Dispute Resolution: Resolving ISP Blocks

Working to resolve delivery challenges with an ISP is a lot like working with a blocklist. ISPs often use blocklists to help decide whether to deliver your e-mail and where to send it: to the inbox or the bulk folder.

Most ISPs use a combination of techniques to decide where to route e-mail. They evaluate list quality using the amount of invalid e-mail addresses you attempt to send to and weigh recipients’ spam complaints. They use content filters to identify spam patterns and other tests.

A good marketer can follow best practices for list acquisition, content creation, and delivery and appear on no major blocklists, and still have ISP delivery problems. Resolving disputes can be time consuming, as each ISP has its own set of rules governing how it delivers e-mail.

The upside is most ISPs communicate those rules clearly through bounce messages, feedback loops, or dedicated support pages. It’s sometimes difficult to remember all the differences between one ISP and the next. This is where working with an e-mail service provider (ESP) or reputation company with employees experienced in working with ISPs can make a large difference for a marketer.

Starting Problem Resolution With ISPs

Your first step when working with ISPs is to set up feedback loops and whitelisting with all ISPs that offer them. ESPs normally provide this service for you. If you manage an in-house e-mail program, you can set them up on your own. You just need to contact the various ISPs and complete their individual application processes.

Once you have feedback loops set up, process spam and other complaints as soon as you receive them. Pay attention to delivery reports during and after each send. If you notice large complaint volumes, evaluate the campaigns and work to reduce those complaints.

You need some basic technical information to apply for feedback loops. This includes your sending IP address, making sure you have proper reverse DNS (define) and MX records (define), and often some form of authentication, such as SPF/Sender ID or DomainKeys, and a contact address (monitored constantly) to receive complaints.

Some ISPs offer whitelisting without feedback loops. Most offer the service through forms available on their postmaster Web sites. Apply for whitelisting where possible, and provide a way for the ISP to reach you should it have problems with your e-mail.

Monitor bounce logs for blocked messages. Bounce messages often list specific links to the postmaster help pages to identify why your messages have been blocked and instructions for resolving the issue.

When You Must Resolve a Problem

Resolution can be as simple as filling out the ISP’s automated form with more information about who’s sending the e-mail. In other cases, it may require more contact with the postmaster team. If you can’t find any information on the help pages about how to contact the ISP, try sending a communication to the two addresses: postmaster@ and abuse@ with the ISP’s domain.

Always provide as much detail as possible about the problem you’re experiencing and include your sending IP address and links to your sign-up and privacy pages. Also include your contact information so the ISP’s representative can respond to you.

Attach a copy of the message in question. Ask what caused the block and what you need to do to resolve the problem. Be sure to make the subject line easily identifiable for the postmaster, such as “Company_name requesting information for delivery problems with domain_name.”

Finally, build a list of ISP contacts for future problems. Often, you’ll receive an escalation contact, with whom you’ll work directly to correct your problems. Keep this contact for the future. Though I don’t recommend skipping normal channels each time you have a problem, you may have an urgent case in which it’s be helpful to have the escalation process already defined.

ISPs block e-mail or route it to the bulk folder for four primary reasons:

  • Technical sending problems (incorrect message headers, authentication problems, no reverse DNS entries)
  • Excessive invalid addresses
  • Excessive complaint levels
  • Content that appears to be spam
  • There are other reasons, but these are the most common.

    By starting a dialogue with the ISP and understanding what caused the delivery challenge, you can adjust your campaigns and e-mail practices and boost your delivery rate to the inbox.

    Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

    Stefan is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

    Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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