Blacklists 101 - stairs leading to do not enter sign


It’s that time of year again. Marketers are planning for the holidays; looking at how they can drive more revenue through email. It’s very common to see people mailing a little deeper into their files than they normally do, in an effort to reengage the people who haven’t purchased or interacted in a while. It’s easy to overstep the bounds of email best practices, and get yourself into trouble. That trouble commonly comes in the form of a blacklisting.

What is a blacklist?

A blacklist is essentially a list of bad actors. Those bad actors are generally spammers, but any legitimate mailer who doesn’t adhere to best practices can be impacted. Blacklists can be domain-based, URL-based, or more commonly, IP-based. They are generally run by independent operators, or organizations whose customers are ISPs, hosting companies, or corporate mail managers.

How do you get listed?

Blacklist operators most commonly use networks of spam traps to catch spammers and marketers behaving badly. (Check out the series I wrote about spam traps earlier this year for more info.) Mailing to spam trap addresses is a signal that you have poor list hygiene practices, since those addresses don’t belong to real users. Depending on the type of trap you mail to (or hit) and the number, you may get flagged as a bad actor and end up on a blacklist. In some cases this is an automated process, in others (generally in more severe cases) it’s manual.

What happens when you get “listed” on a blacklist?

A blacklist is commonly used by mail receivers (ISPs, hosting companies, etc.) to block unwanted mail from bad actors. The amount of mail blocked depends on which blacklist listed you. Some are more impactful than others, based on which mail receivers use them. Spamhaus, for example, is the most widely known blacklist and is used by some of the major mailbox providers. So a Spamhaus listing will have a big impact on your program.

What can you do to resolve a blacklisting?

Each blacklist has it’s own removal process, which can be automated or manual. Either way, it’s important to understand what caused you to get listed in the first place. Did it happen right after you mailed to an old, inactive file? Are you working with a new affiliate? Is a suppression process broken? Once you have identified and resolved the issue that caused the listing, the next step is to reach out to the blacklist operator via their process to request removal.

What should you do to avoid blacklists in the first place?

The best way to avoid the blacklist is to mail to recently engaged users. We recommend those who have opened or clicked in the last 90 days. It’s understandable that marketers want to leverage their email programs to increase sales during the holidays, so a 90-day activity window isn’t always doable. If you do end up reaching deeper into your list, you shouldn’t be including anyone who hasn’t engaged in over a year. Past that time, you run the risk of hitting recycled spam traps (once engaged users, now long-dormant accounts). In addition to a short activity window, double opt-in (or COI) is a great way to avoid mailing repeatedly to spam trap addresses, since they won’t click the confirmation link. We also highly recommend that you use a reCAPtCHA at sign-up to mitigate malicious signups.

Things to keep in mind…

Having a way to monitor your IPs and domains for blacklistings is always a good idea. At Sparkpost, we proactively monitor listings for our Premium and Enterprise customers using the 250ok platform. Also, as I alluded to above, not all blacklists have the same impact on your program. If you see a listing through a monitoring service or in your logs, check your stats in the Sparkpost UI (blocked messages) to gauge the severity of the listing. While you might not see a big impact from some smaller blacklists, they can be a good signal to let you know something is off with your program that might turn into a bigger headache down the road if you don’t address it.

— Clea

Weekly Email Marketing News Digest

Don’t you just love the holiday season? There’s always something new to celebrate. Now that Christmas is over, we’re all gearing up to ring in the new year in just four days!

And as always, at the beginning of a new year, it seems apt to reflect upon your hits and misses and overall individual or company performance. In line with that sentiment, here are a couple of tools to measure your annual email usage statistics.

