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Janet Roberts

Whitelisting Advice: Head 'Em Off at the Pass
By Janet Roberts

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The new realities of email delivery -- content filters, address blocks and challenge-response systems -- mean email publishers must pursue "whitelisting" with the same vigor they once spent on building lists, finding lucrative affiliate deals and writing compelling copy.

To succeed with whitelisting, you have to get out in front of your intended recipients, to make sure they put your sending address where it needs to go if they use address filters or challenge-response systems, before you send out your first mailing.

Ever see old Western movies, where somebody always shouts, "Head 'em off at the pass!" to chase down the bad guys? It's like that.

You have to grab your readers when they sign up. In other words, post information on your Web sign-up form or in email notices so that they can get your sending address or domain name in the right place.

Whitelisting Initiatives

  • Get approved by major ISPs such as Yahoo! and AOL. Broadly speaking, this means you should stay out of junk folders when sending garden-variety email newsletters to their users. However, you can still end up in email purgatory if you send too many emails to the same ISP at one time or if you send emails with the same subject line too close in time together.

  • Get new subscribers to whitelist your sending address before you send out confirmation notices or your first mailings to them.

  • Some publishers are putting whitelisting directions right on their Web sign-up forms, telling subscribers what addresses they must add to their contact lists or address books and, in some cases, even how to do it.

    Here are two examples:

    Basic: Alertbox

    This is a simple set of directions, which appears after you subscribe to Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox newsletter. This can go on the confirmation page that shows up after a subscriber fills out your Web form.

    Complex: NetIQ

    This is a good example for anyone who manages a complex email- communication system that mixes newsletters with product or investor-relations messages.

    (While you're at the form, note the sneaky opt-out language NetIQ uses for subscribers to indicate they don't want promotional mailings. You have to opt in in order to opt out.)

    If you use email exclusively to manage subscriptions, you'll have to make sure you include whitelisting directions to accommodate subscribers who come to you via forwarded newsletters.

Will It Work?

You're not going to solve the whole problem by posting directions. After all, you're asking readers to take an extra step in order to receive your newsletter. Just as you lose a few new subscribers who forget to confirm their requests, you'll lose a few who either don't know how to whitelist, forget to do it, do it wrong or don't bother.

Still, you should rescue some addresses that might otherwise be lost; so, the effort is worth it.

(Is Ezine-Tips taking its own advice? We will be; stay tuned.)

Your Experiences

Have you changed Web forms, email notices or subscriber management to accommodate filters and challenge-response systems? Let us know.

Ezine-Tips for June 24, 2003

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