How to get on email Whitelists
April 1, 2008 1:05 PM   Subscribe

My company is having trouble with some of the big email providers (e.g. Gmail, YahooMail, Comcast, Hotmail, etc) blocking our email to our customers because they think it's SPAM. We are only sending email to our existing customers or people who request information from our site. How do we stop them from blocking our email? Is this something we can do ourselves? Are there companies that will do this for us?
posted by GernBlandston to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well it is spam, but people usually spin it as mass marketing. Or Electronic campaigning.

Usually when you want to do this you hire this out to a company to do this who keeps your mass marketing email traffic separate from your corporate traffic. There are hundreds of vendors and appliance manufacturers who will do this or help you do this.

You would adopt this same approach when hosting your own mass marketing infrastructure you will generally assume that the domain and the ip's participating in the mass marketing efforts will be blackholed from time to time. The common strategy is to separate these activities from your general business functions as much as is technically feasible.
posted by iamabot at 1:13 PM on April 1, 2008

What you ought to do depends on why or what method they're using to flag it as spam.

The first thing I'd do, if I were you, is ensure that you have SPF and DomainKeys/DKIM set up for all your outgoing mail. How you do that is a bit much for an AskMe, but there are lots of tutorials for most common MTA packages. (Basically: it's something that the admin of your mailserver needs to deal with, perhaps in conjunction with whoever operates your DNS records.)

That may help decrease the 'spamminess' of your messages.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:15 PM on April 1, 2008

Response by poster: To clarify, we only send email to people who have signed up on our website to be contacted, or to send invoice information from a purchase. We do not send unsolicited email.
posted by GernBlandston at 1:17 PM on April 1, 2008

Iamabot -> You're confusing bulk email with spam. Spam is unsolicited. Mass marketing email may often be spam, but if the recipient has agreed to receive it, it is not spam. There are many situations where an organisation has legitimate reasons for sending bulk email, and Gern appears to be involved in such an activity. The major email providers generally have no problem with this.

Gern -> One thing to check is whether your mail server has a valid reverse DNS lookup record.

Take a look at as a starting-point. Most of the big email providers have similar support pages to help with bulk email issues.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:20 PM on April 1, 2008

Also, another thought: are your opt-out buttons/links both working and EASY to find and use? If they aren't, if for example they're buried at the bottom of the messages in the small print, and it's easier for users who get tired of your messages to just hit the 'Spam' button than to look for your opt-out link, then you're going to end up getting flagged as spam.

Even though you don't think of your messages as spam, if you're sending them to users who for whatever reason don't want to receive them (even if they may have signed up for them at one point, or did business with you, or whatever), they're going to flag the messages as spam. If enough people do that on a shared system, you may start seeing all your messages go into the bin.

The solution is to really make sure that the only people receiving your messages are the ones who are interested in them. Purge your lists early and often, make it opt-in rather than an automatic-add, make opt-outs/removals easy and painless, etc. Any time you send email to someone who isn't interested in receiving it, you're de facto spamming, and the blocking systems will start to treat you that way.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:21 PM on April 1, 2008

I have this issue as well, and in my case my IT expert friend thinks that it is because I'm on a shared hosting environment. So my return address is my domain, but in the headers is the domain of my host as the sender, and since they don't match, poof, spam. I have the SPF thing going and it hasn't made a difference, and I may have missed a nuance or two in my friend's explanation.
posted by maxwelton at 1:31 PM on April 1, 2008

You can argue about whether it is or is not spam all day, but what's probably happening is that enough end users are marking it as spam that the mail services are considering it spammy.

If your end users ended up "agreeing" to it by not finding and unchecking a tiny checkbox somewhere that said "I don't not not decline to disagree to not receive junk mail," well, a lot of people don't consider that opting in to get your junk useless newsletter.

That may not be the case for you, I don't know. Just saying, a lot of businesses seem to think I'm interested in their crap, and may have a legitimate technicality that says they can send me stuff. I don't read it, though, and I don't care enough to wade through the spam box to figure out how to unsubscribe from each thing.
posted by ctmf at 1:43 PM on April 1, 2008

Sending a confirmation invoice to a customer who has made a purchase is not bulk email, spam, or mass marketing. I just wanted to note that this is not a problem that only exists with people who send out large emails.

Yet it can still find it's way into a spam filter. I have the same issue, a customer sends an email to me with a request, I answer back, and it gets sent into a spam folder. I am a small, one person business, have never sent bulk email, and still fall into this problem.

