Hotmail Deliverability Drilldown

Hotmail deliverability

This is part of our ongoing series looking at deliverability of your email marketing messages.

Today, we’re going to examine one of the largest webmail providers, Microsoft’s Hotmail service. Hotmail encompasses the Hotmail domain, Microsoft’s,, and a few other Microsoft outlets. Before we begin, I’d advise you strongly to do this quick analysis of your email list to see how many and addresses you have on your list.

Basics of Hotmail Deliverability

As with all forms of email marketing, your first and safest bet is to only send email to people who’ve asked to receive it. Beyond that, there are a number of steps you and your email service provider should be taking to ensure maximum deliverability.

1. SPF/Sender ID: Microsoft does look at senders who have registered for Sender ID more favorably. Make sure your email marketing program is correctly registered for SPF and Sender ID. Microsoft provides a fairly straightforward guide for doing so here. If you’re a WhatCounts customer, you took care of this step during your customer on-boarding process, though you’re always welcome to talk to your dedicated account manager about checking in on it.

2. If you’re a high volume sender, Microsoft recommends that you be enrolled (for a fee) in the Return Path Sender Score Certified Email program. Fees range from $640/year for small-volume senders (under 50,000 messages/month) to $85,000+ for extremely high-volume senders (100 million messages/month and up). If you’re a WhatCounts customer, talk to your dedicated account manager if you’d like to enroll, as we have a partnership with Return Path that makes signing up simple.

3. Microsoft recommends that you be enrolled in the Junk Email Reporting Program and the Smart Network Data Services Program. If you’re working with WhatCounts, we’re handling this for you.

Advanced Hotmail Deliverability

In October of 2011, Microsoft rolled out new features to their Hotmail service that are aimed at reducing what they call “graymail”, mail that subscribers did legitimately opt into, but no longer want as often. These features are:

  1. Newsletter category: Microsoft spam filtering now automatically identifies newsletters and places them in a separate folder.
  2. Schedule Cleanup: Microsoft will automatically remove old copies of newsletters if subscribers turn this feature on, or remove mail after a pre-set period of time.
  3. Flags, folders, and categories: Subscribers can tag messages with a variety of different labels for filing or even junking.
  4. One-click unsubscribe: Microsoft gives subscribers the ability to unsubscribe with one click.

The last feature, one-click unsubscribe, is vitally important for email marketers. Microsoft relies on the List-Unsubscribe header to provide one-click functionality. If your email marketing program does not provide this header or the one provided does not work, you will be permanently flagged as a spammer by Microsoft.

For WhatCounts customers on the Publicaster platform, List-Unsubscribe is automatically on.

For WhatCounts customers on the Professional platform, you need to enable List-Unsubscribe. To do this, go to Lists, find your list, click Advanced, and turn this on per-list:

How to manage your list in the WhatCounts platform.

We strongly recommend that Professional Edition users always turn this feature on.

Finally, as early as 2010, Hotmail has been said to be experimenting with 4 engagement metrics that can override global filters and impact deliverability. These metrics are:

  1. Messages read, then deleted
  2. Messages deleted without being read
  3. Messages replied to
  4. Frequency of receiving and reading a message from a source

To maximize engagement with Hotmail users, consider these four simple (but not easy) antidotes:

  1. Write newsletters that are so valuable, subscribers will want to keep them rather than delete them
  2. Write newsletters that clearly identify you by sender and subject
  3. Use a working inbox as the newsletter’s email address so that someone can reply instead of a “do not reply” address
  4. Test send frequency to see what frequency gets people to read the most

We hope this deliverability drilldown into Hotmail has provided you with some immediately usable insights to help your email marketing program flourish. If your current email service provider is unable to assist you with any of these delivery to-dos, please feel free to contact WhatCounts.

Christopher S. Penn
Director of Inbound Marketing, WhatCounts


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