Having your email IP address or domain added to an email blacklist can seriously affect your deliverability, and therefore the profitability of your email program. This is doubly true if you’re blacklisted during one of your key selling seasons.
For those reasons, it’s important to routinely check if your brand is on any email blacklists and, if it is, to take the necessary steps to get removed and then to make changes so it’s less likely to end up on an email blacklist again. However, before we discuss that process, let’s make sure we’re clear about...
Email blacklists are lists of IP addresses that have been identified as sending spam and URLs that spam emails have been known to drive traffic to. These lists are maintained by anti-spam groups and independent operators and shared with inbox providers and corporations that manage their own email servers so they can more effectively block spam.
While there are literally hundreds of email blacklists, some of the more prominent ones are:
“The impact of a blacklist is measured by the number and size of the mailbox providers who use it to protect their networks,” explains Clea Moore, Director of Deliverability Strategy at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting (OMCC). “The blacklist with the most dramatic impact is Spamhaus, because many of the largest mailbox providers—including Outlook.com, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail—trust it to help them make blocking decisions. For any B2C sender, being blacklisted by Spamhaus can impact upwards of 80% of their list, so you're basically dead-in-the-water.”
“How important the other blacklists are depends on the makeup of your subscriber list,” says Kent McGovern, Senior Strategic Consultant of Deliverability Services at OMCC. “For example,” he says, “B2B brands will likely suffer a bigger impact from being blacklisted by Cloudmark CSI or Proofpoint SORBS.”
In addition to checking directly with the major email blacklists above, here are some tools that can check if your IP address or URL has been flagged by an email blacklist:
Oracle Deliverability Plus (subscription required)
Litmus Spam Testing (subscription required)
Email on Acid Spam Testing (subscription required)
“Keep in mind that these tools will generally check every available blacklist to see if you are listed,” says Moore. “It's very common to run a check and see a listing or two for a very small blacklist that will have no impact on your mail. However, these smaller listings may be an important signal that you need to button up your list hygiene practices before you get into trouble with more impactful blacklists.”
Sometimes it’s as simple as just requesting that your IP address be removed. Other times you will need to work with the blacklist operator and satisfy them that you’ve addressed the behavior that got you on their radar.
Some brands may find this difficult to swallow. They might say to themselves, I haven’t broken the law. This is extortion! This blacklist doesn’t have the right to have my emails blocked and hurt my business.
Well, they do have the right—just like Gmail and other inbox providers have the right to block emails from senders they feel are sending malicious or unwanted email. You can either play by the rules established by blacklists and inbox providers or accept the consequences. Those are your two choices. We recommend that you play by the rules, because they ultimately create a better inbox experience for all consumers.
So, what might a blacklist operation want you to do in order to be removed? They could ask you to:
These remedies can be painful and distract you from running your email program, so we recommend trying to avoid being blacklisted in the first place. And we certainly recommend trying to avoid being blacklisted repeatedly.
“If a sender does not make changes to their practices, there is a big chance they will end up back on the blacklist,” says McGovern. “Then things become worse, because if a blacklist operator sees the same IPs or domains getting listed again, they can make it progressively harder to be removed. If you don’t learn from your past, you are doomed to repeat it.”
With that in mind, let’s answer the question…
Most blacklistings are due to high spam complaint rates and hitting spam traps. These two problems can also lead to inbox providers blocking your emails or routing them to spam folders instead of the inbox.
Having a complaint rate above 0.2% is one of many signs of deliverability problems ahead. Email recipients report emails as spam for a wide range of reasons, but some of the most common are:
Hitting even one spam trap can potentially lead to a blacklisting, although typically it takes multiple spam trap hits to get you in trouble. That’s because blacklist operators, as well as inbox providers, use spam traps to detect the behavior of spammers. Spam traps come in three major varieties:
Together, these spam traps identify senders who are scraping email addresses, mailing long abandoned addresses, and mailing invalid domains—all of which are hallmarks of spammers.
To help minimize spam complaints and reduce the risk of adding a spam trap to your email list, consider taking the following actions, which we’ve labelled as either “highly recommended” or simply “recommended” depending on the impact of the action.
Taking the following steps are critical to keeping your brand off email blacklists:
Taking the following steps can also help keep your brand off email blacklists, although they have less of an impact in our experience:
Some of those recommendations are harder to implement than others, and some definitely have one-time or ongoing costs associated with them. Think of these costs as insurance against being blacklisted. Even in the best of circumstances, being blacklisted can be costly in terms of lost email marketing revenue. In the worst cases, it can be extremely costly, as some retailers discovered during the 2012 holiday season.
“Spamhaus listed many large retail senders around the holidays, who had most of their mail blocked as a result of the listing,” says Moore. “Those retailers lost hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of dollars in revenue. Poor list hygiene eventually has a cost. Minimize this cost by actively and intelligently managing your audience to find a way to achieve your business goals, while mitigating risks.”
Need help with getting off a blacklist or improving your list hygiene? Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including an Email Deliverability Services team.