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 For Web Designers 2021-05-19 16:01:50 UTC Mail Delivery Problems? 

Saturday, August 04 2012


So, you ran a bulk email campaign that got your mail server blacklisted, eh? I don't envy you, fellow space traveler, don't envy you at all. SMTP blacklisting is unpleasant, and it can be costly.

I'd like to share some hard won wisdom with you. It's wisdom that you're going to come to eventually one way or another, at least in part, so you might just as well take the easy way and take heed of my words. You've already started on the course of learning the hard way -- you're smarter than to pursue that course all the way to the bitter end, aren't you?

Before we get into the meat of it, a brief aside: In this article I may make you uncomfortable by challenging your self perception or your concept of fairness. Know that I intend no insult or offense, and that I speak plainly only because I believe I would be doing you a disservice if I were to do otherwise. It's time to confront this SMTP blacklisting problem head on, solve it once and for all, and never have to deal with it again. That's what we both want, and the only way we're going to get it is to observe reality as it is rather than as we wish for it to be. No matter how you choose to come to the wisdom I'm sharing with you, you are going to be uncomfortable at times. You might as well get it out of the way right now and then get on with solving the problem.

We can, between us, solve your problem.

The top four things that I always hear from those whose servers are or have recently been blacklisted:

  1. I only send email to those with whom I have a provable and legitimate business relationship, customers and those who have contacted me in the past requesting product information.
  2. People can opt out of my mailing at any time. There are always opt-out links in the messages, and there's an opt-out form on my web site, too.
  3. All of my promotional mail is CAN-SPAM compliant.
  4. I am a legitimate businessman. I am not a spammer!

First things first: Let us review the definition of spam as it is accepted by most technically savvy individuals. Spam is unsolicited bulk email, typically though not strictly commercial in nature. This is the definition used by those who make the internet work. Please make note of the fact that this definition does not address how the sender came into possession of the email addresses in his list.

The second thing: The only thing being CAN-SPAM compliant gets you is freedom from prosecution in the United States for the bulk email you send. It does not obligate anyone anywhere to conduct or receive your internet communications.

Let us now apply the previous two paragraphs to the Top Four things that I hear from those whose servers have been blacklisted.

"I only send email to those with whom I have... a business relationship...", every time I've heard it, has meant that the speaker has sent bulk email to everyone whose email address he's acquired in the conduct of his business and most of them did not give their express consent to receive that bulk mail. Hmmm. Lack of express consent. Didn't ask or agree. Synonym: Unsolicited. Unsolicited bulk email, the very definition of spam.

"People can opt out..." That's what blacklisting is. It's those recipients of your unsolicited bulk email acting en masse to opt out in a way that does not leave you the option to disregard their will. In my experience, for every spam complaint sent there will be two to four opt-out requests, so overall most people do have a sense of fair play. But those who fire the spam complaint instead? They have evidence that you have no regard for the rules so they have no reason to believe that you will keep your word that opting out will stop your bulk mail. They didn't break the rules. You did.

Rules? But "all of my promotional mail is CAN-SPAM compliant". Again, all that gets you is freedom from legal prosecution and does not obligate anyone to conduct or receive your communications. The rules for gaining access to another's network are whatever they say they are, and most publish their rules for the world to see. The one rule that's most prevalent is Do Not Spam Our Users. Unsolicited bulk mail is spam, and you've sent it to their users. Of course they've blacklisted you.

"I am not a spammer!" Unless all of those people who receive your bulk email have asked you to send it to them, yes, you are. And yes, that blacklisting was an appropriate response whether you like it or not. People don't like receiving unsolicited bulk email. They react badly to it, and almost everyone I've ever discussed the matter with has told me the same thing: If some online vendor spams me once, I will never go back again. It's a simple enough concept, one that most of us employ without even thinking about it: Do not reward bad behavior.

Tangentially: Some years ago I was in a position that required me to attend lots and lots of seminars, several of them being on the topic of how customers behave. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 95% of the customers who have a problem with your company will never give you the opportunity to make it right. They just go away. Then they tell nine or ten of their friends about their bad experience -- and these days, some number of those friends are likely to be social media sites where tens, hundreds, or thousands will view the complaint. When sending unsolicited bulk email, that's the fire you're playing with.

In Part Two, we'll go into how blacklists decide what is and is not spam and who is and is not a spammer. If you've got a dirty mailing list, you're a spammer even if unwittingly so. We can fix this problem. Stay tuned.

→ committed: 8/4/2012 15:19:00

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