November 9, 2018

The truth about Return Path Certification and Gmail.

Let’s face it: Working in email marketing can be a stressful job. A career in email marketing requires creativity, intellect, passion, and a lot of patience. Nothing can be more stressful for an email marketer than when deliverability issues arise, hindering the ability for brands to reach and engage with their customers in their inboxes.

Many businesses, including ours, aim to help marketers with this challenge by offering a wide variety of products and services designed to manage deliverability, monitor email performance and reputation, and optimize inbox placement. One of these products, commonly known as certification, is a whitelisting service promising to provide benefits at major mailbox providers, like more reliable delivery to the inbox.

The most well-known certification whitelist is Return Path’s Certification program. Return Path’s Certification is touted to provide participants benefits at major mailbox providers to ensure emails get delivered to the inbox and comes with a hefty price tag. Which ones? Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and Cloudmark are partners of Return Path’s Certification program. You might be asking, “But what about Gmail? The majority of my list is Gmail subscribers.”

According to a Return Path blog post speaking to the truths about Certification, “one mailbox provider that we do not directly partner with for certification is Gmail.” (Emphasis added.) Gmail is the world’s largest webmail service, with more than 1.5 billion users worldwide, and “can make up nearly 50 percent of a subscriber list, depending on industry.” Gmail is not an official partner of Certification and does not provide any mailbox provider data back to Return Path, unlike Microsoft and Cloudmark.

But wait….a fact sheet on Return Path’s Certification program states “top mailbox providers like Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, Comcast, Orange, and utilize the list to influence their filtering decisions” (emphasis added) and see a “measurable lift in inbox placement at top mailbox providers” that includes Gmail.

Source: Return Path (click photo for full text)

Confused yet? Us, too. It is misleading at best and potentially deceptive to marketers at worst to include Gmail alongside official partners of a whitelist program in marketing collateral to promote this service when “Gmail doesn’t officially claim to provide deliverability benefits to Certification customers,” according to a blog from Return Path itself.

All that being said, Return Path actively touts strong inbox placement at Gmail for Certification customers, which they attribute to an “indirect relationship between Certification and improved delivery at Gmail” by requiring customers to follow best practices and continuously monitor performance. To clarify, because Certification requires best practices and maintaining performance thresholds, the sender gets to reap the benefits of…well, following best practices.

The era of mailbox providers relying on certification for filtering decisions is over. Marketers must send wanted mail to engaged recipients to reach the inbox.

Daniel Deneweth, former Return Path Senior Director of Certification and current Senior Director of Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Cloud (not a 250ok customer), shared his opinion on Return Path Certification’s value for both those considering adopting certification and existing users. From Daniel’s perspective, regardless of which category you fall into, Certification’s questionable benefits and lack of influence at Gmail present a real concern.

Bottom Line

Considering Gmail doesn’t participate in the Certification program, and can’t help more than 50 percent of an average marketer’s list being Gmail subscribers…the Certification juice is no longer worth the squeeze.

If you’re looking to improve inbox placement at Gmail for your mail program, you don’t need to invest thousands of dollars for Certification. There is a reason Gmail has its own proprietary spam-filtering, machine-learning algorithms, and is the most popular webmail service in the world. They do not need to lean on a third-party whitelist to decide what is wanted mail versus unwanted mail and what should be placed in the inbox. They are very good at it on their own.

If you want to learn how hundreds of our customers achieve and maintain high inbox placement at Gmail without investing thousands of dollars in a third-party whitelist, let’s talk.

Author: Anthony Chiulli

With more than a decade of email experience, Anthony embraces educating and advising email marketers on the latest trends and insights within the email industry as director of product marketing. Before joining 250ok, Anthony's prior roles included Marketing Practice Lead, Deliverability Services at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and Senior Account Manager at Return Path.

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