AOL deliverability best practices

Starting February 1, 2018, Oath (A Verizon company that owns both AOL and Yahoo!) began consolidating sending infrastructures between AOL and Yahoo!. This means that the AOL domains will continue to operate and accept email, but Yahoo! will handle spam filtering and processing.

You can get additional information about the changes and the impact here:

We recommend that you follow best practices for both AOL and Yahoo! during this transition period.

Recommendations for inbox delivery

  • Brand your email so that it is easily recognizable by your subscribers. Subscribers that don't recognize the sender of an email are more likely to perceive it to be spam. Make sure the From address of your email clearly identifies you as the sender using a domain or subdomain related to your company name or brand name. Include the brand name in the subject line to help increase recognition.
  • Consistently send email from the same sending email address and advise recipients to add the address to their address book or Contacts list. Mail sent to recipients with your sending email address in their address book or Contacts list is delivered with images and links enabled.
  • Do not send bulk or marketing email from the same IP address that is used to send corporate mail, transactional mail, or email alerts. Each IP address that senders use has a sending reputation. By segregating IP addresses according to function, senders help ensure that their mail receives the best delivery possible.
  • Ensure that mail is sent to recipients who specifically opt-in. We recommend not purchasing mailing lists or automatically opting-in subscribers by having an email opt-in checkbox pre-checked during the subscription or purchase process.
  • Use a double confirmed opt-in process. When recipients subscribe to the mailing list, send them an email asking them to click on a link to confirm their intent to receive your email. A double confirmed opt-in process helps to reduce the number of people signing up with fake email addresses.
  • Set recipient expectations during the subscription process about what email they will receive, when they will receive it and what it will look like.
  • Authenticate your email with Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domainkeys Identified Mail (DKIM). Authenticating your email provides a consistent sending reputation across your domain, regardless of which IP address is used to send email.
  • We also recommend that you publish a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) record. Start out with a p=none enforcement policy and move to a p=reject enforcement policy once you are confident all of your IP addresses and domains are represented in your SPF and DKIM records.
  • Remove unknown or invalid recipients from your email list immediately upon detection. Frequently sending to a high number of unknown users or invalid recipients harms your sending reputation.
  • Sign up all sending IP addresses with AOL's complaint feedback loop (FBL). When subscribers report an email as spam, senders can receive a copy of the spam complaint from AOL. Subscribers that complain about your email should be unsubscribed and added to your suppression list. Continually sending email to subscribers that complain harms your sending reputation and can prevent your email from reaching the inbox.
  • Include a prominent unsubscribe link on every email and utilize a simple, one-click unsubscribe process. Do not require a subscriber to login in order to unsubscribe and ensure recipients that unsubscribe are immediately added to your suppression list.
  • Ensure the domains within your content are not listed at any blacklists. URLs in your content containing domains with bad reputations may cause some of your email to be sent to the spam folder.
  • Apply to AOL's internal whitelist if your IP addresses have a good sending reputation. Non-whitelisted IP addresses should send a maximum of 500 messages per hour according to AOL's postmaster website.

