Some emails never make it to the recipient’s inbox. Sometimes it’s due to a hard bounce generated by an invalid email address. Other times it’s because the sender’s IP address and/or domain has been blacklisted.
Are email blacklists as bad as they sound? How easy is it to get removed from one? This article will cover all you need to know about email blacklists.
What is an email blacklist?
An email blacklist (or ‘blocklist’) is a collection of domains and/or IP addresses blocked from sending emails to email users because of spam activity. There are different kinds of blacklists including internal ones run by webmail providers (Gmail, Outlook, etc.), external ones run by security companies (Proofpoint, Barracuda, Cloudmark, etc.), and finally, those managed by non-profit organizations (Spamhaus, SURBL, etc.).
My IP/domain’s been blacklisted, how did this happen?
ISPs (Internet Service Providers) like Yahoo, Gmail, and Outlook use spam filters to decide whether an email is delivered, flagged as suspicious, or rejected entirely.
Getting your emails past spam filters is crucial in email marketing to prevent your work ending up in the junk folder or worse — on an email blacklist!
If you wind up on an email blacklist, this means your IP or domain has appeared as if engaging in spam-related activity.
The definition of spam varies according to different ISPs and blacklist vendors. While each blacklist has its own set of rules and policies to determine spam, here are some of the typical reasons for getting blacklisted:
- Recipient complaints (too many of them mark your message as spam or hit unsubscribe)
- Emails or IPs being used for fraudulent activities (malware, phishing, hacking, ransomware, etc.)
- IP supporting spam services like scrapers or bulletproof hosting
- Buying email lists
- Getting caught in spam traps
- Using ISPs like Gmail or Outlook to send mass emails
- Any other behavior considered suspicious (a high volume of hard bounces, too many emails sent within a certain period of time, technical standards not being met)
What’s the impact of being on an email blacklist on your business?
It’s likely that your email deliverability will take a hit. Deliverability here refers to the ability to land emails in a recipient’s inbox.
The impact to your email deliverability depends largely on the size and notoriety of the blacklist.
Let’s say your domain ends up on a small and relatively unknown blacklist. There’s a good chance the impact will be so minimal you won’t even notice it. This is the best case scenario.
On the other hand, if you’re on a blacklist used by a major email provider then you’re in trouble. In this case your emails are likely to be rejected before ever reaching the recipients. Naturally, this will be detrimental to your email marketing efforts.
How to run an email blacklist check
You’ll know you’ve been blacklisted when your undelivered email generates an error message to inform you of the blacklisting.
If, however, you don’t receive any such message but notice a sudden drop in your delivery rates, it’s a good idea to do an email blacklist check.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to go to the websites of the most common blacklist vendors and check the blacklists directly. These sites usually have lookup tools with which you can enter the IP address or domain name and run a search. It’s that simple.
Here are some of the most common email blacklist providers:
Another option is to use one of the many email blacklist checkers available online.
If you’re looking for a free email blacklist checker you can try out tools like MXToolbox or Ultratools.
What to do if your IP or domain name is on an email blacklist
There are three things you need to do when you find out you’re on an email blacklist:
- Understand why this happened: Did you make changes to the email content? Were you emailing a new set of contacts? Was this part of a new email strategy?
- Request blacklist removal
- Take actions to prevent this from happening again
It’s essential that you review your email practices and make changes where necessary.
Remember, you’re on the blacklist, you can find what went wrong and fix it. It’s not a death sentence.
How to remove an IP address/domain from an email blacklist
Most of the blacklist vendors have information available on their websites about blacklist removal.
Delisting can be requested via a link or form. You just need to follow the necessary steps and put in place the recommended actions to improve your email marketing practices.
After you manage that, it’s best to establish new rules and practices for your team so that you don’t appear on any more blacklists.
How to avoid getting blacklisted in the first place
Prevention is certainly better than cure when it comes to email blacklists.
It’s going to be much better for your email marketing performance and brand reputation if you abide by email deliverability best practices. This way you can minimize the blacklist risk entirely — while maximizing the impact of your email campaigns.
Here are some email marketing best practices to prevent you from being blacklisted:
Always get consent
Only email contacts who have given their express permission for you to do so. We strongly recommend implementing a double opt-in signup process to confirm the subscriber’s intent and ensure the address provided is valid.
Double opt-in is one sure way to protect yourself from spam traps (more on those below).
Keep your contact list up to date
Keep in mind that engagement has an impact on deliverability. If a contact hasn’t opened an email from you in six months, then it’s time to delete. Unengaged contacts are more likely to mark you as spam if you keep emailing them.
Remove them along with any unsubscribes and inactive addresses as part of regular list cleaning. Find out more on email list management here.
Don’t send mass email from an ISP
Webmail providers (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook) are designed for personal use so when a mass email is sent from one of them, it looks suspicious.
The best way to send and manage mass email campaigns is by using a dedicated email marketing service like Brevo (ex Sendinblue).
Keep a close eye on campaign metrics
If you notice a sudden drop in your email open rates you can be sure that something’s up. Tracking email metrics closely will allow you to react quickly in the event of a deliverability issue or blacklisting.
Check your sender reputation
Your sender reputation is one of the criteria used by ISPs to determine if you’re a bad sender. Your sender reputation depends on how your emails have performed in the past and whether your domain has been flagged for suspicious activity.
You should check up on it regularly using tools like Senderscore.
Avoid spam words in subject lines and email copy
Did you know that spam filters are triggered by certain words and phrases? Check out this list from Elegant Themes to know which ones to avoid.
Never buy email lists
Just think about it: buying a list of dubiously sourced random email addresses of people who’ve probably never heard of you and definitely didn’t opt in to receive your emails. This can’t be a good idea. Don’t buy email lists, it hurts your brand and marketing performance while wasting your money!
It’s not just because of GDPR. Purchased contact lists are full of spam traps (also known as ‘spam honey-pots’).
A spam trap is an inactive email address that has been purposely left out in the open by ISPs and blacklist vendors. Because the address is inactive, the ISP or blacklist vendor knows that any email received is unsolicited — and this identifies the sender as spammer.
The right email tools help you stay off email blacklists
By now you should know a lot more about email blacklists and how they work.
Only send your marketing emails to contacts who actually want to hear from you and be sure the content is providing value in some way.
Signing up to a reputable email service provider is one of the best ways to manage emails and optimize your deliverability.
Brevo gives you signup forms to collect consent, including double opt-in, and makes email list management easy. It automatically removes hard bounced email addresses and unsubscribers to keep your deliverability healthy.
Jumpstart your email strategy with Brevo
Free plan includes access to all core email features, 300 emails/day, 40+ email templates, and customizable signup forms to grow your email list.