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Your Email Address Got Blacklisted – Now What?

The “gatekeeping” process all emails go through after delivery, why an IP address or email address may get blacklisted, and how to get taken off a blacklist

Matt Duczeminski
August 11 2018

If you’ve followed our advice here on PostFunnel, you’ve probably spent the last few months fine-tuning your email marketing campaigns and content – and have likely learned a lot along the way. However, there’s also the possibility that you’ve had some of your emails get labeled as spam by some of your audience members. Or, worse yet, you’ve ended up having your email and IP addresses completely blacklisted – causing email service providers to automatically label your emails as spam (or block them from being delivered completely).

Not only does getting blacklisted place a semi-permanent barricade between your brand and a potentially large percentage of your target audience, but it can also damage your brand’s overall reputation outside of your email marketing initiatives, as well. While being blacklisted isn’t exactly an optimal scenario, it isn’t the end of the world, either. In this article, we’ll explain how to know if your email and IP addresses have been blacklisted, as well as what you’ll need to do to remedy the situation.

Before we dive in, let’s first take a look at how email blacklisting actually occurs in the first place.

How Do Email and IP Addresses Get Blacklisted, Anyway?

To truly understand how to get off – and stay off – email blacklists, it’s essential that you understand the “gatekeeping” process that every single email on Earth goes through that determines whether or not it gets delivered.

Here’s the process in graphical form, as described by blacklisting company Spamhaus:

(Source)

Let’s unpack this process a bit more precisely:

Once the email is sent, the recipient’s email service provider (ESP) identifies the sender’s email address, their domain, and their IP address, and automatically checks whether the sender is listed on the blacklist(s) used by the recipient’s ESP. If the sender is not listed, the email will arrive in the recipient’s inbox. If the sender is listed, the email will either be relegated to the recipient’s Spam folder, or won’t get delivered.

It’s worth mentioning that, even if the sender is not blacklisted, a specific email can still end up being automatically listed as spam if the recipient’s ESP uses spam-detecting software, such as SpamAssassin.

It’s in this process that your email and IP addresses can end up on a blacklist in the first place. The more times your emails are reported as spam, the more likely you are to get blacklisted.

A few other ways you can end up on a blacklist:

  • Having your emails be manually reported as spam by your recipients
  • Sending emails to a large amount of defunct and/or unused email addresses
  • Using a purchased and/or stolen email list (as evidenced by substantial growth of your mailing list in a relatively short period of time)

With all of this in mind, the best course of action is to be proactive in attempting to stay off of any and all email blacklists in existence.

Above all else, your emails need to be irresistible, and should provide immense value to your recipients. While this may be a bit of a no-brainer, it’s worth reiterating that having your poorly-created emails go unnoticed is bad enough – having them be labeled as spam is much worse.

(Source / Here’s a prime example of what your emails shouldn’t look like.)

Also worth mentioning is the importance of segmenting your mailing list in order to deliver highly-relevant content to specific individuals (rather than blasting out the same content to everyone on your list). You don’t want your otherwise happy customers to unsubscribe from your list (or report your emails as spam) because one specific piece of content wasn’t relevant to them.

When growing your mailing list, you should do so legitimately and organically. As we said earlier, purchasing lists in the first place can lead your email address to be automatically blacklisted. But, if even if your purchased list flies under the radar, you’ll still run the risk of being reported as spam by individuals on the list that never signed up for your newsletter in the first place, which will almost certainly cause your address to be blacklisted at some point in the future.

You also need to ensure your recipients have opted into receiving communications from your company via email – and that they have the option to unsubscribe from your list at any time. This isn’t just sound advice, either: it’s a legal requirement for email marketers.

Finally, you’ll want to actively trim your mailing list from time to time, eliminating addresses of individuals who have never opened your emails – and even those who have remained dormant for an elongated period of time. Not only will this help you avoid being blacklisted due to sending emails to defunct email addresses, but it will also provide you with a more accurate representation of the performance of your email campaigns moving forward, as well.

Even if you do follow proper email marketing protocol and best practices, there’s still a chance you’ll end up on some kind of blacklist at some point.

With this in mind, let’s talk about what to do if this should happen to you.

So Your Email Address Has Been Blacklisted…Now What Do You Do?

While the process of dealing with being blacklisted isn’t exactly simple, it essentially boils down to four main steps:

  • Assess the extent of the issue
  • Assess the potential reasons for/causes of being blacklisted
  • Begin working toward making improvements
  • Reach out to the company that owns the list you’ve been put on

Let’s break these steps down a bit further.

Assess the Extent of the Issue

There are many email blacklists in existence. It’s important to know which blacklist(s) your company has ended up on, so that you know the best way to proceed. There are two overarching categories of blacklists in this regard: those that are widely used and highly trusted, that are run by major companies – and those that aren’t exactly popular or widely used.

With so many of these smaller blacklists in existence, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll land on one of them at some point throughout your career as a marketer; it’s just a matter of having an email labeled as spam by one or two recipients who happen to use an email service provider that contracts with said blacklist.

