Email blacklisting: 5 stages to recovery

Due to an increase in IP listings as of the first of the year, there has been quite a lot of conversation lately around the Spamhaus blacklist. I would like to share with you, what I call the “five stages to recovery” after an email blacklisting.

The key is to recognize that if you are blacklisted for the first time, there is a good likelihood that your organization may have a similar reaction and respond in a similar fashion to the below process. I advise brands to openly put their blacklisting into perspective every step of the way in order to make a more speedy recovery.

Stage 1: The “still-in-shock-denial” phase

Likely sender reactions:

  • “But we didn’t do anything differently…”
  • “We have no idea how any traps could be on our list!”
  • “We are only sending to the same customers that we have been mailing to for months.”
  • “Something must be wrong here . . .”

Putting it into perspective: Just because a sender has not been listed before, doesn’t mean that they were not previously hitting traps. Many times a sender is getting a number of hits and just-so-happens to get noticed as the trap monitors continue to find new ways to aggregate and mine the data.

Stage 1a— The “blame-game” phase

Likely reactions:

  • “(Insert Email Service Provider (ESP) name here), how could you let this happen?”
  • “We pay you to handle our deliverability to protect our sender reputation?

Putting it into perspective: While many ESPs have deliverability professionals that are available for consulting and best practices training, they don’t always have full control over the subscriber lists that campaigns are sent to, or the database that the information is housed in.

Stage 2— The “playing-the-victim” phase

Likely reactions:

  • “Who do these blacklisters think they think they are?”
  • What gives Spamhaus the right to block us? We are legitimate mailers and only send to people that want our mail!”

Putting it into perspective: Spamhaus does not actually block any specific IP, they simply create a list of IP addresses that they are seeing concerning messages originate from in order to assist various receiving organizations in the filtering process.

Stage 3—The “plotting-your-revenge” phase

Likely reactions:

  • “We should sue them!”
  • “This is the equivalent to blackmail – Spamhaus is holding us hostage and it isn’t fair! Do they understand how much money we are losing because of their listing?”

Putting it into perspective: Spamhaus understands that there are financial implications to their listings, but their job is to help protect the overall email eco-system and they firmly stand behind what they are doing. Additionally, Spamhaus is a volunteer organization and while blacklisted organizations have tried to sue them, this is not an action I would recommend.

Stage 4—The “finding-a-loophole” phase

Likely reactions:

  • “We should go straight to the ISPs!”
  • “The ISPs must not understand that Spamhaus is blocking our legitimate mail, if they knew they would let our messages through.”

Putting it into perspective: The ISPs understand that their filtering process can affect legitimate mail, but overall they filter out much more non-legitimate mail. As a result, the risk/reward ratio is proves utilizing various blacklists, like Spamhaus, to be a valuable practice.

Stage 5—The “coming-to-terms” phase

Likely reactions:

  • “It is part of the process, I guess we better fix our practices.”
  • “Looks like we have no other option than to focus on our active population and hope we can re-engage our others users.”

Putting it into perspective: This phase truly is what all receiving organizations would like to see from senders—admitting there is a problem that needs to fixed, and forming practical solutions and plans of action to move toward a full recovery.

Ideally, you are following best practices and will never have to worry about getting listed by Spamhaus, but if you do, just know that there are standard steps to follow that will result in getting a listing removed. Next month we will go into more detail around these specific steps, but in the meantime, if you have been blacklisted, please put your blacklisting into perspective, take a deep breath, and hopefully arrive at the 5th stage to recovery – coming to terms.

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