A Bounce of Prevention

There has been a great deal of discussion in the email sender community about blocklists and blocklisting lately. Since December, I’ve talked to a great many senders who don’t understand why blocklisting services decided to list them and wonder why they were “singled out” for listings. They weren’t; they singled themselves out.

What I mean is that I have operated DNSBLs and run spamtrap networks. If there’s one thing I wish that senders understood, it’s that I never, ever had to go looking for spam. When a sender’s mail ends up in my trap in quantities sufficient to cause a listing, then that was always the sender’s doing, not mine. Listees often complained that I was unfair, that their competitors had the same practices and didn’t get listed, that more trap hits were to be expected during the holidays, and so on. But the bottom line was always that if there was a statistically significant amount of spam in my traps, a listing was sure to follow. If your competitor wasn’t listed it was because they didn’t hit my traps.

My advice here is simple: don’t paint a target on yourself–avoid hitting the spamtraps in the first place. It’s difficult and expensive to resolve a DNSBL listing, and you will find that you cannot dictate the terms under which your IPs will be delisted. I can almost guarantee that you’ll have to give up something you don’t want to lose once a listing happens.

Here are three ways to avoid hitting traps:

  1. Engagement. Spamtraps only rarely engage and won’t do so consistently.  If a recipient hasn’t open or clicked recently (“recently” is 6-12 months in this situation), drop the address. Senders often complain about this, but consider the potential ROI on stale, unengaged addresses against the risk of a DNSBL listing that can take weeks to resolve.
  2. Address acquisition. Gathering addresses at point of sale is risky–I would urge any sender to COI addresses gathered at POS. Failing that, make sure that you remove any addresses that haven’t at least opened within 30 days of first mailing. Any campaign or promotion that drives signups from outside your usual demographic is risky. COI is by far your best option for these addresses as well.
  3. Be proactive. Monitor everything you can. Sign up for summary reports at Spamcop.net; google your IPs for complaints; check your Facebook and Twitter feeds; monitor your feedback loops for anomalies, parse your bounces for error messages pointing to DNSBLs. Most senders have far more data than they realize and very few make good use of it. If that sounds too difficult or daunting, consider signing up for Mailbox Monitor or Return Path Certification to keep tabs on your sending practices. Even small changes from what is normal for your mailings can be a bellwether of larger issues, so investigate immediately.

The lesson here is a simple one—it is always better to prevent a listing than to react to it. Manage your address acquisition, your engagement and your data correctly and you’ll find you will be listing-free. 

Do you have questions about spamtraps? Ask away at [email protected], and maybe I'll use your question in a future blog post. 


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