ANAeec “So You’ve Been Blocked!” Panel Recap

One of the scariest things an email marketer can learn is that your email is being blocked. Especially if you feel like you’re a good sender who’s following best practices and legitimately trying to do the right thing.

Which is why the ANA Email Experience Council felt it was important to add a session about effective ways to handle blocklistings to the agenda of their Email Evolution Conference, a yearly event which was held virtually in 2021. I was the email marketer lucky enough to moderate their discussion!

In this blog post, I’ll summarize the most insightful advice shared by representatives from three of the most well-known (and well respected) blocklist providers in the industry: Proofpoint, Spamhaus, and SURBL.

So without further ado, onto the good stuff:

Recommendations from the Blocklist Providers:

  • Consistency is key. This is true with blocklists and anti-spam providers, mailbox providers and recipients alike. Erratic sending patterns and lack of a thoughtful approach can lead people to think your emails are not legitimate. Do your best to be predictable with things like the IPs/domain you send from, the type of content and sending frequency: train people on what they can expect from you.
  • Consider the user experience. Since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve all received our fair share of emails from brands we haven’t engaged with in years. Before hitting ‘Send’, ask yourself: “Is this email needed?”
  • Align your email program with industry best practices to limit your chances of being blocklisted. This recommendation was in direct response to an attendee asking the most effective way to avoid being listed. And while there are a LOT of best practices out there, the main things to focus on tend to be:
    • collecting permission from recipients and setting expectations about what kind of mail you will send before emailing them
    • authenticating all of your mail (SPF, DKIM, DMARC)
    • making it easy to unsubscribe
    • engaging in regular list hygiene: removing invalid addresses, unsubscribes and user complaints, as well as considering engagement targeting
    • monitoring email statistics to proactively identify problems with recipient reaction (i.e. low opens/clicks, high unsubs/complaints)
  • Follow protocol when requesting delisting. Most providers and vendors have a public channel that you can use to contact them – always use this first, before escalating your issue to that friend of a friend from your last job who “knows someone that might be able to help”. Not only is following normal protocol usually the quickest path to resolving your issue, but it will help you save your credits for an issue down that road that truly deserves special attention.
  • Blocklist providers (and Postmasters) help senders who help themselves. When you request delisting, be prepared to explain what you believe caused the blocklisting and how it has been (or very shortly will be) resolved so you can ensure that issue doesn’t happen again. Do not reach out until you’ve attempted to diagnose the problem yourself. Despite what they might like to do in their spare time, very few blocklist providers enjoy playing whack-a-mole at work. With that said, if you have questions about what’s driving the listing, feel free to ask those. Just always do your research first.
  • Don’t forget to warm-up! When moving to new technology (such as a new ESP) or introducing a new mail stream or project, marketers often use brand new domains (i.e., ‘famousbankpromo.com’ being created by famousbank.com). These look suspicious to anti-spam filters, as well as blocklist and mailbox providers. More importantly, these domains can lead recipients to think your emails are phishing attempts instead of a legitimate attempt to connect. Any time you’re introducing a new sending domain or IP, treat it like a warm-up plan: start with small amounts of volume and build slowly. Doing so will allow you to build trust with recipients, blocklists and mailbox providers alike, leading to more consistent inbox placement.

Pay attention to the technical bits. All of the representatives on our panel mentioned that configuration issues are a common reason why legitimate senders become blocklisted. It’s ok if technical topics like authentication (such as SPF, DKIM and DMARC) and terms such as rDNS and HELO give you an ice cream headache, but make sure someone in your organization has a handle on how they can impact sending. When in doubt, reach out to your ESP, or share the M3AAWG Senders Best Common Practices document that some of our blocklist panelists helped to write with your IT admin for guidance.

by Lauren Meyer | EVP of Product Marketing & Brand Strategy | SocketLabs