add on to everything that is already available, more commercial email will be delivered as a result and spam will increase. AOL users will get more unwanted email through certification and in-box clutter shall rise again.

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