It occurred to me that some people are unclear on why ESPs have policies. Those people aren’t always clients. Sometimes, they’re salespeople. Sometimes, they’re even management. I suppose that sometimes, even deliverability professionals lose sight of why policies exist as they do.
The Ultimate Answer
The ultimate answer as to “why have a policy” is “business necessity.” That is, policies are set because the business requires that certain things happen. Sometimes it’s because certain items need to occur in a certain order (ex: “If we get a notice that someone has filed a lawsuit, send it to our attorneys, notify Public Relations, and instruct all employees to refer questions to PR.”), and sometimes it’s because certain things need to happen at, above, or below a certain level (ex.: Student/teacher ratios must remain below 25:1).
Thus, “policy” is a reflection of reality. That’s all that there is to it.
I spend a huge portion of my day explaining my employer’s anti-spam policy to stakeholders. Some of those are internal, but most of them are external.
Well, first, let’s look at what the policy is (in a nutshell): In paraphrase, the policy states that clients may only use my employer’s systems to send mail that people have consented to receive. The operative phrases are “expressly consented” and “opt-in.”
Sometimes, Policy Is Based Upon Policy
It’s easy to see why a policy exists when it is based upon statute or regulation. However, that is not always the case. ESP anti-spam policies are based upon the reality of what we’re told by people who enforce policy for mailbox providers. Those people often have their own access policies. Let’s look at a couple:
Google Gmail’s Bulk Senders Guidelines - Subscription: “Each user on your distribution list should opt to receive messages from you in one of the following ways (opt-in):
Through an email asking to subscribe to your list.
By manually checking a box on a web form, or within a piece of software.”
Microsoft’s Anti-Spam Policy: “Microsoft prohibits the use of the service in any manner associated with the transmission, distribution, or delivery of any unsolicited bulk or unsolicited commercial e-mail (“spam”).”
Yahoo Help’s Bulk email industry standards and best practices: “Use and honor an opt-in method of subscription for your mailing list. Make sure subscribers have actively verified their intent to receive your mailings.”
Aol Postmaster’s Best Practices: “Ensure that you’re only sending mail to users who specifically requested it. It’s not advisable to purchase mailing lists or subscribe users by having an opt-in checkbox automatically checked on your website.”
So, an ESP which has a policy that requires opt-in probably created that policy in response to the mailbox providers’ requirements to successfully send mail to their users. If you want to successfully deliver mail into the inboxes of your recipients, you must abide by the mailbox provider’s policy, and the ESP’s opt-in requirement simply exists in order to assist you in complying with the mailbox provider’s policy. In other words the ESP’s policy exists for one simple reason: To help you succeed.