Demystifying the blocklist

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In 1999 there was only one public blocklist in existence. Now there are more than 700. Fortunately, some blocklists are more important than others because they have a greater impact on e-mail delivery.

Blocklists vary in type and purpose, ranging from automated spamtraps to hand-maintained zombie lists. It is important to understand the type of blocklist that you are on so you can know how to get removed from it.

When you find yourself listed on a blocklist, the first and most important step to take is to visit the blocklist's Web site. Read the policies about listings and removals, which provide good hints about why a blocklisting took place and what changes to make.

Most sites offer a utility for checking whether a specific Internet provider address is included on the blocklist. Take advantage of these utilities. They will confirm if your IP address is listed. They may also lead you to the evidence supporting the listing, or even an automatic removal option if one is available. Sometimes you won't find out about these possibilities until you have entered your IP address into the checking tools.

After checking the site, contact the blocklist administrator. The message should be short, friendly and focused. Demonstrate your interest in cooperating with the blocklist operator and your willingness to make changes. Make the administrator an ally rather than an adversary. The best approach is to simply ask why you have been listed and what you need to do to be removed.

There are generally three ways to get your IP addresses or domains removed.

Stop the activity that got you listed. Blocklists might remove you once the activity stops. Fill out the self-removal form, if provided. Some blocklists provide a removal form on their Web sites.

However, if the abusive activity continues, you will probably be placed on the list again and you won't have a second chance to use the form. Give it time. Some blocklists have automated expiration policies. Some will even tell you how long the block will remain.

While most blocklist operators will work with you, it's important to remain patient and courteous. These are the four things you should not do:

Do not threaten to file a lawsuit. Discussions halt and a lawsuit will likely fail. Furthermore, the Internet community often rallies around the threatened blocklist and adds you to dozens of additional blocklists.

Do not declare compliancy with CAN-SPAM. Most blocklist administrators consider CAN-SPAM the bare minimum legal requirement and set the bar higher for their blocklists.

Do not assert, "My e-mail messages aren't spam!" The administrator already determined you are distributing spam, and arguing about your message validity is futile.

Do not demand evidence. Evidence files, if available, can be found on the blocklist's Web site. Most lists, however, are volunteer efforts and do not have the time to maintain documentation.

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