Onboarding new IP addresses

  • Add all new IP addresses to AOL's complaint feedback loop (FBL) prior to sending email.
  • Make sure bounce processing is in place prior to sending email.
  • Authenticate your email with Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). We also recommend that you publish a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) record. For DMARC, start out with a p=none enforcement policy and move to a p=reject enforcement policy once you are confident all of your IP addresses and domains are represented in your SPF and DKIM records.
  • Warm up your new IP addresses.  AOL suggests a minimum 1-2 week throttling of email to start gaining reputation. There is no standard or rule for sending volume to AOL subscribers.
    • The best method is to start with low volumes of email and increase volume slowly over time. If you are sending too much email too quickly, AOL starts bouncing back email with throttle codes indicating you are going too fast. Throttle back your volume and increase retry times until the throttle codes stop and then resume increasing volume in a day or two so that AOL's spam filters can get used to the new volume.
    • Monitor the AOL Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) error codes received during the IP warmup process as they are often helpful when troubleshooting problems.
    • If you encounter an issue during the warmup process, stop sending for one hour and attempt to identify and fix the cause. Resume sending after an hour and continue monitoring for issues.
  • Track and monitor the new IP address' progress by sending to the Inbox Monitor seed list and adding the new IP addresses to Reputation Monitor. New IP addresses often experience spam folder placement while the sending reputation is established, so monitoring performance can help you detect and fix problems during the warmup process.
  • When starting the warmup process, send to recent and active users that will be less likely to complain. Active and engaged subscribers that don't complain help build a positive sending reputation.
  • Send your normal email content. Creating new content that subscribers are not expecting may result in higher complaints, can harm your sending reputation and prolong the warmup process.
  • After several weeks of sending volume on the new IP addresses and if the IP addresses have a good sending reputation at AOL, apply to AOL's internal whitelist.
  • If applying to Return Path's Certification Whitelist, IP addresses need a minimum of 90 days sending history. Contact your Return Path account representative for more information.

Sending Reputation
Establishing and maintaining a good sending reputation is key to achieving consistent inbox placement at AOL. You can check your sending reputation at AOL to get a holistic view of your IP address's performance.

AOL's sending reputation results:

  • Green/Good: Your email will probably reach the inbox.
  • Yellow/Neutral: Your email may be delivered to both the inbox and the spam folder.
  • Red/Poor: Your email will probably be placed in the spam folder, throttled or blocked.
  • Grey/Unknown: AOL has not calculated a reputation score for this IP address. Your email may be placed in spam folder until a sending reputation is established.
  • Grey/Undisclosed: AOL will not share the sending reputation for this IP address at the time you checked. More than likely, your email will be placed in the spam folder until a sending reputation is established.

AOL uses a proprietary, internal reputation scoring system similar to Return Path's Sender Score when calculating your sending reputation results. If your IP address does not have a Good sending reputation at AOL, it does not necessarily mean all of your email will be sent to the spam folder or be blocked.

  • A Neutral reputation means that there are both favorable and non-favorable data linked to your IP address, including but not limited to spam complaints, 'this is not spam' reports and unknown users. Generally, the more favorable the data linked to your IP address, the more likely that some of your email is placed in the inbox. The less favorable the data linked to your IP address, the more likely that some of your email is placed in the spam folder. Closely monitor you complaint reports and ensure you are following AOL's bulk sender and best practice guidelinesto help improve the favorable data linked to your IP address.
  • A Poor reputation means that there is some major improvement needed in following sending best practices for your email program. Ensure you are following AOL's bulk sender and best practice guidelines.
  • An Unknown reputation is often attributed to new IP addresses or IP addresses with low volume and inconsistent sending frequency. Over time, as more data is compiled by AOL about your IP address, you should see the sending reputation change to a different result.
  • An Undisclosed reputation means that AOL is unwilling to display the reputation of the IP address at the time you submitted the request. There may have been a recent positive or negative change in email behavior, a recent change in reputation status or other contributing factors. Once AOL factors in any changes and feels the reputation score is more accurate, they will disclose the result. Check your email sending history to determine if any recent changes occurred. You might also want to ensure there wasn't any unauthorized email sent from your IP address as a precaution.

There may be other reasons why AOL does not disclose your sending reputation:

  • It keeps people from trying to use the reputation system to fool the anti-spam system.
  • It reduces tickets from senders wondering why their actual inbox delivery does not align with their reputation score.
  • It decreases tickets from senders wondering why they have an unknown reputation. 

Commit yourself to following AOL's bulk sender and best practice guidelines to help increase your chances of reaching the inbox. Create engaging content and send it to subscribers that want to receive it to help you maximize the return on your email investment; not only for AOL subscribers but for your entire email program.

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