There’s no such thing as email jail, but landing on an email blacklist is pretty much the same thing.
If you land on this list, you’ll be in deep, deep trouble. Not “prison” trouble, but “my marketing campaign doesn’t work anymore” trouble.
But don’t worry. I’m here to help you understand what email blacklists are, how they function, how to know if you’re on an email blacklist—and how to get yourself removed from an email blacklist if you land on one.
Table of Contents
- What Is an Email Blacklist?
- How to Tell If You’re on an Email Blacklist
- How to Get Removed From an Email Blacklist
- What If My De-list request is Denied?
- How to Prevent Getting on an Email Blacklist (Again)
- Managing Your Email
What Is an Email Blacklist?
Okay, let’s start with the basic stuff.
What is an email blacklist?
An email blacklist is a database that attempts to identify and document IP addresses and domains that have a history of sending spam. Blacklists are managed by blacklist operators (often third parties) that collect information on email senders.
They can be used by a wide variety of organizations and companies. These include:
- Internet service providers (ISPs)
- Mailbox providers
- Vendors who specialize in anti-spam
If you find yourself on an email blacklist, depending on the list, and the organization using it, this could mean refusing to send your emails outright or sending your emails to a spam folder.
Not good if you’re an email marketer or doing cold email outreach.
How to Tell If You’re on an Email Blacklist
So how can you tell if you’re on an email blacklist?
The easiest way is to check the most popular blacklist operators.
You can check all of them at once using Mail-tester.com. Just visit the site, send a test email from the email address you fear might be on a blacklist, and you’ll get a report within a minute of which blacklists you’re on (if any). It looks like this:
If for some reason you want to check on each individual blacklist operator website, you can do that too. On each website, you’ll find a lookup option where you can search for your IP address or domain, and see if you’ve been blacklisted directly.
You can also evaluate your email sending reputation—a score estimated based on your current reputation—using a variety of different tools. Each tool uses a slightly different methodology; for example, some use a scale of 0 to 100, while others simply have a 3-tier ranking system (good, bad, or neutral—there’s no “ugly” option that I’ve seen. Yet).
If you use a few of these tools, you should get a good understanding of where your reputation as a sender currently sits. If you’re in “good” territory on every tool you use, you shouldn’t have to worry about being on a blacklist.
These tools include:
Okay. So let’s say those tests didn’t turn out great.
What do you do if you’re on an email blacklist?
First, you need to figure out why you’ve been blacklisted. And the answer is, usually, because of spam.
Remember, blacklists are specifically designed to index email deviants—aka spammers. If you’re on a list, it’s probably because of spam, in one form or another.
Spam, for the record, is unsolicited email, often sent in bulk. These are messages that are usually worthless, are unwanted by their recipients, and are sent to many, many people.
There are a few triggers that can put you on an email blacklist.
- Direct complaints. Sometimes, people flag your emails as spam directly, either because they feel like their privacy has been invaded or because they simply don’t like your tone. A couple of complaints isn’t going to arouse much attention, but if you get lots of complaints, or get them pretty consistently, it’s going to work against you.
- List issues. You might have a list problem. If you try to send emails to obsolete email addresses, or if you’re sending to the wrong people, it could increase the smell of spam associated with your IP. Buying lists is usually the root cause here. Instead, follow our guide to building a list of targeted prospects to ensure you are only sending to legitimate, quality email addresses.
- Deliverability issues. Persistent deliverability issues might be beyond your control, or well within your control. Either way, it could look bad to all those email cops who look for email criminals to throw onto the blacklist.
- Sudden or suspicious changes. Email monitors want to see nice, natural, organic activity. If you go from sending 10 emails a day to sending 10,000 emails a day, that’s bad news. Sudden or suspicious changes in your emailing patterns can put you in blacklistable territory.
You can check out our guide on why emails go to spam for even more detailed information.
How to Get Removed From an Email Blacklist
Here’s the scenario.
You know you’re on a blacklist. Maybe you truly believe you were put there by mistake, or maybe you just got caught spamming.
Either way, you need to get yourself removed.
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Step 1. Clean up your act
The first thing you need to do is figure out why you’re on a blacklist, then clean up your act. If you were spamming, stop. You may need to stop sending emails altogether for a while.
Use the email account like a normal person would for a few weeks; that means sending and receiving emails, responding to emails, and making sure other people actually respond to you. You can use the Lemwarm feature from Lemlist to do this for you automatically.
Step 2. Submit a Request to De-list Your Domain
The next step is to submit a de-list request to the blacklist operator that blacklisted you. That means you have to prove that you’re reformed—or that you never committed an email sin to begin with.
