October 21, 2011

Hotmail Launches New Tools: What that Means to Email Marketers

by Cathie McFarren, Deliverability Analyst

On October 3rd, Microsoft announced that they are adding more granular-spam fighting and organization tools to Hotmail between now and the end of the year. Let’s first discuss these changes, and then what this means for email marketers.

Hotmail recently published a blog post declaring “war” on email newsletters by adding in new tools in the users inbox to combat these types of messages. These tools were built after discovering 50% of the inbox was taken up with newsletters and offers. Hotmail Graph

*Graph from Inside Windows Live

75% of mail reported as spam by Hotmail users is legitimate mail, according to Hotmail. While it may be legitimate opt-in email, it still could be categorized spam, as it is “unwanted” Hotmail is now attempting to help their users control the increasing volume of unwanted mail. They classify this unwanted mail as “Graymail” and new tools to fight it. These new tools make it easier for Hotmail users to deal with the increase of legitimate, but unwanted, mail.

Below are some of the features that Hotmail has introduced to help users take control of their inboxes:

Newsletter filtering, including “unsubscribe”: The new filtering will automatically identify incoming mail as “newsletters” and sweep these messages into a folder, which can be deleted altogether. According to Hotmail’s blog post, this new feature identifies newsletters with 95% accuracy. Via this feature, users can be removed from mailing lists and/or block future incoming “newsletter” content by using the one click “unsubscribe” feature, which will cue Hotmail to ask a company to remove the user from a mailing list.

More advanced folder management, with “categories” designation: Users will be able to create and apply their own categories to individual mail messages inline. Users can use Hotmail’s Sweep with categories, too. Users will be able to manage folders inline and right-click on them to rename, delete, empty or mark a whole folder as “unread.”

Scheduled clean-up: Users can automatically get rid of emails “of a certain age.” With a scheduled Sweep, users can also choose to move emails from a sender to a folder or delete the message(s) after 3, 10, 30, or 60 days.

Here are some ways to use Schedule Cleanup:

  • Keep only the latest event calendar email from your favorite site
  • Keep only the latest deal from Groupon or LivingSocial, or any other deal vendor
  • Delete your newsletters after 10 days – that way, whether you read them or not, they are never clogging up your inbox
  • Automatically archive mail from your financial institutions to a folder after 30 days

“Flags done right”: Users can flag messages so they will stay at the top of their inbox, regardless of the amount of mail they have received in the interim. Flags also work with Sweep.

Instant actions: Users will see buttons appear for the most common tasks when they hover over a message, enabling quicker delete, flag, Sweep and other functions. Users can add or remove buttons, customize the order of buttons or turn off Instant Actions completely.

These new features were created to assist recipients in getting more value from the “wanted” emails they are sent. For more information on these changes, check out the Inside Windows Live blog post.

What does this mean for email marketers?

Email marketers must continue to be diligent with best practices to help avoid the negative effects of these changes. Here are some tips to help combat your emails being marked as spam or deleted:

  1. Request Explicit Opt-In: Make sure you are being very clear what you’re asking subscribers to sign up for. Remember, it’s best to go above and beyond just CAN-SPAM compliance.
  2. Request to be Whitelisted: In your welcome series add messaging around adding your domain, ex. mail.company.com to your address book. If you can segment out Hotmail users, send a separate message asking them to look out for future messages in their newsletter folder. Add some humor around how your message isn’t another “Graymail,” that they’re valuable emails that they want to receive.
  3. Set and Maintain Exceptions: Make it clear with your subscribers what you’ll be sending and how often. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 6 Rules of Engagement.
  4. Re-engage with inactive subscribers: With Hotmail’s new tools it will be very easy for subscribers to lose touch with your messages. Segment your list for subscribers who haven’t opened your last 5, 10, or 15 messages. Send a targeted email to that list asking them to come back, or even better ask if there is a better email address you should send to (other than Hotmail).
  5. Clean Your List: If they don’t respond to re-engagement efforts, say goodbye and remove them from your list. Although cleaning your list isn’t easy, it will help your deliverability in the long run.
  6. Stay relevant! Be sure to keep your subscribers engaged with your message and continue to deliver value. Check out a great 3-part series on more relevant messages on the Bronto Blog.

Do you have any thoughts about these changes in Hotmail or other ways that you, as an email marketer, can help work around these changes? If so, share your thoughts below.

Cathie McFarren
Deliverability Analyst at Bronto

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Cathie McFarren, Deliverability Analyst

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