Since these lesser-known blacklists are…well…lesser-known…being placed on one of them probably won’t lead you to being blocked by all that many recipients. Since these blacklist companies typically work with lesser-known ESPs, it’s unlikely that said ESP is used by a significant percentage of your mailing list audience.

Lastly, these smaller blacklist companies might not be nearly as stringent as the more popular ones are. Usually, they’ll be easier to deal with while attempting to get your addresses taken off their blacklist. Additionally, these companies may not keep addresses on their lists for elongated periods of time, so you may end up being delisted without having to do all that much in the first place.

Now, if you end up on one of the more popular and respected blacklists, you’ll have a much more serious problem on your hands.

(Source)

In contrast to the smaller companies, these larger blacklist companies are used by some of the most widely-used ESPs in the world (such as Gmail) – meaning that landing on one or more of them could cause your emails to become undeliverable to a large portion of your mailing list.

(Source)

This works the other way around, too:

Since the larger ESPs contract with these larger blacklisting companies, and your mailing list is probably made up mostly of people who use these ESPs, your chances of being blacklisted and labeled as spam by these individuals increases dramatically.

And while being blacklisted isn’t always permanent, these bigger companies are much better equipped to keep your information on file than the aforementioned smaller companies may be. What this means on your end is that, if you end up being blacklisted multiple times by the same company, you’ll probably face increased sanctions each time it happens.

(Source)

At any rate, if you suspect you’ve been blacklisted for any reason, your first order of business is to determine which list you’ve been placed on, so that you can quickly determine what to do next.

Assess Potential Reasons for Being Blacklisted

While there is a minute chance that you were blacklisted in error – or perhaps had your emails labeled as spam by a recipient who probably should have unsubscribed from your list – it’s best to err on the side of caution and assume the problem lies somewhere on your end. In order to truly understand what the issue is, you’ll need to approach the situation not from your own perspective, but from the perspective of the blacklisting company – as well as that of your recipients.

 

Comb through your recently-sent emails, looking for even the slightest hint of why they would have been labeled as spam – whether automatically or manually. Along with the actual content of your emails, consider other factors such as:

  • The name that appears in the “From” line
  • The time of day you typically send your emails
  • The amount of emails you send per week and/or month
  • The open rate and spam complaint rate

You might realize that a specific email was sent to spam by many more individuals than your other emails; you could then dig through that specific email to determine why it was seen as spammy. If after investing significant time and energy into determining what went wrong, you still can’t identify the problem, you might consider contacting a consultant who can help you figure out the issue and work toward fixing it.

Begin Making Improvements

Once you determine why you were blacklisted, you’ll want to immediately begin working toward fixing the issue on your end. Recall that we discussed the importance of seeing things from the perspective of your audience members, as well as that of their ESPs. You almost certainly did something that put them off in one way or another – so the onus is on you to make things right. This will require you to go “back to the drawing board,” so to speak, and begin tweaking your approach to content creation, copywriting, email delivery…wherever the problem lies.

Now, during this period of time, you’re going to want to pause your email marketing campaigns completely, for a few reasons:

For one thing, there’s no sense in sending out emails while blacklisted, since you obviously won’t be able to reach your entire audience for the time being. Perhaps, if your segmentation is highly sophisticated, you’ll be able to skirt around this issue and continue delivering highly-relevant content to certain members of your audience – but this might take more effort than it’s worth.

Secondly, if you continue to send out emails while you’re in the midst of making the appropriate improvements to your email marketing campaigns and content, you run the risk of unintentionally digging yourself further into a hole. For example, if there were multiple issues with your emails that led your addresses to be blacklisted, and you tweak one at a time while continuing to send out content, the negative aspects of your content could cause you to get blacklisted on other ESPs, as well.

Furthermore, if you unintentionally (or intentionally…) continue to send emails to addresses that have blocked you or labeled your address as spam, you’re bound to receive further punishment. The takeaway here is to make as many improvements as possible to your email content and delivery plan before making moves to resume your campaigns moving forward.

Reach Out to the Blacklisting Company

Having your IP and email addresses placed on a blacklist isn’t the end of the world. This is because, for the most part, being blacklisted isn’t permanent – as long as you take appropriate action. The first thing you should do (after making the above-mentioned improvements) is reach out to the blacklisting company to inquire about the reason you were blacklisted in the first place.

If you’ve already made the applicable changes, explain to the blacklisting company what you’ve done, as well as how you plan on improving further in the future. At this point, you’ll want to be prepared to provide evidence of the changes, as well as a plan of attack for moving forward.

If you haven’t yet made the changes mentioned by the blacklisting company, you’ll basically need to explain that you’ll be in touch in the near future. Good practice here would be to come back to the table rather quickly with a plan of attack, as well as a timeline as to when you expect to be able to fully comply with the company’s expectations.

If you utilize an ESP on your end, this providing company will be able to provide insight into why you landed on a blacklist, and will likely provide advice as to how to fix the issue. Additionally, your provider will contact the blacklisting company after you’ve made the appropriate changes – allowing you to focus on making even further improvements.

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