It’s no secret that ISPs and large inbox providers rely heavily on accreditation and reputation scoring firms’ assessments of a sender’s practices when making filtering decisions. Accreditation providers are the conceptual inverse of a black list – the two most widely-used even refer to themselves as “white lists”.

Today, there’s a range of certification and “seal of approval” programs available to most permission-based senders. Clients occasionally come to us looking for guidance on whether the expense associated with third party certification is worthwhile. The answer is, “it depends”. In this article, we’ll take a quick run-down of the two best-known players in the space. In Part the Second, we’ll look at three newer entrants that may be worth a gander.

In the accreditation universe, ReturnPath’s certification program is the 800-pound gorilla, because they cover an estimated 1.8-billion e-mail inboxes. ReturnPath offers two levels of whitelisting: Safe and Certified. Both require an audit of the senders’ acquisition and sending practices, as well as a vetting of senders’ e-mail infrastructure. Participants in the program must use dedicated IPs for whitelisted outbound mail, and those IPs must have and maintain good reputation scores – senders can be suspended from the program if their reputation tanks after they’ve been approved.

Senders on the Safe list typically get delivery to the inbox, but with links and graphics off; senders on the Certified list get inbox with links and graphics enabled. Because they’re so widely used by receivers, ReturnPath commands a premium for inclusion on their whitelists – and that’s certainly a consideration for senders of any volume.

Another big player in the space is the CertifiedEmail whitelist offered by Goodmail Systems. This program offers services similar to ReturnPath, but with a slightly different angle. Partner ISPs who agree to use Goodmail also agree to allow certified mail a free pass through all of the ISPs other filtering mechanisms, and to deliver it with links and graphics enabled. However, only opt-in and transactional e-mail is eligible for the program. Prospecting or acquisition mail and opt-out mail will not qualify.

Goodmail is an attractive proposition for senders, but it also comes with a big price tag – so big, in fact, that the Goodmail web site warns its prospective customers that it may not be worth their while if they’re sending to fewer than 50,000 recipients per month, and with at least 15% of that volume to recipients at Goodmail partner ISPs. The network of partner ISPs includes some very big e-mail inbox providers, like AOL, Verizon, and it’s affiliated domains, and others, but no longer includes Yahoo! after a falling-out this past winter.

Next time, we’ll take a look at a pair of seal-of-approval programs, and a newer accreditation program that promises significant improvements in deliverability metrics or your money back.

Andrew Barrett is Senior Director of ISP Relations & Deliverability at Real Magnet.