How Email Marketing Blacklist works

Every industry has its own Achilles tendon. For the automobile industry its safety, for the email industry it is spam. Spam can be a serious issue for email marketing professionals as well as receivers. Since customer is king, spam triggers are decided by the readers. Since the time email started becoming popular, people understood that it is possible to reach a really large audience easily. This prompted large scale emailing. As we see now, it has become a huge problem. Spam mails and spammers as they are called in the industry use all the tricks in the book to bypass security to reach your inbox. Even today, with all of these advanced filters and traps, spam reaches you. That is how big the issue is. This is the sole reason blacklisting exists. Blacklisting enables users to know if a mail is spam or not. If a sender is blacklisted, chances of them getting through are slim to none

Unsolicited bulk mail

This is the technical definition of spam. When an email marketer sends unsolicited bulk mail, they become a spammer. These are the digital world criminals who try to subvert and get through to you. A black list is a list that contains IP addresses that are run by such spammers. All ISPs have a blacklist and keep a track of ISPs for this purpose.

The percentage of spam compared to the global volume of emails sent has steadily come down. Even then, the amount is a pretty high number. It peaked in 2008 when spam filters were just new on the block.

Without a legitimate reason, ISPs do not block mails. To understand this better, we need to know how blacklisting works, what is spam and how a spam trigger is set off.

Firstly, it is important to understand how blacklisting actually works. We are talking about the technical aspect of spam trapping and IP reputation check. This process chart will help you in understanding what does on behind the scenes of IP tracking and spam checks.

Now, spamhaus is a popular blacklist directory. There are many more such service providers. Some of them include-

  1. SURBL
  2. Barracuda reputation block list
  3. SpamCop
  4. MultiRBL
  5. Delivery Watch
  6. Blacklist Check

These are some of the top blacklist database keepers. They work closely with each other so that the records are comprehensive. Some are free for all, while others are subscription based. These paid service providers offer a lot more than just a black list directory. They also provide tools that allow you to track the more difficult spammers.

What is spam?


Spam is a blanket term that is used liberally today to recognize any mail that comes your way that you did not want. This does not mean that the mail is spam. In fact, a mail can be termed spam only when it satisfies 2 specific criteria.

Unsolicited mail– This is the type of mail wherein the reader has not given explicit permission to receive messages from that particular sender.

Bulk mail– If the mail is part of a larger group, all having a substantial amount of similar content.

Only if the message is part of both these groups does it get termed as spam and the sender becomes a spammer getting into the spam hall of fame- blacklist.

Sending of Unsolicited Bulk Mail over the internet is banned by all internet service providers globally 

A mail that does not contain an unsubscribe link cannot be deemed spam. So also they cannot be termed spam if they contain objectionable material or is a scam. If needs to satisfy the above two criteria clearly. As with the industry, any mails that contain any of the above mentioned terms easily fall into the blacklist because they will most probably be unsolicited and part of a bulk mailing project. So the issue takes care of itself.

Legislations such as the CAN-SPAM ACT (2004) can be a guiding source to make sure you stay out of blacklists. The interesting fact here is that blacklisting service providers do not take these laws into consideration, since there are too many and each one has their own way of looking at spam. This makes the process cumbersome. Hence, the globally accepted standard of UBE is taken into consideration making the playing field level. Legal action can be taken on email spammers based on the legislations but they do not affect email blacklisting in anyway.

There are various reasons you may end up on a blacklist, and it isn’t the end of days if you do. One of the most common causes is a high spam complaint rate. This can be due to multiple reasons. If your list is not up to date, and contains spam traps, then you will trigger them. If you don’t use an opt-in list, spam triggers can happen; they will happen. So, basically, it is important for you to take care of your backend processes before you get into the whole business of email marketing. You can never be sure when you end up on a blacklist.

You have to proactively search these directories periodically. If your spam scores are mounting and deliverability is decreasing, then these are alarm bells ringing. ISPs are interested in you if you are interested in getting yourself unblocked. This means that you are not really a spammer and issues just popped up. They are tolerant towards such email marketers and you can get yourself removed faster than you expect.

Another thing you can do is to get yourself a deliverability expert on board. They will do the dirty work for you. Most email marketing software service providers have this as an add-on now. If your current provider does not offer this, ask and get it set up. Or else it is time to move.

How to stay off a blacklist

Staying off a blacklist once you have already been in one is important and harder. The reason is that once you are convicted, everyone looks at you with suspicious eyes. This is true in real life and also in email marketing. For this, you need to indulge in reputation monitoring. Keep a close track of your spam rate, complaint and bounce rates. You can set triggers that will warn you when the levels reach a specific number. This way you do not waste time finding the problem. Most email service providers have this feature.

Test your campaigns before you send them out. Another important aspect of email marketing that you can do is to segment your users. This gives you the liberty to create specific content that caters to that segment specifically. It is the opposite of batch and blast. Keeping your list clean, going for opt-in lists, organically growing your email list and sending messages that are relevant to your audience are ways to ensure that you do not end up on a blacklist in the first place.

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