Blacklisted? Let’s See How It Affects Your Email Deliverability

Vladislav Podolyako
Jun 10, 2021
Reading duration

Even though modern anti-spam measures became advanced, spam emails are still an issue. Criminals look for all kinds of leeways and exploits to ruin your day for their amusement or financial gain. The number of spam messages is so large that sorting them manually may feel like a headache. Blacklists were created to relieve users from these monotonous and time-consuming tasks. 

However, apart from stopping spam senders, blacklists have become a source of headache for some legitimate senders, at least for those who aren’t very experienced with email outreach yet. 

If you dove into our blog in search for answers to such questions as “Why the *** don’t people get my emails? Why do my emails keep disappearing?”, this post will get you briefed on the following subjects: 

  • how blacklists work;
  • how senders get blacklisted;
  • how to delist yourself;
  • how to avoid getting blacklisted.

The goal of this post is to equip you with insights that will let you explore your outreach journey bravely and build the most trustworthy relationships with internet service providers, mailing servers and every platform that assists them. 

How blacklists help every email marketing service

Santa Claus has a special list for naughty kids. Internet service providers keep lists of naughty senders by building a database that contains IP addresses and domain names known for suspicious or harmful activity. Such a database is called a blacklist. 

Blacklists come in two types:

  • Private blacklists. These are internal databases of blacklisted email addresses maintained by internet service providers. For example, Gmail has a private blacklist. So does Outlook. However, Gmail and Outlook users can’t access those lists, so they have no way of knowing if their email addresses got blacklisted. Such lists exist to help internet service providers keep users safe from spammers, not to assist you with improving your domain reputation. 
  • Public blacklists. There are many accessible blacklists to help senders monitor their behavior and check their reputation. They openly display all domain names and IP addresses that have been banned for suspicious activity, letting users:

a) take notes and steer clear of certain senders; 

b) find their domain name on the blacklist and take measures. 

Blacklists are usually updated by internet servers providers by processing spam complaints and evaluating the spam scores of a certain sender. If one domain name boasts too many accounts that show malicious activity (sending spam, spoofing, spreading files with malware, violating SPAM-CAN act), its Spam Score goes up, ultimately deeming the domain dangerous enough to be blacklisted. 

How senders get blacklisted 

To be more precise, we should have named the article “How do legitimate senders turn into blacklisted email senders?”

Spammers get caught red-handed and punished very quickly because modern spam filters are very good at their job and because spam senders can’t be bothered with keeping a low profile. They know they will be caught and banned, so they try to cause as much harm as possible before their gig is over. 

How do well-meaning senders get caught up in the mix? 

Unlike Santa, blacklists don’t know if you’re a good person. They only work with the data that was submitted to them via several sources. 

  • Your recipients.  All advanced anti-spam techniques rely on the vigilance and dutifulness of users. Whenever you click the “Send to spam” button, you do more than just getting rid of an annoying email. You inform your internet service provider and your email service provider about a potential danger so that they can process this information and use it to weaponize themselves against new spam techniques. That also means that if you pester and annoy your recipients, they will get you blacklisted. 
  • Spam traps.  Spam traps are email addresses meant to catch users who buy large email databases, don’t verify them and start sending large volumes of messages. If such an address keeps receiving tons of emails, it labels the sender as a spammer and their domain is added to the blacklist. There are several types of spam traps you should know about. 

  • You. Well, not you as a person, but the way you approach your outreach. How are your DNS records? Does your image/text ratio comply with modern guidelines? Have you checked for multiple SPF records? Do you test your deliverability often?
  • Sending limit. A newly-created domain can send only a certain amount of emails. Going beyond that threshold alerts internet service providers and spam filters, harming your sender reputation. This is the most common pitfall for many beginners who instantly start sending large volumes of messages without taking their time and building a certain cadence. Information about the number of emails and your sending cadence is constantly documented and can get you blacklisted.

How to delist yourself  

So, you suspect that your domain has been blacklisted. But how can you check it?

With public blacklists, it’s not a big deal. You can find and view major databases on the internet and scan them for your address. 

  • MXToolBox. The tools available at this online platform include a blacklist checker for searching through blacklists and checking your DNS settings.
  • Barracuda Reputation Block List. This open database by Barracuda spam filter is available to anyone wishing to look for their domain name. 
  • Spamhaus. This blacklist contains a large number of spammy domains. All users can access this information and receive detailed insights.  

