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Getting Your Emails Delivered Part II

by Michelle Keegan,  Constant Contact Email Marketing Expert

In a previous article entitled "Getting Your Emails Delivered Part I" I gave an overview of all types of email bounces. Today, in the sequel, I want to cover a few of the hottest subjects in email marketing today: email blocking, email filters and false positives. I'll define the issues and terms and tell you what you can do to make sure your permission-based email gets through.

Where's my email?

"In 2002, the average consumer received an estimated 2,300 pieces of spam email. By 2007, the number is projected to grow to 3,600 pieces." Source: Jupiter Media

Is it any wonder that ISPs and corporations are now doing everything they can to stem the tide of spam flowing into their users' email inboxes?

But despite all of the efforts to decrease spam, a foolproof solution has not yet been created. And, as a result of current email blocking and filtering techniques (see definitions below), a lot of legitimate permission-based email is being blocked as well. In the industry, we call this a "false-positive."

What do "false positives" mean to you?

If you were one of the early admission applicants to Harvard University eagerly awaiting email notification of your acceptance or rejection last December, you could have been among 100 of those applicants who never received word. All because Harvard emails were inadvertently flagged as junk mail and blocked by AOL.

And, to quote Trevor Hughes, Executive Director of The Network Advertising Initiative: "If you're expecting a gift certificate from an online bookstore or a city meeting notice, you may never see it due to the blacklists and filters that are currently in place. Or a message to your accountant may bounce, if someone has put the server that handles your company's email on its blacklist. A message from a long lost high school buddy may be filtered if he uses too many exclamation marks."

Sounds grim, huh? It really isn't. There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Spam is universally recognized as an industry wide crisis on the Internet and experts representing all areas of knowledge are working together like never before to come up with a solution.

What can you do to make sure your permission-based email gets through?

If your email is being blocked at a particular company or ISP, ask your subscribers to help by contacting their postmaster and requesting to have your email "un-blocked."

If your email is being filtered, check your from line, subject line and email copy and avoid using key words that might look like spam to a content-based spam filter

  • Excessive punctuation
  • Excessive use of "click here," $$, and other symbols
  • The words free, guarantee, spam, credit card, sex, etc.
  • Redundant unsubscribe instructions

Finally, if some of your email is being blocked, know that you're not alone. And, if you are using an established email service provider, like Constant Contact, know that you are in good hands. Why?

Here's what a reputable email service provider does for you:

  • Delivers your emails using the proper protocols.
  • Maintains strong permission policies and an active anti-blocking team working on your behalf.
  • Develops relationships with ISPs and is whitelisted (see definition below) to ensure their customers' permission-based email gets through.
  • Provides reports and bounce management and helps you stay on top of current best practices-like including a failsafe one-click unsubscribe link in every email.
  • Is at the forefront of the industry, protecting the appropriate use of email as a business and marketing communications tool through its involvement in organizations like the ones listed above.

And, if a problem does arise, a good email service provider gets more attention than you could ever get on your own. Help is here and there's more on the way. In the meantime, here is a glossary of terms to add to your repertoire:

Glossary of terms

Email Blocking - Email blocking occurs when the receiving email server (e.g. Yahoo!, AOL, Hotmail etc.) prevents an inbound email from reaching the inbox of the intended recipient. Most of the time the sender of the email receives a "bounce" message notifying the sender that their email has been blocked.

Filters - Filtering is a technique used to block email based on the content in the "from:" line, "subject:" line, or body copy of an email. Filtering software searches for key words and other indicators that identify the email as potential spam. This type of blocking occurs on a per email basis.

False Positive - A false positive occurs when a legitimate permission-based email is incorrectly filtered or blocked as spam.

Blacklist - It is common for an ISP to a use a blacklist to determine which emails should be blocked. Blacklists contain lists of domains or IP addresses of known and suspected spammers. Unfortunately, these blacklists also contain many legitimate email service providers. Just a few spam complaints can land an email service provider or IP address on a blacklist despite the fact that the ratio of complaints to volume of email sent is extremely low.

Whitelist - A whitelist is the opposite of a blacklist. Instead of listing IP addresses to block, a whitelist includes IP addresses that have been approved to deliver email despite blocking measures. It is common practice for ISPs to maintain both a blacklist and a whitelist. When email service providers, like Constant Contact, say they are "whitelisted" it means that their IP addresses are on a specific ISP's whitelist and are confident that emails sent using their service will be delivered.

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