The following is a guest post by Matt Blumberg, Co-founder and CEO of Return Path, Inc. It most recently appeared alongside articles from dozens of thought leaders in DMA’s 2018 Statistical Fact Book.

Year after year, email marketing continues to be the best digital channel for return on investment. DMA’s Response Rate Report indicates email marketing is still the most profitable, showing the lowest cost per acquisition across all media types at $10.32. Largely due to email’s high ROI, half of marketers are planning to increase their use of it.

Even executives are noticing the success of their email programs. According to a recent survey conducted jointly by Return Path and Ascend2, an overwhelming majority of C-level executives (91 percent) report that email marketing was important in achieving strategic objectives, including ROI and conversions. And perhaps more promising for the future, 85 percent of C-level executives think their email performance is improving, with 58 percent reporting significant improvement. Email marketers are seeing the most success with tactics such as personalization (44 percent) and social sharing (41 percent).

Still Risky, but Getting Safer

Phishing has always been a serious problem, but it’s getting worse. Phishers have been using more sophisticated, targeted attacks in the form of business email compromise (BEC) scams, targeting not only executives but people deep within an organization, which saw an increase of 45 percent. The FBI reports that BEC scams have accounted for more than $5.5 billion in losses worldwide. Everyone is at risk when it comes to email fraud. Even Facebook and Google, arguably two of the largest organizations that go to great lengths to combat phishing, were tricked into wiring over $100 million via email.

But there are signs of hope. Armed with its data and algorithms, Google has made great strides in identifying suspicious emails. Thanks to machine learning, Google has a 99.9 percent accuracy rate when identifying spam and phishing messages.

Google is attacking phishing the same way it does everything — by applying its world-class machine learning expertise to the problem of recognizing suspicious email. An early phishing detection algorithm identifies email that has phishing characteristics. The suspicious email then is flagged and subjected to further analysis, including a Safe Browsing test that can delay delivery by up to four minutes.

Google’s algorithm learns new phishing and spam patterns as it is exposed to them and updates in real time. Google claims that 50–70 percent of the emails that pass through Gmail are spam and that its detection system achieves a 99.9 percent accuracy score. When combined with email authentication, this algorithm can and will make email safer in the future.

More Fun and Friendly

We’ll continue to see email evolve into a more fun and friendly channel. Email designs are seeing more creativity in fades, fonts, and animated GIFs. But it’s hard to miss the abundant use of emojis, too. While it may seem as though we’ve hit “peak emoji use,” it’s likely we’ll see even more of them in our inbox in the new year, as marketers test their effectiveness on their own audiences.

Mailbox providers are also making the inbox more user-friendly. Gmail has doubled down on engagement-based filtering, making the inbox more manageable but also giving email marketers headaches, as more emails land in the spam folder as a result. We’ve also seen a new list-unsubscribe standard introduced, and Microsoft and Yahoo, much like Gmail, are allowing users to separate important emails from all others.

Getting Smarter Every Day

Email marketers will continue to see great performance and opportunities ahead of them — but only if they can adapt. Spam filters will continue to evolve, relying more and more on machine learning and individual user engagement. This will not only make it more difficult for marketers to reach the inbox but also transform the idea of deliverability into “send optimization,” where marketers will focus more on who they’re sending to and when versus focusing solely on inbox placement.

As the risks from email fraud continue to rise, email marketers will need to not only take a more active role in security to protect their brand but also protect their customers. This means adopting the latest anti-phishing measures and monitoring the email ecosystem for fraud.

Artificial intelligence (AI) may be in its early days, but it will help email marketers conquer the inbox. Not only will AI help curb email fraud, but also it will help marketers make highly complex decisions in a split second, from when to send an email to what content to include.

Email shows no signs of slowing down in 2018. It will continue to evolve, improve, and be smarter. We’ll see more investments and resources devoted to email, making it a better, safer, and more effective channel for everyone.