When it comes to checking private blacklists, things get more complicated. You can’t really ask Gmail or Outlook to give you access to their databases, so you have to monitor your relationships with these mail services. For example, if the bounce rate of Gmail inboxes keeps growing, while your open rate drops every day, there is a high probability that Gmail doesn’t like you. 

Since tracking your performance is quite time-consuming, there are services that can take it off your plate. For example, Forlderly spam tests and deliverability checks give you an in-depth analysis of your inbox and its most important metrics, such as bounce rate, open rate and deliverability rate. Moreover, Folderly tests scan public blacklists, too, providing you with as much detail as possible. 

With this step covered, let’s move on to the delisting process. You have several options for removing yourself from blacklists:

  • Asking nicely. Most blacklists don’t deny the probability of legitimate senders getting blacklisted by mistake. If you don’t have a rich history of violating outreach guidelines, you can contact the team behind the list and ask them to remove your domain from the list. If you know the reason why you got blacklisted, outline it in your message — the team will be more eager to respond and fulfill your request. However, make sure to fix the issue that got you into a blacklist before you contact the operators. Otherwise, you’ll end up getting blacklisted again, and this time, you won’t get away that easily. 
  • Making amends.  Working with users is good for your domain’s health. If you know that recipients’ complaints resulted in you getting blacklisted, try fixing your relationship. Reach out to your users and ask them to remove your emails from spam. Offer apologies for disturbing them and make it clear that you never meant to inconvenience them. Once they comply with your request, thank them, remove them from your mailing list and never bother them again. 
  • Following tips.  Tools like Folderly offer suggestions and recommendations on improving your sending reputation. The more you know about how you landed on blacklists, the easier it will be for you to work out a viable strategy for finding your way out. 

Mind, however, that getting delisted is always hard. Even if you’re not an offender, it takes from one to two weeks to remove your domain name from a blacklist. Therefore, approach this matter seriously. Make your arguments as logical and compelling as possible and remember this lesson to avoid blacklists in the future. 

How to avoid getting blacklisted

It’s a lot easier to prevent getting added to a blacklist database than to find your way out of it. We have already mentioned the factors that get you blacklisted. Now, let’s see what steps you can take to keep your sending reputation up and running: 

  • Check your mailing lists.  Never go in blind. Don’t buy pre-made email lists, especially if they weren’t built exclusively for you. Either take some time to hand-pick and verify email addresses that belong to real people and are relevant to your goals or hire a team that will scan through every niche and validate all the contacts before handing them over to you. 
  • Don’t piss your recipients off.  If you see that some of your recipients don’t open emails, don’t push your luck. Either you have some spam traps on your lists or you’re not targeting the right people. Whatever the matter is, play it safe, remove their emails from your list and move on. The same goes for “Stop contacting me” messages from your recipients. It’s better to part on good terms rather than escalate things. 
  • Build your pace and schedule.  If you’re new to outreach, familiarize yourself with sending limits and stick to them. Make sure to work out a consistent and steady pace that no spammer can be bothered with. Once internet service providers see that you regularly send a certain amount of emails in a certain hour, they will become a lot more lenient. 
  • Run tests.  Never leave anything to chance. Nowadays, you have plenty of tools to monitor your behavior and make sense of your metrics. For example, our Folderly tool lets you test your deliverability as many times as you need. Additionally, you can download your reports to get a good look at your performance and nip issues in the bud. 

We hope that this post changed your opinion about blacklists, turning them from a bugaboo into a manageable aspect of email outreach. Every safety mechanism exists to keep you and your recipients safe during conversations. The best you can do is follow the guidelines and do your part as a sender, stay informed about the latest outreach ends and keep building your outbound marketing channel. 

Vladislav Podolyako
Vladislav Podolyako
Founder & CEO
Vlad’s decades of entrepreneurial wisdom and business building experience have allowed him to successfully mentor a diverse group of business owners, entrepreneurs in growing their companies. A recognized expert in the areas of transforming organizational culture and leadership development, B2B Sales, Marketing, spent more than 10 years building technology products, with a background in communication networks and electronic device engineering.

Also you may like

Why Spam Filters Hate You
Why Spam Filters Hate You

Spam filters are scary. Sometimes it feels like they do everything possible to destroy your outreach. However, this isn’t true. Spam filters exist to protect your outreach and you. Your goal is to prove that you’re a sender, not a spammer. In this post, we’ll show you how you can do it.