Get Your Email Flowing Again With Blocklist Remediation

military personnel standing beside barricade

The biggest panic any email marketer faces is a Spamhaus Block List (SBL) listing. As companies approach their busy seasons, they start digging deeper into their lists and mailing addresses that haven’t been mailed in a long time. So, let’s talk about what a listing is, how it can hurt, and what will happen if it happens to you.

Who is Spamhaus?

Spamhaus is the largest and most influential block list around. Their Frequently Asked Questions page states: “The Spamhaus Block List (SBL) is a real-time database of IP addresses of spam sources, including known spammers, spam gangs, spam operations, and spam support services. SBL listings are made according to policies outlined in on their website. Simply put, they list IP addresses they consider to be sending spam.

Unfortunately, the definition of “spam” is very squishy these days. Some subscribers define it as “mail that I don’t like,” others as “mail that I don’t want.” Many receivers define it as “mail that makes our users complain.” Many marketers define “spam” as “mail that doesn’t comply with CAN-SPAM.” Spamhaus has an operational definition: “An electronic message is ‘spam’ if (A) the recipient’s personal identity and context are irrelevant because the message is equally applicable to many other potential recipients; AND (B) the recipient has not verifiably granted deliberate, explicit, and still-revocable permission for it to be sent.”

Why Does This Definition Matter?

Simply put, Spamhaus SBL listings can be devastating to a marketing program. One estimate is that a fairly typical B2C list will see bounce rates climb to 60-65%, and the mail that does get through may well be routed to the bulk folder. While that will, of course, vary depending upon the composition of a particular list, an SBL listing will mean that mail won’t get through to people who asked for it because it is potentially being sent to people who don’t want it.

How Do SBL Listings Happen?

SBL listings are data-driven in their origins. That is, they happen because of Spamhaus’s data. Spamhaus runs vast networks of spamtraps. These addresses may (or may not) have belonged to a person in the past, but they don’t belong to anyone now. After a period known as “seasoning,” where all mail is explicitly bounced for periods often of a year or more, these addresses start providing data to Spamhaus SBL editors. They are considered when new listings are created.

In other words, SBL listings don’t happen because your competition is tattling on you, someone got mad at you for sending mail they didn’t like, or a little birdy whispered in someone’s ear. They happen because of things that Spamhaus is seeing from its data.

How to Avoid an SBL

Most senders will never need to talk to someone like me about an SBL listing. They have programs that march along, getting new subscribers and quietly sunsetting addresses that no longer give them any return on their investment. But, many good folks are pushed to increase performance by doing naughty things. Resist that temptation. The things that keep you out of the SBL from January through November are the same things that will keep you out of it from Black Friday through New Year’s Eve.

How to Survive a Listing

The pressure was overwhelming. Your IP address has been listed on a block list. What do you do now?

First of all, don’t panic. Someone like me can help you discover and resolve the issues that caused the listing.

Second, stop mailing. If you expect to see 60% or more of your list not get delivered, why waste your time and marketing budget on sending mail that won’t arrive? Suspend sending marketing emails until the listing is resolved.

Finally, understand that while SBL listings happen because of data Spamhaus sees, they are often removed by making agreed policy changes. That means finding out what recently changed and crafting a policy to prevent that from happening again. For some folks, that will mean getting rid of purchased or appended data (which ET’s anti-spam policy doesn’t allow anyway). For others, it will mean creating a plan to attempt to re-engage subscribers who haven’t shown any signs of life and eventually suppressing those addresses. And other folks will need to develop a different, more custom plan. It will all depend on what happened, why, and what can be done to lessen the probability that it will be a problem again.

Whizardries is here to help you. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to see if we can work together to fix your problems. We can guide you through the process and even handle communicating with Spamhaus or other blocklists on your behalf. That doesn’t mean there won’t be much work for you to do, but we promise not to panic, and we hope you won’t either.