What Whitelisting's Evolution Means for Marketers

  |  June 12, 2008   |  Comments

A useful and important tool is not a substitute for good list hygiene. Here's why.

Many e-mail marketers are, quite understandably, interested in whitelisting. Requests for proposals almost invariably insist on whitelisting at all the major providers. Marketers want to ensure that their e-mail is successfully delivered. To that end, they want to be whitelisted everywhere they can be.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of confusion and misunderstanding of what whitelisting means, its effect, and how it's done. As with many things in e-mail, the situation continues to evolve. Whitelisting is no exception.

The name whitelist comes from a simpler time when spam filtering was more black and white, and blocking was typically done manually on a site-by-site basis or through the use of DNS blacklists. A blacklist was a list of senders (network or e-mail addresses) that were barred from delivery.

A whitelist was the opposite -- a list of senders that were granted a free pass. In general, whitelists weren't as heavily utilized as the blacklists. They were only there to deal with exceptions and filtering failures, including the false positives of the DNS blacklists.

In the late '90s, some ISPs started to utilize whitelisting for marketing e-mail. The large volume and marketing terminology of e-mail marketers were often caught by the relatively unsophisticated spam filtering systems of the day.

These whitelists were often kept secret for fear of spammers finding out about them. The first one we ever joined felt like joining "Fight Club." We had to sign and fax an agreement that stated we could never mention being on the whitelist. These lists were very much under the radar, often run by individuals with little or no official support.

Today, whitelists are significantly more sophisticated and part of an ISP's filtering infrastructure. They're still lists of network or e-mail addresses, typically IP addresses or e-mail domains and some still require signed agreements. Almost without exception, though, they're no longer a free pass for delivery. List members are typically given preferential treatment, though how preferential varies from ISP to ISP.

The AOL whitelist, for example, is in effect a bulk sender's list. Membership provides absolutely no guarantee of delivery. Fail to meet AOL's stated hygiene requirements and your e-mail will be just as blocked as if you weren't on the whitelist.

Understand: not all ISPs operate whitelists. Of those that do, membership may have conditions. Some of the largest providers don't run whitelists for senders. I've lost count of how many times I've been asked if we're whitelisted at Hotmail. I even came across an ESP claiming to be whitelisted at Hotmail, yet Hotmail and Gmail are two major providers that offer no whitelist. Some others, including Yahoo, view whitelisting as a last resort, Band-Aid solution, for filtering problems rather than a standard procedure for high volume senders.

Whitelisting is often reactive rather than proactive. As I've mentioned before, it's increasingly common for ISPs to require a new IP address or sending domain to build a mailing history (read: reputation) before they'll consider whitelisting. If you think this sounds a lot like a Catch-22 situation, you're right. This leads to the need for gradual volume ramp-up on new infrastructure.

In short, whitelisting is a useful and important tool, it may even be a necessity in some cases. However, it's not a substitute for good list hygiene and adherence to best practices and standards. It's not a panacea. Being whitelisted will not make your old and tired list suddenly perform well.

Until next time,

Derek

ClickZ Live Chicago Join the Industry's Leading eCommerce & Direct Marketing Experts in Chicago
ClickZ Live Chicago (Nov 3-6) will deliver over 50 sessions across 4 days and 10 individual tracks, including Data-Driven Marketing, Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email. Check out the full agenda and register by Friday, Oct 3 to take advantage of Early Bird Rates!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Harding

Derek Harding is the CEO and founder of Innovyx Inc., a member of the Omnicom Group and the first e-mail service provider to be wholly owned by a full-service marketing agency. A British expatriate living in Seattle, WA, Derek is a technologist by background who has been working in online marketing on both sides of the Atlantic for the last 10 years.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get ClickZ Email newsletters delivered right to your inbox. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

IBM: Social Analytics - The Science Behind Social Media Marketing

IBM Social Analytics: The Science Behind Social Media Marketing
80% of internet users say they prefer to connect with brands via Facebook. 65% of social media users say they use it to learn more about brands, products and services. Learn about how to find more about customers' attitudes, preferences and buying habits from what they say on social media channels.

An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising

An Introduction to Marketing Attribution: Selecting the Right Model for Search, Display & Social Advertising
If you're considering implementing a marketing attribution model to measure and optimize your programs, this paper is a great introduction. It also includes real-life tips from marketers who have successfully implemented attribution in their organizations.

Jobs

    • Tier 1 Support Specialist
      Tier 1 Support Specialist (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreThis position requires a highly motivated and multifaceted individual to contribute to and be...
    • Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative
      Recent Grads: Customer Service Representative (Agora Financial) - BaltimoreAgora Financial, one of the nation's largest independent publishers...
    • Managing Editor
      Managing Editor (Common Sense Publishing) - BaltimoreWE’RE HIRING: WE NEED AN AMAZING EDITOR TO POLISH WORLD-CLASS CONTENT   The Palm...