Richard Gingras says he suddenly knows what it feels like to be a politician or a celebrity.
The cofounder/CEO of Goodmail Systems says he’s only trying to help commercial bulk e-mailers attain higher open rates while allowing consumers to once again trust that the e-mails they receive are from the stated recipient. But after AOL announced on Jan. 30 that it had started using Goodmail’s CertifiedEmail service, Gingras says he’s seen a lot of misleading information in the media: “Somehow, no matter how we try to explain the service, the correct message does not get through.”
Contrary to initial reports, for instance, Goodmail certification is not mandatory for e-mailers that send messages to AOL addresses. If an e-mailer doesn’t participate in the CertifiedEmail service, its messages will continue to be delivered — or filtered — in the same manner they had been. The service, Gingras says, is an optional level of protection to keep legitimate messages from getting lost in spam filters, which he estimates happens to about 15% of all legitimate commercial e-mail.
Nor will AOL be charging its users to open e-mail as part of the Goodmail partnership. For that matter, Goodmail is not a provider of e-mail lists, nor is it an e-mail host.
So what is it, then?
For an upfront cost of $200, Goodmail qualifies mass commercial e-mailers through Dun & Bradstreet and Experian background checks to determine that they are legitimate firms. (So companies less than a year old cannot use CertifiedEmail, as their information would not yet be on file.)
Once an e-mailer is enrolled in CertifiedEmail, Goodmail monitors its complaint rates and behavior to ensure the legitimacy of its messages. It also provides the mailer with a “cryptographic token” that is inserted in each outgoing e-mail to alert recipients that the messages are certified. The token is unique to each message and tracks the volume across the system. If the Internet service provider, such as AOL, uses CertifiedEmail, it will detect and validate the token and pass the message along as certified. Goodmail will initially charge about $2.50/M for this authentication token.
Under its partnership with Goodmail, AOL guarantees senders who have been accredited by Goodmail that their messages will be delivered with graphics and links intact. AOL blocks images and hyperlinks on most mass e-mails, unless the sender is on its Enhanced White List, because phishers often use them to drive recipients to their fraudulent Websites. Yahoo! is also expected to adopt the CertifiedEmail program.
AOL had planned to phase out its Enhanced White List service after it phased in CertifiedEmail. According to AOL, only “certain bulk mailers and e-mail marketers who meet strict delivery standards” are eligible to be on the list. But a week after its Jan. 30 announcement that it would be eliminating the free, merit-based service, AOL reversed itself and said it would maintain the Enhanced White List.
Gingras says he came up with CertifiedEmail because commercial e-mail was losing its power and trust among consumers. The same ecosystem, as he puts it, that allows legitimate marketers to run e-mail campaigns also allows the “bad guys” to take advantage of consumers.
As of early February, two mass mailers, The New York Times Co. and the American Red Cross, have publicly announced they will use the service. “The American Red Cross has had a problem with fraudulent e-mails, especially since the hurricanes,” Gingras says.