Email lists: Would You Rather be Black Or White?

There are two types of lists that e-mail marketers are…or need to be…well aware of.

First, there’s the list you don’t want to be on.  It’s the black list. 

ISP’s (Internet service providers) use different methods and techniques to deliver e-mails that people want, and to block e-mails that people don’t want.  One of the primary techniques used is the reputation of the IP address of the sender, linked with the reputation of the ESP (e-mail service provider). 

However, having an unknown…or little-known  IP address…can be enough to keep your e-mail from getting through.  This can happen even if your ESP (e-mail service provider) is well-known and has a blue ribbon reputation.  And…if you decide to switch your e-mail service provider, your combined IP/ESP rating will begin again in order to re-establish your ranking with the ISP.

And, of course, the ISP will always check their databases to see if the email sender’s IP address is on the list of known “spammers.”  Your IP address can erroneously get on that list, or through various errors you’ve made when sending e-mails.

If this somehow seems too confusing or unfair, take a moment to remember how we got here.  The proliferation of spam, or undesired e-mail, some of them with serious viruses, were responsible for spam cops and other “cyber supers” to “protect” us.

If you approach this issue from the desire to be whitelisted,then,  rather than blacklisted when you begin your campaign, you may well be able to keep your e-mails from disappearing into the “blacklist black hole.”

To avoid blacklists, and get whitelisted:

  • Get opt-in confirmation.  This is critical and can’t be overstated.  Let double-opt-ins…confirmed opt-ins…be your new best friend.  Send a welcome message to further verify that the recipient is giving you permission to send them e-mail.
  • Maintain opt-in records.  Without being legalistic, suffice it to say there is great truth in the simple statement “Document, document, document.”  In the event you are somehow erroneously blacklisted, being able to verify an opt-in will go a long way toward clearing up the mistake.
  • Use a feedback loop.  Set up your program to ensure that you get a report if your e-mail is reported as spam.  Rather like having your jealous sister start a nasty rumor about you while you’re both in high school, if you are unaware that your e-mail got reported as spam, your reputation can be ruined while you’re totally innocent.
  • Have malware protection.  Make sure the hardware you are using is free of malware, with ongoing reliable virus protection that scans your systems and keeps your servers and computers malware free.
  • Be CAN-SPAM compliant.  With a potential $16,000-per-e-mail fine if non-compliance is proven,  making sure you “color within the lines” becomes incredibly important.  A good site for information is
  • Immediately honor opt-out requests.  Make sure your unsubscribe links in all your e-mails are easy to find, and that they work.  A frustrated customer who continues to receive e-mails from you after opting out, may not hesitate to report you for spam.
  • Send e-mails only as promised.  When someone registers to receive your e-mails, their expectations are set for the type of e-mails they expect to receive.  For example, if someone signs up for your monthly newsletter only, don’t send daily advertisements unless they gave you their specific permission.
  • Promote your privacy policy.   When someone registers to receive your e-mails, make sure they know exactly what your privacy policy is.  State clearly your sensitivity to their privacy and your intent to protect it in all relevant communications.
  • Get customer feedback.  Ask your e-mail readers to provide you input on what you can do to improve your communications.  Not only will this help to ensure they don’t complain and get you blacklisted, it will also help you hone what is relevant for them.  Let them set the rules about how often they want to get e-mails from you, as well as the type of information they wish to receive.

Engage in responsible e-mail habits and keep your e-mail content  focused, relevant, and to the point to get your e-mail delivered and whitelisted.

Your fate is, as always, in your hands.  Your mission…should you decide to accept it…is to build good e-mail habits that will serve you and your business well, keeping you “in the black” without being blacklisted!

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