Return Path vs 250ok: Email Deliverability Software and Services

Returnpath vs 250ok

Why does email deliverability matter? According to the 2015 Email Data Quality Trends Report by Experian, 73% of marketers reported having issues with email deliverability. Return Path has reported that over 20% of legitimate email goes missing. Undoubtedly, businesses encounter problems with deliverability, and that negatively impacts the bottom line.

For years, Return Path has been the industry leader in the email deliverability space without much, if any, competition. With the arrival of 250ok, and a customer base that includes companies like Adobe, Marketo, and Act-On, the industry finally has a legitimate alternative to Return Path for deliverability software and professional services.

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When comparing Return Path and 250ok, three topics commonly come up – Certification, Email Panel Data, and Professional Services.

Return Path Certification

Certification has been Return Path’s bread and butter for years. According to one former customer online, it used to be worth its weight in gold. Today, Certification’s foundation appears to be based on email marketers aligning their email programs with best practices. After meeting that initial standard, customers are required to continue to stay within those metrics throughout the time they are Certified. Not doing so, as you would expect, results in deliverability problems.

For those customers that stay within the metrics, they are promised improved email deliverability to AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Comcast, Cox, Cloudmark, Yandex,, Orange, SpamAssassin, and SpamCop.

Oracle Quote - Politics of Email Deliverability

However, the Global Deliverability Director at Oracle, Kevin Senne, reported that they had examples of compliant Certification customers having deliverability issues with some of the advertised internet service provider (ISP) partners. It would be interesting to know how frequently blocking at ISP partners occurs for compliant customers, and how that happens.

According to Return Path, Gmail typically makes up half of most lists, so Certification provides no technical lift there. They do report that Certification customers perform better at Gmail than non-Certified senders, something they attribute to the best practice standards they require customers to follow. The good news here is anyone can follow best practices without having to pay a penny to any vendor, but you need a toolset to monitor your program.

So, the big question for Certification customers is how much of their deliverability success stems from being a responsible sender versus the technical lift being provided at ISP partners. For current Certification customers, running a side-by-side test would reveal how much of their lift is from following best practices versus the pay-for-play lift they achieve through Certification’s ISP partners. It takes some effort to test, but data-driven marketers know that measurement is the key to success.

250ok does not offer Certification. Their approach is also based on following best practices, like Return Path, but instead of the pay-to-play model, they empower senders with real-time data to effectively manage their program and achieve a solid sender reputation.

Return Path Email Panel Data

Return Path uses email panel data combined with seedlists to gauge deliverability, while 250ok uses seedlists and recipient-engagement data.

One potential issue with panel data is if panelists are aware their data is being mined and resold. Did they grant permission? If not, does that work for your brand? Again, I don’t know the origin of Return Path’s panel and if users agreed to participate, so please check with them.

As a marketer, I like the insights panel data can provide. But in the case of Return Path’s panel data, they report that only 24% of their panelists use that account as their primary email account.

When dealing with panel data of any kind, it’s worth asking the vendor when the panel was last updated. Survivor Bias is an issue you don’t want seeping into your panel. Again, check with Return Path.

As for inbox placement, the problem is often that panel data will show less than 100% inbox placement at Outlook and Gmail due to filtering by individual users.  As a result, senders can be left wondering if an inbox placement gap is caused by user-level filtering or if there is an actual deliverability problem.

250ok does not use email panel data. It’s their perspective that the actionable data lies within the engagement data that you can leverage through 250ok’s Email Informant, which provides detailed, user-level activity data, in addition to the analytics provided by your email service provider (ESP).  It’s the combination of these tools that will give you the most comprehensive email intelligence available.

Return Path and 250ok Professional Services

Both companies offer deliverability consulting to customers. The main difference: Return Path has built an internal team of consultants, while 250ok has opted to partner with outside deliverability agencies.

Regardless if you are considering Return Path or 250ok, it’s critical to ask hard questions of the consultant that will be managing your account. For me, it doesn’t matter if I’m dealing with an in-house consultant or a partner agency. You need someone with years, not months, of experience, and they need relationships at major ISPs in the event remediation is required. Ask for resumes and customer references of the consultant that will be your point person. Getting stuck with a junior consultant that’s reading from a script could result in big trouble for your program.

