Global Email Spam Rates on the Rise

Linc Wonham
by Linc Wonham 19 Jun, 2012

A new study by email certification and reputation monitoring company Return Path tracked more than 130 million IP addresses and nearly 20 trillion messages last year and concluded that 85 percent of them were classified as spam, posing an on-going challenge for ISPs.

The research used Sender Score, an index of an email sender's reputation and a measure of the same metrics that ISPs use when making deliverability decisions. Businesses with high sender reputations or Sender Scores above 90 saw 95 percent of their messages delivered on average, whereas those with lower sender reputations, Sender Scores between 60 and 89 - the majority of businesses - saw delivery rates of only 68 percent on average.

Return Path studied senders' reputations across the globe and industry sectors examining the major factors affecting inbox deliverability, including the following:

-    Unknown user rates or those email addresses no longer in active use
-    Complaint rates, when email recipients mark a message as spam
-    Spam traps set by ISPs to deliberately catch spammers

Industry Breakdown
While most industry sectors performed at or near global averages, there were significant outliers in a number of categories. There was a high frequency of spam traps among social networking senders.

One of the most important tools social networks use to grow their subscriber base is the address books of their current users. This presents a risk as most email recipients do not actively manage their address books, resulting in numerous unused or abandoned emails being present.

As a result, social networking sites were hitting an average of 20 spam traps, as opposed to the global average of 1 to 3. Social networking and gaming had the highest degree of unknown user rates, around 5 percent for the same reasons as mentioned above.

Banking, retail and social networking had the highest complaint rates, coming in at over 3 percent, whereas on average other industries had complaint rates of 2 percent.

Geographic Breakdown
There is a marked increase in the worldwide number of senders and a sharp decline in inbox placement rates (IPRs). While every country and region has different challenges, universally speaking, marketers with poor reputations have significantly lower chances of making it to the inbox.

When emails fail to reach inboxes, businesses fail to communicate, resulting in a direct impact on the bottom line.

North America's Sender Score of 67 was the highest of any region. Canada had the highest reputation metrics with a score of 70, while the U.S. weighed in at 67. Despite having the highest sending reputations globally, both the U.S. and Canada have issues with complaints, unknown users and spam traps.

The U.S. also has very few restrictions around non-permission acquisition of email addresses, which puts marketers at risk for acquiring spam traps and receiving high subscriber complaints.

European Results
Reputation metrics in Europe were surprisingly poor given the strict laws around acquiring email addresses. In Germany, where double opt-in has been the law, the average Sender Score was 33, and complaint rates, unknown users and spam traps were all above average.

At a score of 47, France had one of the highest Sender Scores in Europe, but had the biggest problem with high unknown users and spam traps, at 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively, indicating that marketers have issues with list hygiene and keeping their lists up-to-date. Italy and Spain also had slightly above average complaints, unknown users and spam traps with Sender Scores coming in very low at 22 and 27, respectively.

The U.K. had the highest Sender Score of 51, but is struggling with unknown user rates of 6 percent and spam trap rates of an average of 6 per IP address. These findings indicate that European marketers are at high risk for blocking and filtering.

China's low Sender Score of 36 is not surprising as it is an emerging market and senders may have a harder time understanding reputation factors and what it takes to get delivered to inboxes outside of China. While their reputation metrics appear to be low, it's because a majority of their email is blocked and never delivered.

Australia has typically high deliverability rates, which is somewhat reflected in their Sender Score of 56. However, with unknown user rates at 9 percent and having nearly 6 spam traps per IP address, marketers need to focus on how they acquire and handle new and old addresses, the report suggests.

An emerging market in which email marketing is still relatively new, Brazil is struggling with deliverability and sender reputation. Brazil sends out a lot of email that would be considered spam resulting in the extremely low Sender Score of 16. With a complaint rate of 3 percent, unknown user rate of 7 percent and average spam traps at nearly 5 percent, most Brazilian marketers have a long road ahead in resolving their deliverability and reputation issues.

The complete study and infographic are available for download.