Hotmail Changes: What You Need to Know (and Do) Now

As you’ve probably read, Microsoft recently unveiled some big new changes to Windows Live Hotmail that could have significant impact on marketers. My colleague George Bilbrey wrote about them in some detail in his Email Insider column with ideas for how marketers can start to prepare for the changes ahead. As George mentions, we see this as more than just a feature upgrade to Windows Live Hotmail. This is a continuation of a number of changes we’ve seen and more we anticipate from all the big mailbox providers in their ongoing battle to be the inbox of choice and to compete against social networks.

Having said that, here are my thoughts on changes specific to Windows Live Hotmail and how they might impact marketing programs:

Trusted Senders Icon: Intended to protect consumers against phishing this will visually identify authenticated email.

Sweep: Consumers have always been able to filter mail from specific senders to certain folders or take mass actions against certain folders. Consumers can do this in all webmail clients now, and even in the previous Windows Live Hotmail version. But the new Sweep feature makes it easier to automatically file or remove “gray mail,” which Microsoft defines as mail that subscribers signed up for but no longer want, by offering a simplified button. And consumers can use it to automatically Sweep new messages as they arrive. This means that marketers should see lower complaint rates if their acquisition practices are following best practices, as sweeping messages into the trash or into a folder for later reading will not affect a marketer’s sending reputation like a complaint would.

Time traveling filters: This feature has actually existed for a while, but Microsoft is now talking about it more openly. Basically, getting to the inbox isn’t always permanent. Microsoft’s filters can retroactively remove messages that were placed in the inbox if the reputation of the sender is later revealed to be poor and the recipient has not yet seen the message in their mailbox.

One click filters: These provide an easy way to view groups of messages. With one click, see mail from your contacts, or mail from social sites, or all your mail or everything but your contacts and social mail. These views give easy access to certain email such as that from known contacts. Similar to a feature in Yahoo! this is an element that could de-emphasize marketing messages. It certainly changes the “last message on top” nature of email.

Prompted Unsubscribe: Silent unsubscribers — subscribers who delete messages without reading or opting out — will now become vocal. Subscribers that delete your messages multiple times without ever opening the message will now be prompted if they want to unsubscribe from the message. If they do ask to be unsubscribed but still continue to receive messages, Windows Live Hotmail could then block messages from that sender. This feature was talked about prospectively as a part of their ongoing plans to continue to revitalize the inbox at Windows Live Hotmail.

Bottom line: Reputation and engagement matter more than ever.

Here are the steps marketers need to take in light of these changes:

You can’t fix what you can’t see: If you aren’t already reviewing your metrics reports by ISP, now is definitely the time to start. At a base level you’ll want to see if these Hotmail changes impact your response rates. More sophisticated mailers will want to start customizing campaigns for Hotmail recipients. In particular, you’ll want to pay close attention to activity by Hotmail addresses and try and re-engage inactives much sooner than normal.

Authenticate: Since this will drive the trusted icon you will want to make sure you are up-to-date with your authentication records, particularly SPF.

Keep your reputation squeaky clean: This is a given, at least to us, but reputation is a driving factor behind the “time travel” filters, so the penalties for being tagged as a bad actor will continue to multiply.

Implement a working unsubscribe and a List-Unsubscribe header: Don’t get caught without a working unsubscribe mechanism and a List-Unsubscribe header unless you want Microsoft to block your messages permanently to senders that continually delete your messages without reading them.

Are you seeing any impact from these changes? If so, leave us a comment.

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