The submission process is simple, but the actual removal can be trickier.
Consult the list of the major blacklist operators above. Most of them have a page on their site labeled “delist” or “removal request” or something similar.
When you open up one of these options, you’ll get a form, wherein you can fill in various pieces of information, such as:
- Your email server IP
- Your domain
- Your email address
- Your phone number
And most importantly, your reasoning for requesting removal.
You’ll have an open-ended area here, where you can document the steps you’ve taken to correct your infringing behavior—or the reason why you think this blacklisting event was uncalled for.
The best approach to get removed here is to be as clear and straightforward as possible. In clear, concise terms, explain your reasoning and why you hope to be removed. Don’t beg. Don’t lie. Don’t try to bribe them. Just be honest.
Most requests are reviewed within 24 hours, though it may take a few days to get a response. Don’t bombard them with more requests if you don’t hear back—you can’t make a good case that you’re not a spammer by spamming the company that caught you spamming, right?
Be patient and wait to hear back. You’ll get an answer either way.
What If My De-list request is Denied?
So what happens if your de-list request is denied?
That’s tough luck, my friend. You might get a specific piece of advice for what to do next, but you may just have to consider this domain or IP address burned and start over with a new one.
How to Prevent Getting on an Email Blacklist (Again)
For this section, we’re going to go over the steps you need to follow if you want to prevent getting added to an email blacklist.
Step 1: Don’t Spam.
Step one is pretty simple: don’t spam.
Spamming usually happens in one (or more) of several forms:
- Mass messaging. You’re sending too many messages. Or you’re sending messages too frequently. Either way, you need to change something drastically. For most campaigns, you don’t need to email people more than once or twice a week. You also shouldn’t increase the size of your list suddenly or inorganically (aka via buying a list).
- Poor targeting. You might also spam by targeting the wrong people. Sending teenagers information on menopause is an example of poor targeting. This doesn’t violate any laws or informal rules, but it’s a good way to get reported as spam.
- Low-quality content. This is the biggest category of offenses, since there are so many ways to be problematic here. If your emails are low-quality, or—do I have to say it—spammy, they can be considered spam. This could include offers that are too good to be true (You just won $1,000,000!!!!), spammy language (CLICK HERE!!!!!!), content that doesn’t load, links that look suspicious, or even atrocious wording. We have a list of spam trigger words in our post covering why emails go to spam. Make sure your emails don’t contain any of the words on the list!
I also encourage you to review the main tenets of the CAN-SPAM Act. Remember when I said there’s no such thing as email jail? Well, there’s such a thing as an email fine, and it can amount to $43,280, which I find to be oddly specific, but I suppose that’s beside the point.
I’ll simplify these 7 tenets the best I can in an attention-span-friendly way:
- Don’t trick people.
- Write reasonable subject lines.
- Make ads clear that they’re ads.
- Include contact information.
- Let people unsubscribe easily.
- Honor those unsubscribe requests.
- Don’t let other people spam on your behalf.
But seriously, read the act and follow it well. There’s a lot of good information in the page I linked.
Step 2: Clean Your List
Next, you have to clean your list. Your list is the heart of your email campaign, and the source of many of your spam woes (assuming you’re writing decent content for your emails).
See this guide for help on building a targeted list of prospects for email outreach. And for cleaning & validating an existing email list, you can use any of these tools:
Or see our full list of the top email address validators!
Step 3: Improve Your Email Deliverability
With best practices in place, your email deliverability will likely be fine.
But you can always be better.
- Use a different domain for cold outreach. Don’t conduct email outreach using your main business domain. Use a separate but similar one. For example, we use emailanalytics.co (not .com) for sending cold email outreach.
- Set up a paid Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) account. We love G Suite. Investing in a paid G Suite account will help to improve your reputation—and therefore your deliverability rates.
- Get some incoming mail. Email addresses that receive messages—rather than just sending them—are seen as more reputable than their counterparts. You can use Lemlist’s “lemwarm” feature to automatically “warm” your email account with natural-looking send/receive activity. And sign up for some newsletters, too – that’ll help make it look more natural.
- Avoid spam triggers. I’m going to go ahead and link our guide on email spam once again. There are dozens of little issues that could get your email flagged as spam, either by automated tools or by people identifying your messages as spam. Know and avoid them.
- Gradually start sending emails. This isn’t a race. If you want to stay as clean as possible as long as possible, you need to start sending emails gradually. Send only a few, and send them sparingly. Ramp up slowly over time. You’ll thank yourself later.
If you want to conduct cold email outreach the right way, without worrying about getting blacklisted, be sure to see our guide on cold emailing.
Managing Your Email
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.