FML, I'm on an email blocklist. What do I do?

Getting blocklisted happens to a fair number of email marketers, and it sucks. But it isn't the end of the world. Read more...

Content Note: The term "email blocklist" was originally called "email blacklist." However, the email industry has transitioned to the term "email blocklist," and we have updated this post to reflect the change.

The holidays already come with mounting anxiety. Will I find a Nintendo Switch for the kids? Your mom’s going to stay here for how long?! Will there be eggnog?

So when you find either your domain name or IP address on an email blocklist, it’s easy to overreact.

Like overcooking the turkey, getting blocklisted has the potential to ruin your holiday plans and your email delivery. However, it’s important to gain some perspective (i.e. breathe) and then solve the problem, so don’t burn down your mail server just yet.

First and foremost, having your domain name or IP Address listed on a blocklist is not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean you should call into question your ability to manage a successful email campaign. In fact, a recent industry survey run by Litmus indicated that 1 in 4 respondents experienced at least one instance of block or blocklisting of their email campaigns over a 12-month period.

The other thing to keep in mind is that, with a constellation of blocklists out there, not all are created equal. They don’t all hold the same reputation or utilization, so just getting blocklisted won’t necessarily affect the delivery of your messages or hurt your reputation with Inbox Service Providers (ISPs) like Gmail. For insight into the blocklists our team has found to directly impact the delivery of your email, go here.

What to do when you get blocklisted

If you find yourself blocklisted, you’ll receive information for remediation within the failure event. This will usually include a URL to begin the blocklist removal process. If you still aren’t sure if you’re on a blocklist, It’s good to note that there isn’t a need to run a third-party vendor that will run a blocklist check for you if anything your email service provider or account manager (should you have one) will give you more information.

Most reputable BL vendors will have a clear self-service path to delisting that will involve sending over your contact information and any comments as to the possible reason for the block. Others will provide a case-specific email address and subject line.

For major DNSBLs like Spamhaus and Spamcop, you can – and should – ask for specifics of the offending traffic and find out why the blocklisting occurred in the first place. Specifics like the From, Subject, or sending domain on a dedicated IP address. This can help you better target the issue and solve for it, and it’ll go a long way when communicating back on what you’ve done in consideration of being delisted. Granted most BLs like SORBs are automated, and a delisting request is likely to be approved for a period of time before they begin analyzing your traffic again for spammy behavior.

As a benefit of Mailgun's managed service, our team of email experts has developed automated monitoring of all major blocklists to check them in real-time, and we will step in to deal with the blocklist providers directly. Basically, this allows you to focus on the more important aspects of your business while we help you get off blocklists.

So in a nutshell, that’s what you need to do if you get blocklisted. But the best way to really handle blocklists is by taking steps to mitigate your risk of ever getting on one in the first place. As we like to say at Mailgun, “best practices will produce best results.” (Yes, it’s true, and yes, we are dorks.)

Two ways to stay off blocklists

Blocklists use spam traps. Spam traps are mailboxes that are purpose-built or reconditioned from previous use to collect messages and track senders as possible sources of spam. There are two key aspects to keep in mind to avoid these spam traps and help you stay off of blocklists: your list acquisition source and measuring engagement.

1. Do not buy or rent recipient lists

These lists are filled with a number of unpalatable items, much like a fruitcake. We’re talking invalid addresses, pristine spam traps that were scraped from a website, and old addresses that may now be a spam trap. Additionally, recipients on these lists have not completed an opt-in for your email messages, which in turn will produce higher complaint rates. High complaint rates feed into a number of blocklists that track user spam and abuse complaints, so it’s best to stay clear of any purchased list.

2. Monitor recipient engagement

As spam traps are not maintained by a real user, these recipients will have zero engagement with your messages — be they an email marketing message or a business receipt. You can easily eliminate the potential presence of spam traps on your email list by either entering non-engaged recipients into a final re-engagement campaign or removing them from your sending completely. TL;DR: If no one eats the ambrosia salad, don’t make it for Thanksgiving next year.

Keeping these best practices in place and managing reputation can pull your focus in a number of directions, but we can help you out. Mailgun has the experts and tools to help keep your sanity over the holidays. If you want the peace of mind that comes with having a partner when the unforeseen occurs (like blocklisting), talk to one of our sales droids about our managed service. From all of us at Mailgun, happy holiday emailing!

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