Whitelists: The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good


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No Silver BulletWhitelists are the silver bullet and white elephant of email delivery. It sounds so easy, just get on that list and then you’re set. No more concerns about spam filters, blocking, bulking, junk folders and all the rest.

The challenge for most email senders is two-fold:

1. It’s really, really hard to qualify for a whitelist and some of the most prominent and effective senders never make it
2. Once you’re on the list, you’ve got to be incredibly vigilant to keep your IPs in good standing

The reality is that you can achieve near-perfect delivery without being on a whitelist. It’s great to know you have that extra assurance but in the end it’s about what you do every day (whitelist or no whitelist). As we said here, it all comes back to reputation. Follow these steps to achieve near-perfect deliverability:

• Secure your infrastructure. Are your mail servers to send high-volume commercial email? Does your IT team know how to diagnose and manage delivery failures? Are your mail streams authenticated? Your set-up should tell ISPs that you are a responsible, legitimate email sender.
• Keep your mail volumes consistent. Peaks and valleys in your email volume always raise a flag with ISPs. Maintaining a consistent volume based on subscriber preferences will secure your reputation – and your email performance.
• Avoid complaints. This means very few, if any recipients of your email complain or mark your messages as “junk” or “spam”. ISPs have little or no patience for senders with complaint rates that exceed 1%.
• Never hit a spam trap or “honey pot”. Send to just one spam trap and your reputation will take an instant hit. When you send to a spam trap (an email address activated by an ISP to catch spammers), it means you’re harvesting email addresses (an illegal practice) or your list hygiene practices are terrible. It’s not hard to avoid spam traps if you follow best practices.
• Keep your bounce rate in check. High bounce rates mean you’re not keeping up with your subscribers and they’re not engaged with your program. Spammers also have very high bounce rates, look like a spammer and an ISP will treat you like one by blocking your mail. Implement procedures to immediately remove “hard” bounces and keep your bounce rate in check.
• Don’t get blacklisted. Just one blacklist appearance is enough to get you blocked by some ISPs. Staying off blacklists is pretty straightforward – don’t rent or buy lists, keep your complaint rate very low, avoid spam traps by keeping your list clean.
• Monitor every day. Stay on top of your total program performance by monitoring your mail streams in real-time – know your delivered rate, know your open rate…know your reputation.

This list will definitely improve your deliverability and it could even get you on a whitelist but in the end it’s up to you. Even the whitest lists can’t fix a broken reputation. Learn more about SendGrid’s hosted SMTP solutions here – and how we can help you make it to the inbox.

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Carly Brantz is a veteran in the email deliverability space working to make email simple and easy for developers by regularly writing whitepapers, research briefs and blog posts about email, technology and industry trends.

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