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The Black List

Sometimes you think you’re doing everything right – you’ve designed a fabulous emarketing campaign, segmented your audience for maximum open and click rates, included multiple calls to action, and scheduled delivery in the middle of the sweet spot (as we’ve been taught, Tuesday-Thursday, 11am-2pm). But, alas, you’ve been blacklisted.

So, why are emails blacklisted? The horribly vague answer is… it depends.

Blacklists are a collection of IPs, URLs, and email addresses flagged as spammers or phishers that may harm computers, networks, or websites.Spammer is a dirty word that you do not want associated with your company because it implies that you send unsolicited and unnecessary messages with irrelevant information.

Blacklists are designed to reduce spam. If you’ve been blacklisted, then many of your emails will not be delivered and you will notice a dramatic decrease in email open rates and an increase in bounce back messages.

First of all, there are a couple of different traps your emails can get stick in, eitherblacklists from public ISPs or Postini spam filters.

Public ISPs are the IP addresses that your home or business router receives from your internet service provider (ISP). Devices with these public IP addresses can communicate with other public IP address devices, but not directly with private IP addresses (this requires a router). Most major ISPs have their own internal blacklists – Outlook and Yahoo maintain theirs inside custom spam filters and do not allow you to query on their lists to check whether or not you’re blocked.

There are more than 120 blacklists from public ISPs. Make sure you have access to your server’s IP address so you can monitor public blacklists. Check the following websites to ensure your IP address hasn’t been flagged:

The good news is all email marketing starts with a clean slate. Let’s say you’ve just started using marketing automation software (cough, SalesFUSION, cough, cough) and are ready to launch your first email campaign. To stop blacklists in their tracks, check that you’ve completed the following steps before clicking send:

  • Ease into your new IP address: Don’t email your entire database right of the bat – this sounds the spammer alarms. Start off emailing only your most targeted and responsive lists and work your way up. This way, in case you are blacklisted, it will be easier to target the problem through the process of elimination.

  • Allow recipients to opt out: Highlight your opt out link, especially in early correspondence with new email addresses. If a recipient chooses to opt out, the email’s link should take them directly to the unsubscribe page. Also include an opt in link for recipients who would like to receive additional updates and alerts.

  • Go for the double opt in: In this scenario, email recipients click the opt in link inside their email, complete a form on your website, and are emailed to confirm that their email address is valid. This verifies their email address is valid and that they’ve agreed to receive additional communications from your company.

  • Give the purchased lists a break: No matter where you stand in the debate, marketers buy lists. However, make sure that some email campaigns contain no purchased email addresses. Blasting strange emails is, once again, an alarm sounder. If you do buy lists, target your message accordingly (with a clearly displayed opt out).

  • Check yourself before you wreck yourself: Verify that all email addresses in your database are valid. Sending to misspelled or nonexistent email addresses not only flags you as a spammer, but increases the amount of bounced email responses in your inbox. Review new email addresses as they’re added to your marketing software or CRM.

Then there’s Postini.

Postini is an email and web security/archiving service. Owned by Google, Postini offers cloud computing services for filtering email spam, encrypting messages for security, and archiving web communications. Businesses that use Postini redirect their incoming and outgoing emails through Postini instead of their own email servers. Messages are scanned for viruses and malware and anything deemed as spam is filtered out.

The frustrating thing about Postini is that it can not only block your message, but then not explain why. Solving the mystery often comes down to lots of testing with a healthy dose of trial and error. Here are some Postini secrets revealed:

  • The system pays close attention to the balance between text and images: If you find yourself blocked, try sizing down images and beefing up your email’s text (or HTML).

  • Don’t continue to email invalid or full mailboxes: You may have to adjust your email delivery system’s settings for hard bounces.

  • Edit your subject line: Okay, you’ve heard this before, don’t include – the word Free, $$$, !!!, TOO MANY CAPS, or any claims that you are totally, definitely not spam.

  • Monitor new subscriber lists: Just like blacklists, ease into your new email contacts and begin communications with very strict design rules until you’ve determined how their email clients filter your messages

If you do find yourself on a blacklist or trapped in a Postini spam filter, isolate the problem as soon as possible. Review the email campaign that isn’t being delivered and the bullet points above. Be sure to communicate with the specific blacklist you’ve been added to and request immediate removal.

Email responsibly to maintain a flawless reputation. Maintain an open line of communication with email recipients so they do not report you as a spammer and clearly mark your opt out links just in case.