In the first part of this two-part series, we took a look at the major differences between the two biggest players in the e-mail certification space. In today’s article, we check out an accreditation program that promises significant improvement in deliverability with a money-back guarantee, plus a pair of seal-of-approval programs.

SuretyMail, a relative newcomer to the space, positions itself as a low-cost alternative to ReturnPath and Goodmail, the two dominant players in the certification space. However, SuretyMail is not a whitelist per se; rather, it certifies as many different attributes – good, bad and indifferent – of the sender’s e-mail as it can verify. For example, if a sender uses only opt-in, SuretyMail will certify that in the form of a response to an automated query by the receiving ISP. If mail from an IP is coming through a social networking service, SuretyMail will certify that, too. The idea is to provide the querying ISP with enough hard data about the mail to make its own automated delivery decisions. While SuretyMail can’t guarantee preferential delivery, it does promise significant improvement in deliverability metrics, and a money-back guarantee.

Unlike Goodmail and ReturnPath, SuretyMail doesn’t perform an advance audit (though it will do a background check of historical sending practices). SuretyMail can also monitor senders’ feedback loops to keep tabs on any changes in sending practices and reputation.

A seal of approval program called “I Don’t Spam” launched this spring, offering senders the opportunity to place the company’s Spam Free Seal on their web sites. Prospective subscribers who click on the seal will see a count of the number of verified spam violations the sender has committed, though the infractions “age off” the tally on a rolling six-month basis.

The company has done some split testing to show significant increases in the number of subscribers and conversions for seal-bearing sites versus a control group; however, they don’t mention what gains in deliverability participating senders enjoy. I think senders shouldn’t expect any, as the program is only subscriber-facing. ISPs can’t know whether mail is coming from a seal-bearing sender – and that’s probably a good thing, because the program’s definition of spam falls quite a bit short of most ISPs’ operational definition. Permission is never mentioned in the program’s participant requirements, which instead seem to focus on CAN SPAM compliance. On the other hand, costs are low, with a monthly fee that’s dependant on the number of sites on which the sender displays the seal.

Last and most recently comes an announcement from CRM-provider and ESP RatePoint, who are planning to port the venerable VeriSign Trust Seal over to their own offerings, and re-brand it as “SafeSender”. It’s the first time VeriSign has partnered with an e-mail provider to use the familiar red checkmark seal in the actual e-mail creative. But it wasn’t clear from the announcement exactly what RatePoint and VersiSign will be certifying – are they asserting some level of compliance with best practices, or merely authenticating the sender?

I put the question directly to a RatePoint pre-sales engineer on the day of the announcement, and after placing me on hold for a few minutes, I was advised that RatePoint “would not be talking about that” until product release next quarter. Since my call, though, other industry publications have written that the seal will indicate to recipients that the sender has been authenticated, and that the message has passed a VeriSign malware scan. This makes sense, since VeriSign earned it’s original fame and fortune in the SSL certificate business (which it recently sold off to Symantec).

So how do senders decide whether and which program they should participate in? Price will certainly play a big part in any decision, insofar as cost of preferred delivery offsets any gain in ROI. Seal programs seem like a cheap alternative, but they are not true deliverability solutions.

The conclusion I draw is that there’s just no shortcut around good sender practices: send the mail your customers want, and only to those who asked for it. If you can do that well enough, you may find you don’t need any of them.

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