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Quick review of the 250ok platform

Since 250ok is the newer platform on the scene, I wanted to quickly cover their four modules: Reputation Informant, Inbox Informant, Email Informant, and Design Informant. When using all four modules in concert, marketers have a complete set of deliverability tools from which to manage their programs.

  1. Reputation Informant – Reputation Informant includes a variety of features that monitor your email reputation and is by far the most robust module.Email Reputation Informant - 250okOne of the most popular aspects of the 250ok solution is their spam trap network of approximately 35 million domains. Access to this data is a no-brainer for email marketers. The size and quality of the spam trap network, and granular access to that real-time data (e.g., trap hits by day, IP, domain, subject line, country), is extremely appealing to me as a sender.The blacklist monitoring? This data is available in real-time, and you can set customized alerts to focus on lists that concern you the most. I like the flexibility in customizing who gets an alert and how that alert is delivered (e.g., email, SMS).DMARC Monitor Dashboard

    Considering the exponential growth of spam and phishing attempts, and Gmail’s recent reaction, it was a good move for 250ok to include their DMARC dashboard within Reputation Informant.  You can use the “observation mode” and the software will analyze compliance and suggest corrective action, which ultimately guides you towards a quarantine or reject policy. The product includes threat mapping, forensic reporting, and compliance scoring.

    250ok offers the ability to centralize your feedback loop monitoring (FBL). Knowing when a subscriber complains about you is critical, as the speed of your response is a major factor in keeping internet service providers (ISPs) from coming down hard on your reputation.

    Also, 250ok has integrated Microsoft Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) and Signal Spam into an easy-to-digest UI. This information arrives from Microsoft as a messy, unsorted pile of raw data, and some vendors have done very little to improve the experience of consuming that data. 250ok has gone out of their way to make it simple.

  2. Inbox Informant – Marketers need sophisticated real-time tools to help them land in the inbox. Inbox Informant shows you how much of your mail landed in the inbox, spam, and how much went missing. You can break down specific email deliverability issues by campaign, which is very helpful.Inbox Deliverability MeasurementOne of the key differences I noticed between 250ok and Return Path is 250ok’s seedlist offering. Before you get caught up in comparing coverage, the only seeds that matter are at mailbox providers where you send mail. Period. 250ok built a seedlist optimizer tool to help you laser in on hosts that matter.Overall, there are slight differences in seedlist coverage with both companies holding some exclusive seeds, but there its parody at nearly every major host. Both companies likely have what you need or will acquire it.
  3. Email Informant – In the data-driven world, open and CTRs don’t tell the full story. Leveraging 250ok’s tracking pixel with Email Informant tells you which subscribers read a message and for how long, and what device type and operating system they were using.250ok Email InformantWhich links or CTAs performed the best? Are you optimizing send times? Email Informant helps you understand what’s working and what’s not so that you can make smarter, faster decisions.
  4. Design Informant – Every email marketer needs to do some pre-flight assessment around design, so 250ok has out-of-the-box integrations with leading rendering vendors Email on Acid and Litmus.250ok-email-design-testingDesign Informant tests your creative against common spam filters including Barracuda, Symantec, Spam Assassin, Outlook, and many more so you can identify and fix spam triggers before deploying your campaign.

I think having two very similar but slightly different vendors in the email deliverability space is a positive thing for the industry. If you are shopping for deliverability software, including DMARC tools, or consulting services, I recommend you contact Return Path and 250ok for a demo, and compare for yourself.

Thanks for reading and if you have feedback on either the Return Path or 250ok products, please feel free to share that information with me, or comment below.

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Disclosure: Oracle is a registered trademark of Oracle Corporation and/or its affiliates. Return Path is a registered trademark of Return Path, Inc. 250ok is a registered trademark of 250OK LLC. 250ok are sponsors of our site and I’m a good friend of founder Greg Kraios.

© 2015 DK New Media.