eM+C's Deliverability Dilemmas Solved - How to Communicate With ISPs When Your Email Is Being Blocked
This is the second installment of our newest column, eM+C’s Deliverability Dilemmas Solved.
Every month, All About eMail will present an email deliverability question marketers may face, and George Bilbrey, VP/GM of delivery assurance solutions at Return Path, will answer the question. If you have a deliverability question you’d like answered, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I recently found out my email is being blocked by a pretty big internet service provider. Is there someone there I can call to explain that I'm not a spammer?
Unfortunately, solving deliverability problems isn't as simple as picking up the phone — even if you had a phone number to call, which most ISPs don’t provide. What is and what isn't spam is more complicated than issues around permission, or even what's considered legal under CAN-SPAM (for those operating in the U.S.). ISPs use their own criteria for what they allow to go through to inboxes. Sometimes information about what's acceptable is published on their postmaster sites, but often information is protected. After all, spammers would find it useful, too.
So that means picking up the phone and saying, “Hey, I’m not a spammer” isn’t going to get you very far. Instead, do the legwork of finding out what the problem is, and attempt to correct it on your own. Once you’ve exhausted every avenue available, then it's acceptable to contact your ISP. Here are three tips to make that contact more productive:
1. Be informed. The more you know about the problem you're having, the better. When did the block start? What sort of rejection messages are you getting from the ISP? What internet protocols and domains are having issues? Did you make any changes to your email program? What's your complaint rate, both at that ISP and others? What about unknown users and spam traps? Are you listed on major blacklists?
Also, know as much as possible about the ISP's policies. If you’re in clear violation of published connection or reputation thresholds, make changes to your processes and systems before reaching out. Many ISPs provide information through feedback loops and similar mechanisms. They expect you to look at that information — if provided — and try to fix the problem on your own before contacting them.
2. Be brief and polite. This is the sort of advice that fits any scenario, but it’s especially important here. Remember, ISPs have customers, and those customers aren't you. Their job is to protect inboxes from the deluge of spam that comes into their systems every day from harming their networks and customers. Quickly summarize your problem in a format that can be easily scanned. And always say thank you.
3. Be honest. Don’t promise an ISP that you’ll stop doing something if you don’t actually intend to stop. ISPs will try to be fair and give you the chance to clean up your act. If you continue to engage in poor practices, that block is going to come crashing down on you again. And ISPs are unlikely to give you another chance.
There’s no magic formula to working with ISPs, and anyone who claims he has one is lying to you. Yes, relationships can be important, but ISPs don’t let email through because someone they know asks them.
George Bilbrey is the founder of deliverability service provider, Assurance Systems, which merged with Return Path in 2003. He’s an expert on the subjects of email reputation and deliverability, and is active in many industry organizations, including the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group and the Online Trust Alliance. Reach George at email@example.com.