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Despite more aggressive efforts by companies to ensure their marketing messages are inbox-friendly, more than 20% of permission-based commercial email gets relegated elsewhere, according to a report from Return Path.

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The “Email Deliverability Benchmark Report” for the first half of 2009 reviewed more than 500,000 email campaigns and 45 ISPs in the US and Canada to gauge what percentage of messages arrive at the inbox.

Between January and June, the analysis found that about 3.3% of opt-in emails for subscribers in the US and Canada were sent to “junk” or “bulk” email bins, while 17.4% did not get delivered at all. For the latter, no bounce messages or notifications of non-delivery were conveyed to the sender, writes MarketingVOX.

“Many marketers aren’t even aware that one-fifth of their emails are never reaching the inbox,” Return Path co-founder George Bilbrey. “In many cases, marketers are seeing ‘delivered’ metrics that repeatedly show a 95% to 98% delivery rate.”

US deliverability rates are slightly higher than Canada’s, averaging an 82% inbox placement rate; meanwhile, commercial opt-in emails in Canada make it into the inbox just 75% of the time.

Return Path also revealed the top 5 ISPs in each country that give marketers’ emails the toughest run for their money. In the US, Google’sGmail service is the most difficult US-based ISP for permissioned marketers to reach, according to the report. Nearly one-fourth (23%)? of emails that marketers sent to Gmail addresses did not reach the inbox.

Other difficult-to-reach ISPs include Hotmail, MSN and Comcast:

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In a coup to improve users’ experience and perhaps increase the likelihood of open rates for marketers whose messages are actually desirable, Gmail recently implemented an “unsubscribe” option for select opt-in emails that recipients no longer wish to get. In the report, however, Gmail still sits at the top of the list.

In Canada, where delivery rates are even lower than in the US, Primus.ca – which uses Postini as part of its email filtering system – failed to deliver 53% of emails sent to Primus.ca users. The top five Canadian ISPs ranked in order of difficulty for marketers’ emails to reach consumers inboxes are Primus.ca, Shaw, Aliant, SaskTel, and Inter.net.

Delivery issues aside, marketers are continuing to pour budget into email marketing, drawn in by low costs and the promise of a generous ROI. Forrester reports that by 2014, email marketing spend will rise to $2 billion – almost double the projected spend of $1.2 billion for 2009.

That rise in investment also means more emails for users: The average individual is expected to receive 25 messages a day in five years, double the average s/he 10 or 12 emails received now.

Other barriers to inbox entry include inboxes that are protected by email monitoring systems such as Postini, Symantec and MessageLabs. About 27.6% of commercial emails sent to business addresses don’t hit home, in part for this reason, Return Path said.

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