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Outlook.com and Email Deliverability

As you may have recently heard, Microsoft launched its new web-based email service Outlook.com on July 31.  Within 6 hours, Outlook.com had 1 million users!  As an email marketer, what does all of this really mean to you?  Besides the new interface of Outlook.com, and the addition of a new domain, let’s look at how this could affect email deliverability.

According to Microsoft’s Outlook.com website, “If you’re a Hotmail customer and want to upgrade to the Outlook.com preview, just click ‘Upgrade’ in the options menu of Hotmail.  Your email address, password, contacts, old email, and rules will remain unchanged, and you can send/receive email from your @hotmail.com or @msn.com or @live.com address.  You’ll experience it all in the new Outlook.com preview user interface. You can also add an @Outlook.com email address to your account if you want.”  (New users signing up for an email address at Outlook.com do not have this same range of domain options and can only choose between an Outlook.com or Live.com email address domain.)

As you can see from above, one thing that stands out is the number of users who may vacate their Hotmail.com email address and sign up as a new Outlook.com user.  This could cause deliverability issues over the long term as these mailboxes could become abandoned and/or possibly turned into spam traps.  Also, since Outlook.com is so new and “fashionable”, many email marketers may begin to see fewer Hotmail.com email addresses and more Outlook.com email addresses on their lists.  The Sweep feature, which allows for scheduled clean-up of senders, is still available in the new Outlook.com interface.  One of the new, neat features that I have found and like is the “my friend’s been hacked!” option under Junk.  This data is reported back to the Microsoft team for investigating any potential issues.  Outlook.com will still use the Microsoft SmartScreen technology for spam filtering.

So what should email marketers do now as a result of the new Outlook.com domain and addresses? Nothing yet – because users who migrate to Outlook.com will continue to receive messages at their old Hotmail.com addresses, there are no impendng deliverability issues.

However, we do expect Microsoft to ultimately phase out Hotmail.com addresses eventually. When that happens, mail sent to Hotmail.com addresses could result in a “user not found” error, or the addresses could turn into spam traps – either of which is toxic for deliverability. Here are some steps to take proactively in order to prepare for the eventual dissolution of the Hotmail.com domain:

1. Easy address change: One thing that I mention over and over to customers is to make sure it is easy for subscribers to change their email address.  This can be done via preference center or another mechanism you have set up so that as subscribers migrate their email addresses, they can easily change it and still receive your emails.

2. Step up bounce scrutiny: Before Microsoft pulls the plug on Hotmail.com and forces all users to receive mail exclusively at Outlook.com, they will likely give them the option of shutting down Hotmail.com on their own (similar to the way Facebook gave its members a few months to upgrade to Timeline before they started migrating everyone to the new format whether they wanted to or not). When you start seeing a lift in “user not found” bounces to Hotmail.com addresses, it is probably a signal that Microsoft is either giving its users the option of closing down their old Hotmail addresses or beginning to migrate them themselves. Either way, keep an eye on your hard bounces at Hotmail.com to avoid being surprised.

Until next time, stay relevant, stay engaged, and get delivered!