In 2011, Kevin Huxham, CakeMail’s very own DoD (Director of Deliverability), wrote this article highlighting best practices for the Holidays.  We’ve updated the article – mostly adding links to other articles we’ve written recently – but the advice is timeless… and worth the read to jog the memory!

Blacklist Friday

Don’t you just love the Holidays? I don’t.

Well, I do love the holidays really, but the truth is that for email delivery folks it’s a very stressful time of year. Not only do email volumes go through the roof, but people seem to forget (or ignore) some basic rules of email marketing that they wouldn’t otherwise think of doing throughout the year.

Because the lure of sending email to as many people as possible to increase ROI is just too good to pass up this time of year, typically good senders can sometimes turn a blind eye when it comes to best practices. They reactivate inactive users, they use lists that haven’t been sent anything in months, they send 5 emails a week instead of the usual 1 etc, etc.

It’s the most wonderful time…

As we all know, Black Friday in the US is the biggest shopping day of the year…but I affectionately refer to it as Blacklist Friday because that is usually what results for many email marketers.

ISPs (and email receivers in general) are constantly trying to find good ways to filter spam. One of those ways is by using blacklists. A blacklist is a list used by receiving networks to judge a given IP and/or sending domain’s reputation. These lists are run by Anti-Spam groups and most blacklistings are the result of sending Unsolicited Bulk Email (UBE) to addresses that never asked to receive it.

There are many different blacklists out there and some carry more weight in the community than others, but they are all an indication you may be doing something seriously wrong. I’ve mentioned this before, but a lot of people think blacklists are the bad guys, when in fact they should be regarded as friends (not foes). The feedback they provide is not only free, it’s an extremely viable way for your Internet Servie Provider (ISP) to keep spam out of your own Inbox. Getting blacklisted also alerts you (the sender) to problems with your marketing practices you might not be aware of. You should think of it like your child’s report card in school. If your kid fails a class wouldn’t you want to know about it so you can help them and fix the problem?

It’s a trap

There are 2 basic kinds of traps, “Dormant” and “Bonafide” traps.

“Dormant” Traps

An email address that once existed, and may have even signed up to your list legitimately at one point but they have since become inactive.

“Bonafide” Traps

An email address that has been created intentionally to catch people scouring the internet looking for any address they can find. These traps do not belong to a real person (and never did) and could never “opt-in” to any list since it is impossible for the address to initiate, respond or give consent to having received email of any kind.

Essentially, ISPs want to know if you are:

  1. Harvesting addresses off the internet
  2. Sending to lists that are very old
  3. Handling & Processing hard bounces correctly

It allows them to judge the incoming mail from that sender so they can add it to their overall reputation score and filter it (if necessary).

An Example:

abc123@hotmail.com is deactivated because the person that signed up for it is no longer using it. From the date it becomes inactive for a period of lets say 6-12 months, it will return a hard bounce if you try to send it an email. So… people that are sending regularly and removing hard bounces from their lists properly will abandon this address in the process. People that don’t do this obviously will still list this address as ‘active’.

After 12 months, Hotmail will stop returning a hardbounce because it feels that any responsible marketer would have already removed this address from their lists.

If you keep sending to it after this time, it could result in a negative reputation at Hotmail and together with all the other stuff they look at.. could mean email from that sender will start going to the Junk box. Blacklists do the same thing, but they also receive inactive spam traps from ISPs, Registrars, they buy domains of companies that have gone under, etc.

Email Marketing: Your Reputation Matters

Email marketing is far different to any other method of reaching out to your client-base.

The actions of one single email going to the wrong place or the wrong person can seriously affect your reputation and your delivery.

This is the worst time of year to take risks with your sender reputation, risking account suspensions and blacklists with activities like reactivating old lists.

Opt-in check boxes need to be empty, confirmation emails need to be sent and you need to send to your list on a regular basis. This is the only way we can avoid having this issue during the busiest time of year.

Happy Holidays!

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Author Kevin Huxham

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