I also receive inquires from potential customers, and it gets marked as spam, and I know their emails are personal, not even connected to a business.

it is a mystery to me, so I will follow this thread.
posted by Vaike at 1:56 PM on April 1, 2008

Seconding what le morte said, a lot of providers will reject mail if the IP address that is in the header of the email (so, basically your email server) doesn't have a valid reverse DNS record. I know that some providers even required that the reverse record match what's in the A record, but I don't think that's as common any longer.
posted by trinkatot at 1:59 PM on April 1, 2008

I have the same problem. I have never sent an unsolicited email. However, I've run into a few problems. (1) Some people think it's okay to delete email by clicking "spam", because they don't know that Google/Yahoo/etc uses that in developing figures. (2) Email spoofs have resulted in real spam appearing to come from my domain, even though I've never sent it. (3) SOme email filters hate shared IP addresses. I've found that following the reverse lookup for DNS and other things has helped, but I still run into problems. In fact, when my customers make purchases from my site -- and agree to receive a document by email -- some systems block it as spam. Even when my friends email me, Hotmail blocks my replies! It is a very difficult situation, made more upsetting when you've never sent an unsolicited email and only use opt-in marketing.
posted by acoutu at 2:18 PM on April 1, 2008

You may wish to advise your customers to add the incoming email address to their address books to manually whitelist you.

I see this all the time from sites I actually do want notifications from, and even the address book trick doesn't necessarily help. For example, LiveJournal never sends me anything at all because somehow, Yahoo Mail stopped working.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:33 PM on April 1, 2008

Firstly, separate out your bulk emailing and do it via a good third party service - I'd suggest either MailChimp or Campaign Monitor. This not only means they're taking care of a lot of technical stuff for you to maximise delivery, but the separation reduces the chances of your internal systems getting blacklisted.

For one-off emails like invoices you're going to have to get someone knowledgeable to look at how your email system works. There are countless technical details such as reverse DNS, SenderID/SPF, DomainKeys, your server config, your email client config, checking headers look OK, testing with SpamAssassin, checking blacklists, and so on; the more attention paid to the details, the more chance your email has of getting through. Unfortunately, in my experience most sysadmins' knowledge of email barely extends beyond clicking around Exchange settings, so make sure you find someone who doesn't look bemused at the mention of any of those things I listed.
posted by malevolent at 3:09 PM on April 1, 2008

This, I suspect, will continue to be an ever-increasing problem to legitimate businesses, due to the utterly insane volume of actual spam the Googles, Comcasts, etc. of the world have to contend with. As they work-out new algorithms to effectively screen the spam, legitimate emailers are bound to get wrapped-up with the trash.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:40 PM on April 1, 2008

"You can argue about whether it is or is not spam all day, but what's probably happening is that enough end users are marking it as spam that the mail services are considering it spammy."

You can argue about anything. Doesn't mean there are no right answers.

There's really no indication that the OP is spamming. In fact, all of the evidence is to the contrary, and the "mark this as spam" is typically has a very small impact on the actual designation in networked systems for exactly the reasons described above, so I'd have to disagree that this is "probably" what happened. (But kudos for assuming the worst about the OP.)

A few other things can bump up a messages spam rating. Too many links, a wonky image-to-text ratio, the recipient's address not appearing in the descriptive headers, and so on. Basically the farther you get from the typical "email to a friend" the more likely you are to be put in the spam bin.
posted by toomuchpete at 3:41 PM on April 1, 2008

There's a strong possibility that one of your email accounts was compromised and has been used to send spam. This happened to my email provider quite recently, and many email services started blocking all mail from us. I don't know what the solution is for a small business. My provider liaised with the blocking providers and sorted things out, but they are a big organization with the manpower to do that.

If your logs permit it, you might want to check accounts which have been sending out unusually large volumes of email.
posted by Coventry at 5:38 PM on April 1, 2008

Are you using DHCP with your service provider? A low-pass spam filter used by many email providers is to do a reverse DNS lookup: If your IP doesn't map back to your domain name, it could get auto-blocked... I remember AOL used to block all of my email for this reason.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:44 PM on April 1, 2008

If it is any consolation. Notifications from our Google Docs account often get sorted into our Spam folders by GMail.
posted by Good Brain at 11:47 PM on April 1, 2008

You can argue about anything. Doesn't mean there are no right answers.

I understand that. I also understand that spam has a definition, and the OP may not be spamming. My point was, that being right doesn't help if the the problem is too many of the end users marking it spam, correctly or incorrectly.

I would suggest asking the same question in NANAE. I haven't read the group in years, but as I remember it, lots of email gurus and a number of admins in a position to give you good advice (and maybe even lend a hand) are regulars there. Your company may have some kind of perception problem you may need to know about. Also, as I remember it, you'll want to remember to bring your thick skin. They're pretty quick to start flinging poo at the slightest hint of you trying to pull one over on them. Honest question, though, should be no problem.
posted by ctmf at 12:48 AM on April 2, 2008

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