AWS Messaging & Targeting Blog

Email Best Practices from AOL (Guest Post)

James LaPlaine from AOLToday, we are thrilled to present a guest post from one of our friends at AOL.

James LaPlaine is the Vice President of Technology Operations at AOL, overseeing AOL’s global data centers, networks, systems, and consumer facing applications. You can read more about James’ thoughts on topics in Technology &  Leadership on his blog:



In June I had the pleasure of taking a small group of AOLers from our Email and Security teams to Seattle for talks with Amazon’s SES team. Topics ranged from AOL’s definition of SPAM, an overview of AOL’s anti-spam efforts, and a sample rating of inbound mail sent to AOL by SES. I’m happy to report that Amazon follows our recommended mail sender best practices and is leading by example in adopting and embracing anti-abuse efforts as their services grow. I thought it might be helpful to highlight our recommended best practices for senders, which build on the previous posts on sending high quality mail by Jenn and the announcement of Easy DKIM by Chris.

First let’s define what AOL considers spam, as this can differ depending on the perspective. AOL’s definition is highly informed by our offering of a consumer focused email service and the common reasons that we have identified users click the “spam” button. Clearly spam is email that consumers do not want, how it gets labeled in that category is identified by any one or more of the following ways:

  • can be a simple annoyance or attempt to sell you something
  • can be mail a user explicitly subscribed to but no longer wants
  • can be mail received due to a previous purchase or relationship
  • can be a malicious attempt to obtain your credentials or personal information
  • can be a malicious intent to download software onto a consumers computer

AOL’s recommended best practices for email senders:

  • Send email from a consistent, identifiable email address
  • When users subscribe, tell them what to expect and how often they will receive email from you
  • Mail should be branded and easily identifiable by the recipient
  • Setup feedback loops and use the results to:
    • remove spam complainers from the mailing list
    • learn what type of mail users mark as spam to inform your future sending
  • Honor “unsubscribe” requests
  • Setup SPF for ALL IPs from which mail is sent
  • Sign ALL mail using DKIM
  • Adopt usage of DMARC feedback loops and policy enforcement

Amazon’s SES offering achieves a low percentage of invalid addresses and a low percentage of spam complaints at AOL in part because they have adopted the practices outlined above.