In June, Yahoo announced that it would be freeing up usernames that have been inactive for 12 months. As you know, Yahoo usernames are also used as the email address for some users—about 7% according to a recent article. When the news broke email marketers went into a state of panic because it is unprecedented in the industry for a mass amount of email addresses to be recycled at once like this. There’s no need to panic, though.  I’ll walk you through the process Yahoo has gone through to get to the point of reissuing email addresses and what you can do to minimize issues to your email program as a result.


Yahoo’s Phased Approach

June 13, 2013: An announcement was made that usernames that had been inactive for 12 months as of July 15, 2013 would be deactivated for use.  Any inactive Yahoo user was given until the July 15 deadline to log into any Yahoo product to make the username active again, thus making it ineligible for reissue.

July 15, 2013: Usernames without activity for 12 months were deactivated.  Yahoo began promoting a wish list (they also call it watch list) online and via email for active Yahoo users where people could request a list of new usernames. Someone with a complex username like “test192786434476” might be compelled to request “test” because it’s a lot easier to remember and share with others. This also became an opportunity for Yahoo to acquire new users from other ISPs who were compelled at the opportunity to attain a simpler username.

Yahoo usernameI received and email from Yahoo (top right) on July 19 asking me to submit my five desired usernames by August 7. Of course, I obliged.

Mid- to Late August 2013: Those who had requested usernames were sent an email letting them know if any of the usernames requested had been granted.

I received another email from Yahoo on August 27 (bottom right). None of the usernames I requested were available, unfortunately.  I am on a watch list free of charge, though, and will be notified if any of my requested usernames become available over the next three years.  When clicking on the watch list link in the email, it looks like Yahoo is instituting a charge of $1.99 for any watch lists after the initial requests back in July.  It’s possible that non-Yahoo users were being charged even in July.

Those who were given their desired username were asked to claim it via clicking through a link in an email within 48 hours and would be able to access the username right away.


Now What?

Yahoo's second attempt at fixing usernamesA large amount of Yahoo email addresses have been reissued. Given that Yahoo is still allowing people to submit usernames to a watch list this practice will continue, just on a smaller and steadier scale instead of millions at once. The ongoing strategy isn’t much different than what ISPs do as a general practice with inactive usernames.  The difference with Yahoo is that many were reissued at once through a promotional campaign that received a lot of attention.  I actually suspect Gmail and other major email providers will be following suit at some point to create a big opportunity out of their inactive usernames as well. I think this is something we will need to be prepared for going forward.

Here are a few tactics you can implement to ensure that the mass reissue at Yahoo doesn’t come back to hurt your email program.

  1. Manage your hard bounces: If you sent emails to deactivated email addresses July 15 through mid-August, they would have been reported back as hard bounces by Yahoo.  Also, it is a general policy for Yahoo to deactivate accounts without six months of login activity, so many of these email addresses have already been reported to you as hard bounces. You should have the settings in your ESP set to unsubscribe or filter out these recipients upon the send.  As long as you have a process in place to manage undeliverable email addresses, you may have already scrubbed those email addresses from your list through your normal practices.
  2. Leverage behavioral segmentation in your promotions: Let’s assume that point #1 above doesn’t apply to you because you have no formal process in place to manage bad email addresses. (We probably need to talk.) You can look at the behaviors of your Yahoo recipients instead. Opt out any Yahoo recipient that hasn’t shown open or click activity within the past 12 months. Not following my advice will result in your campaigns having bad deliverability or Joe receiving the promotions you intended for John. Joe can simply unsubscribe because he’s not interested. Just be aware of a potential change in your unsubscribe metrics from the Yahoo email addresses on your list. You should also watch for spikes in spam complaints and dips in deliverability.
  3. Modify the email header on transactional emails: Transactional emails such as order confirmations, statements, password resets, etc. are a bit more of a challenge.  Let’s say that your email address belongs to someone else now as a result of the Yahoo reissue.  If you have your former Yahoo email address set up as your official email address for your bank account and you need to reset your password, the new owner of your email address might be able to reset your password and access your bank account.  This is scary from a privacy perspective.  Yahoo has asked for mailers to leverage the mail header to overcome this.  By simply passing two values, the email address and the date that the sender last verified the owner of the email address, Yahoo will do a compare to decide if the email should be delivered.  If the sender verified date is older than the Yahoo issue date, Yahoo will not release the email to the new owner of your former Yahoo email address.  More details on this can be found on the Yahoo Developer Network Blog.

I’m interested to hear how your email program is affected by the Yahoo reissue.  Comment below or send me a tweet @aprildmullen. Best of luck to you!


Other resources

  • ExactTarget Blog Post, “What Yahoo’s Email Recycling Issue Means for You.”
  • ExactTarget Deliverability Guide

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