How to Avoid Those Blacklist Blues

We talked about how email blacklists and whitelists work last time. A receiving email system interrogates one or more existing databases to determine whether the email sender’s IP address matches that of a known spammer or a known “good guy.” If there’s a match, the receiving system often makes the delivery decision based on that match. It rejects the email in the case of a blacklist or delivers it in the case of a whitelist.

Today, we’ll focus on blacklists. First and foremost: beginning a conversation with “What gives you the right…?!” is guaranteed not to have the desired effect.

Rather, focus on staying off their radar, and know what to do if you suddenly find yourself on such a list. Remember, there’s a direct relationship between how reliable and responsible a blacklist is and how widely it’s used and how hard it is to get listed. You have to try really hard to land on the more well-respected, widely used blacklists.

To stay off blacklists:

  • Ensure all your email is CAN-SPAM compliant. Not because blacklist maintainers are particularly enamored with CAN-SPAM (they aren’t), but because if your email isn’t CAN-SPAM compliant, you’re already doing it wrong.

  • Keep your email path as simple and accurate as possible. Spammers play email=spoofing and server-hopping tricks. You shouldn’t. Even if the domain you’re spoofing is your own, such practices can land you on a blacklist. E-mail receivers want to see clear chains of transmission, with the originator’s identity obvious, not obfuscated.
  • Avoid “spammy”-looking subject lines and content. Several services out there will help you determine how spammy your email looks, as will many email service providers. Or, just run a draft through your own spam filters to see how it scores.
  • Don’t try to outwit spam filters. Trust me on this. Anything you can devise to end-run spam filters has already been tried by spammers. That means it’s already considered a leading indicator of “spamminess” and a sure way to get filtered and blocklisted.
  • Confirm, confirm, confirm. I can’t state this strongly enough. Once considered anathema to email marketers, confirmed opt-in for list building is now indisputably an emailer’s best friend. Not only does it keep you off the lists, it’s the fastest and easiest way to prove a spam report was erroneous. That proof gets your IP address removed from a blacklist.

If, despite all the above, you find yourself on a blacklist, here’s what to do. First, take a deep breath; it’ll be OK. Then, gather the following information:

  • A copy of each unique bounce message indicating your mail was rejected due to a blacklist listing.

  • A full copy of the bounced email; if it’s more than one, analyze them as a whole to determine what they have in common that may be causing problems.
  • Any and all proof you have the recipients requested to receive the email (now you see why confirmation can be so useful).

If the problem mailing originated with one of your customers, you’ll need to obtain some of this information from them. Remember, you’re responsible for the practices of those who use your mailing resources.

Next, examine this information very carefully to determine what likely caused the blacklisting. If you figure it out, fix it.

Then go to the blacklist’s Web site. Many let you look up your own record to determine what lead to the listing. If you’ve already fixed the problem, you may be able to initiate a removal on the spot.

After you review everything, contact both the blacklist maintainer and the ISPs rejecting your email based on the listing. If you can show proof of opt-in or that you’ve fixed any problem, the list maintainer should remove your IP address from the blocklist. If it doesn’t, the ISP should whitelist the IP address.

By engaging in responsible email practices, instituting appropriate policies, and taking proactive measures such as those outlined above, you can help ensure your email is delivered, not sidelined by a blacklist.

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

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