An email blacklist is a real-time database that determines if an IP address is sending email that could be considered spam. Many blacklists exist, all with a common goal of keeping spammy emails out of peoples’ inboxes. Understanding how blacklists work can help improve your email deliverability, reputation score, and the user experience for people opening your emails.

How a Blacklist Works

To help you understand how a blacklist works, you can take a look at this Spamhous diagram below. If the incoming mail fails to satisfy Spamhaus’ criteria for legitimate mail, the IP is then included on its list. Some ISPs opt to use this data to inform their filtering decisions and delivery of the email messages sent over that IP. It’s important to note that Spamhaus has no control over delivery or placement of your messages. The blacklist simply serves as a tool to help ISPs make their own decisions.


How to find out if you’re on an email blacklist

If your email service doesn’t provide alerts when your IP has been added to a blacklist, then you’ll have to do it manually. Start by visiting the top DNSBL lists. These include:

  1. Spamhaus –The Spamhaus project is one of the most reputable blacklisting companies providing real-time anti-spam protection for internet networks worldwide.
  2. SURBL –SURBL is a second tier filter that works in conjunction with Spamhaus to identify some of the most difficult unsolicited messages to track.
  3. Barracuda Reputation Block List –BRBL is a free DNSBL of IP addresses known to send spam.
  4. Invalument –The Invalument anti-spam DNSBL is a subscription-based service that specializes in blocking elusive types of spam where the sender is sending 100% unsolicited bulk email and escaping traditional detection methods.
  5. Spamcop –The SpamCop Blocking List (SCBL) lists IP addresses that had mail reported as spam by SpamCop users.
  6. MultiRBL –This free multiple DNS Blacklist service that cross references other blacklists by IPV4, IPV6, or domain.

How to get off an email blacklist

High spam complaint rates are one of the main reasons that your IP ends up on a blacklist. So, it’s imperative that once you discover that you’re on one, that you take steps to get your IP removed from the list. By visiting each of these DNSBL sites, you can enter your IP to check your list status, and then obtain instructions on how to be removed. The key here is to be proactive. ISPs like to see that you’re trying to remedy your delivery challenges in a timely fashion. When you are on a blacklist, it’s best to have a deliverability expert (like those at SendGrid!) on hand to help you navigate the ISP landscape. ISP relations can help you get your program up and running faster so that you don’t lose valuable time trying to figure out what went wrong.

How to stay off a blacklist

Reputation monitoring is the key to maximum email deliverability. By closely monitoring your complaint rates, you can prevent delivery failures before they happen. Check your stats with each campaign deployment and look for delivery dips and low engagement rates. Test out new campaigns, segment your users, and customize your content. These best practices will help ensure that you only send wanted email and stay off of blacklists all together.

To find out more about email delivery best practices, download our free Email Deliverability Guide.

Carly Brantz
With more than 15 years of experience, Carly Brantz is an email deliverability and inbound marketing veteran. As the VP of Revenue Marketing at SendGrid, Carly empowers her team to transform marketing from a cost center to a revenue generator. With a key focus on funnel optimization, Carly leads the team responsible for content creation, lead nurturing, SEO/SEM, and website optimization. An accomplished speaker, Carly shares her email delivery and revenue marketing tactics as a headline speaker on SendGrid’s international roadshow as well as other Marketing conferences.