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The war on spam: How will Outlook's new email rules affect business?

On 13 May, the war on spam continued as Outlook introduced a series of new advanced rules. While this is great news for users who are fatigued by unwanted email and want to reduce spam, Outlook’s new rules will have implications for businesses looking to reach their customers.

The aim of Outlook’s new rules is to keep inboxes organised so that it’s easier to locate important emails. Users will have more control over how email is sorted by creating multi-condition and multi-action rules. These rules include a number of conditions unique to Outlook, such as time constraints, email tallying and checking the read or unread status of messages. In addition, Outlook has a “sweep” function, which allows users to delete multiple unwanted emails at once.

Outlook’s new rules come in response to a general email fatigue, both in the workplace and in our personal lives. Inboxes are more and more cluttered with unwanted spam email, masking important messages that require action. According to research by The Radicati Group, the average email user has 184 emails in their inbox, and receives 28 emails each day – but, of course, on business accounts, these figures will be far higher.

It’s essential, now more than ever, to send relevant, wanted mail. Businesses need to send the right message to the right person at the right time with the right frequency. If they don't, their email campaigns will suffer.

There is a surprising amount of collateral damage in the war on spam. ReturnPath’s 2013 Email Intelligence report reveals that 22 per cent of opt-in emails never make it to the inbox. These emails include account confirmations, event reminders, shipping notifications, purchase receipts and password resets. Both senders and receivers lose when this mail gets lost.

For over-stretched and frustrated email users, it is becoming increasingly important to block spam email and tame the inbox. For power users, Outlook’s new tools are helpful, as these users will have the expertise and experience to set up relevant rules that will help to categorise incoming mail effectively. However, for many novice users, these new Advanced Rules may prove difficult to implement and frustrating in practice – manual filtering rules can get stale and need to be regularly updated. In addition, implementing manual rules can sometimes cause unanticipated problems, such as lost mail.

Automatic classification and sorting systems are the next step forward in helping to tame the inbox and combat the issue of spam email. Large mailbox providers are improving their automatic classification and learning systems. These new mechanisms are getting smarter and more effective.

While it’s great news for email users that Outlook and other mailbox providers are developing new tools and systems to reduce spam email and improve the inbox experience, Outlook’s new rules serve as a reminder to email senders – and especially email marketers – that it is vital to ensure that all content sent out is relevant and wanted. According to recent research by David Daniels at Forrester, in 2014, $144 million (£85.5 million) will be spent on marketing email that never gets delivered.

For users, the war against spam is by no means over, but Outlook’s new advanced rules are a step in the right direction. But while, on first glance, the new rules might seem bad news for businesses and marketers in particular, it will only mean that email senders have to do their jobs better. Anything that makes email more relevant, targeted and, ultimately, more welcome, is good news for both users, senders and for email as a means of communication.

Paul Kincaid-Smith is VP of Email Delivery at SendGrid.