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Why AOL White Lists Matter In Canada

Over the last couple of weeks there have been some press releases about AOL and changes to their white list programs including lower thresholds to stay on these white lists and an announcement about the use of “e-mail postage”: (stay tuned for more on this topic later in the week). This stuff is even getting coverage in the “New York Times”:
Even if you don’t have a lot of AOL email addresses in your marketing database it is important to know about, and comply with, AOL’s rules on getting messages to the inbox.
If you want to learn more about AOL white listing, especially their use of standard and enhanced white list programs, a good read is the February sixth Email Insider article from David Baker called “Does ‘Enhanced White List’ Mean Anything to You?”: _(sub req’d)_
In essence, AOL has two different white lists and their enhanced version has much more stringent conditions to qualify but also provides greater benefit to the sender. To get your marketing email delivered to a recipient inbox you need to know that AOL uses tough measures to screen and filter senders, IP addresses, content and more. If you want to get good deliverability rates it is imperative to work with an email service provider (ESP) that has white list relationships with the major ISPs (AOL, etc.) and web mail providers (Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.). This will provide an email sender with a some “benefit of the doubt” when it comes to getting email through. Enhanced white lists, like AOL’s, take it a step further and pretty much ensure all your email gets into the right inbox. In the case of AOL and their AOL 9.0, where images are turned off by default (like with Google’s Gmail), the enhanced white list relationship means that you also have images turned on automatically. For consumer-focused email marketers in the US this is very important.
As a Canadian email marketer how does this affect you?

First of all, in Canada the use of AOL by consumers is relatively low. However, for US consumer lists, due to AOL’s penetration, AOL may account for 30% or more of all email addresses you have. In fact, it’s not unusual for 60% or more of a US-targeted consumer email list being made up of AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo. As a Canadian company marketing to US consumers you will likely find deliverability to AOL email addresses could make or break your email campaigns.
To be on AOL’s white lists you need to qualify by using “clean” IP Addresses to send your email and stay below AOL’s unpublished thresholds for complaints and more. Most Canadian email senders are not officially on AOL white lists. However, if you use a leading ESP they should be actively managing their AOL relationship and provide you some of the benefit. Furthermore, unless you are in the top 0.1% of email senders the most likely way to get on the AOL enhanced white list, and get your images to auto-load, is through your ESP working with AOL.
By ensuring that you are able to meet the stringent requirements of ISPs and email providers like AOL you are also well on the road to meeting most deliverability requirements from others.
One thing that is for sure, with the new, lower thresholds on various criteria like spam complaints, and the addition of email postage, there are some pretty major changes in the world of email marketing.