Cold Email Burn Notice: Email Blacklist Effects

There is an American TV show – or was, it’s cancelled now – that I used to watch on one of the various streaming services I have, too many subscriptions to, called Burn Notice. It was (is) cheesy and melodramatic, especially as the intro starts off like this:

“You’re blacklisted; when you’re burned, you’ve got nothing. No cash, no credit, no job history. You’re stuck in whatever city they decide to dump you in.” Actually, listen to the main dude explain it. He does it better than me.

Why am I telling you this? Because blacklists exist in the world of cold email marketing too. End up on one and you’ll have nothing too. No deliverability, no opens, no conversions and a one-way ticket to the nearest spam filter.

If you send cold email, the thought of ending up on these blacklists should scare you as much as being dumped by his shadowy spy agency did for the bloke from Burn Notice. He survived though. And maybe you can too. It would be better not to end up there in the first place, but what if you do?

What Is An Email Blacklist?

There are a number of companies that maintain Email Blacklists, which are checked by all kinds of email providers, and others that make use of various algorithms to identify if a certain IP is sending spam. It’s a little complicated, and not always accurate, but to get a general idea here is an infographic created by Spamhaus, one of the largest and most trusted blacklist companies that explains the process well.

Email Blacklist Flowchart

Now, some people know very well that they are on an email blacklist. Often it is because suddenly their email provider refuses to let them send campaigns any more (because they don’t want to end up on a blacklist either) or, if they are REALLY bad, they end up on a list like this one (again from Spamhaus) Being on this list must suck.

Top 10 World's Worst Spammers List

But not everyone is so obviously breaking the rules that they realise right away they are on an email blacklist. Sometimes they are just really bad at cold emailing. So how do you tell if that drop in open rates – or an open rate that has always been bad – is the result of you have been given the email equivalent of a burn notice or if it is because you still have a lot to learn about what is a rather complex marketing art?

First of all, to quote the late, great Douglas Adams: DON’T PANIC.

That won’t help. Calm, careful consideration will.

So, begin by checking your basic processes:

Subject Lines

If your subject lines are bad, people won’t open your emails. If it is a cold email with a poor subject line then they are even less likely to. So take an honest look at yours. If they are not up to scratch that is one very good reason for a low or lowered open rate.

If, however. you have made use of spammy language or ‘spam stop words’ in your subject lines that may also have triggered the blacklist algorithms, so you’ll need to look for those as well.

Bad Lead Data

Let’s say you had a list of, say, 100 contacts you sent cold emails to during your last cold email campaign. Your open rate was 7%. Which is bad. But, checking the list, you find that 1/3 of those addresses were bad. Taking that into consideration your open rate was a lot better than you thought. It’s just your lead sourcing SUCKED and that is an issue you need to work on ASAP.

Poor Crm Performance

Even the best CRMs and softwares go wrong sometimes. Maybe that was the case for your last campaign. Perhaps it was just a bad send. If all of that checks out; you did write good subject lines with no spam stop words, the send went without a hitch and your list was nice and clean then you do have to begin seriously considering the possibility that you’ve been blacklisted. So, panic now? Not so fast. First of all you need to take a deep breath and check your email reputation. You may just have a slightly dodgy one that can be improved quickly. You may not be on anyone’s blacklist. Yet. There are a couple of very good tools you can use to check your email sender reputation. None are perfect, but if two or more give you a poor score it’s safe to say you have a problem. The three I would recommend you try are: 1. Sender Score: They grade your score on a scale of 0-100, and obviously higher is better. This is probably the best known tool, and it is updated regularly, so is quite accurate. 2. Barracuda Central: Their reputation scoring system is very simple, with only a “good” or “poor” rating, but the results are tabulated in real time, something that can be very helpful if the problem is very new. 3. Reputation Authority: This offers another 0-100 scoring tool, but it will show you specific emails that are good or poor besides the score. Scores look OK? Check your email marketing tool. Mail Tester is a nice easy tool to do that with. Still nothing? Then it’s time to check with the blacklist sites. Most of them will tell you if you are. Larger ones like Spamhaus will actively give you a way to try to redeem your reputation to get off their blacklist. A few others will too. For a list of the major blacklist sites check the list here.

Getting Off Email Blacklists

To solve his blacklist problem the guy from Burn Notice had to let his Mum die for him, give up his exciting spy life and move to Ireland to live with sheep and not much else (well, his hot girlfriend, but it’s Hollywood.)

Hopefully your path is easier. If you’ve been naughty, stop. If it’s a case of guilt by ignorance, learn how to do things right. And if it’s a mistake, fight (they do happen.)

But whatever you do, address the problem head on. Burying your head in the sand, or panicking, will not help.