Know Your Gmail Stats using Gmail Meter

With over 425 million active Gmail users in June 2012, Gmail is arguably one of the leading providers (if not THE leading provider) of free webmail. The Gmail Meter, developed by Romain Vialard, a Google Apps Script Top Contributor, provides users with basic email statistics to better understand their email usage. These include:

  • Volume Statistics
  • Daily Traffic
  • Traffic Pattern
  • Email Categories
  • Time Before First Response
  • Word Count
  • Thread Lengths
  • Top Senders & Recipients

Contactually Launches A Year-End Email Report Card That Goes Deeper Than Google’s Gmail Meter Report

The title says it all.

For a deeper more insightful look at your email usage statistics, get a personalised email report card from Contactually. Interesting metrics include:

  • Email Mood
  • Popular Subject Lines
  • Popular Words
  • Subject Line Length

With the amount of spam and direct marketing messages that one receives every day, it’s hard to see how someone can get a good grade on metrics such as unresponded emails and email totals. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining and beautifully rendered report card for one’s own amusement – as well as an excellent way to gain brand awareness in the marketplace.

What Marketers Can Learn From a Gaming Company’s Email Tactics

When it comes to gaming, email is key to gamer retention, increasing customer lifetime value as well as brand recall. MarketingProf’s advice to gaming companies is to provide disclosure and value for gamers when requesting for their email. Here are the recommended guidelines for lead nurturing and enhanced customer service:

  • Request for an email early in the gaming process together with details on what players can expect to receive through email – tip & tricks, tutorials, discounts.
  • Provide players with a value-add of some kind immediately after they sign up through their email address. For example, when I signed up for Blizzard Entertainment’s popular MMORPG game World of Warcraft, I was immediately provided with a free downloadable online guide to the game through email.
  • Use of event triggered emails for more effective brand engagement instead of weekly updates. Has the player just conquered Diablo III? Invite them to start playing Starcraft with a free trial.
  • Use analytics to determine the playing habits of individual subscribers, followed by appropriate tailoring of the messages. For example, gamers who play frequently probably wouldn’t mind receiving weekly email updates from your company, but not those who have not played in a while. For these players, reactivation messages with gifts when they resume game play would be more effective.
  • Give players control of the messages they receive – let them set the terms and grounds for communication with a preference center. If they opted in to certain types of communication, they’ll be more likely to appreciate those emails from your brand.

The article also calls for branding consistency by ensuring players who have signed up for a specific game are getting emails from the game they signed up for and not the parent company. I have to say, I’m not sure I entirely agree with this one though. While I am a huge fan of brand consistency, I’ll admit that email cross-selling under the parent company’s name has worked on me. If I am interested in Dragons of Altantis from Kabam for example, I’m also likely to be interested in a 50% offer on Kingdoms of Camelot.

Now? Really? Spamhaus Blacklists Retailers for Typos

Major retailers like Gap and Gilt have found themselves on email blacklists this year – simply for typing errors in subscriber’s email addresses. Such errors typically occur during point-of-sale where customers opt for paperless receipts to be sent to their inbox. Up to 60% of a sender’s email may not make it into inboxes when placed on such blacklists. With the festive season being a prime opportunity for retailers to increase their sales and maximize customer lifetime value, the timing couldn’t be worse.  Its impact on these retailers could be akin to Google’s Florida algorithm update in 2003 right before the holiday season, which left many holiday retailers scrambling.

Why mobile email templates need to disappear

We’ve been highlighting stories about designing for the mobile recently, and with good reason. Consider the incredible escalation in the adoption of mobile devices as seen in John Pinson’s The Internet’s Growing Faster Than You Thought and the fact that 35% of all emails are now viewed on mobile devices.

It’s no longer possible for designers to design specifically for each and every new mobile device that is launched, yet it is imperative to ensure that a companies emails are optimized for the mobile. Hence, here are three tips for mobile design:

  • Use a one column design
  • Simplify call to actions due to lack of screen real estate
  • Use media queries

 Gaming emails aside, there’s plenty you can do with your transactional email to keep subscribers coming back for more. Optimize your transactional email today with the help of the Transactional Messaging Best Practices eBook.

Transactional Messaging Best Practices