May 9th, 2019

How to Get Whitelisted: Email Marketing Best Practices

Author: Laura Lynch
Laura Lynch
Director of Marketing

What does it mean to get whitelisted, and how can you get your subscribers to do it?

If you’ve spent any amount of time reading about the ins and outs of email marketing practices, you’ve probably heard of blacklisting. Blacklisting happens when your emails are identified as spam, either by users themselves who have flagged them as spam, or by your email client if your marketing emails exhibit certain characteristics commonly associated with spam campaigns. Blacklisting carries significant penalties for any company that gets caught engaging in bad practices, and should be avoided at all costs. And one of the best ways to avoid getting blacklisted is to actively seek its counterpart: whitelisting.

Email accounts are often blacklisted because users themselves flag those emails as spam. When that happens, it’s harder for those emails to make it through spam filters. Whitelisting is the opposite of being flagged as spam: it’s when users actively mark emails as legitimate. The exact process can vary based on what email client (such as Gmail or Outlook) your subscribers use. In most cases, it requires asking your users to add you to their contact list or their “safe sender” list.

Getting whitelisted is the gold standard of email marketing, and a sure sign from your audience that you’re doing something right. But it’s not an easy feat to pull off. If you want to get whitelisted by your subscribers, here’s what you have to do.

1. Ask them to whitelist you (and tell them how to do so).

Yes, this is a surprisingly obvious step, but the truth is that many of your email recipients aren’t aware that they have this level of control over their inboxes. By asking them to add you to their whitelist, you may even be opening their eyes to a new tool they didn’t even know existed.

The exact process for whitelisting can vary by email client, but it usually involves adding the sender to a trusted contacts list. You can offer instructions in the body of the email, or include a link to an instructions page. There’s another tactic you can use, which will get to in Point 3, but before that happens, you should…

2. Offer a compelling reason to whitelist you.

Again, not to be too obvious, but asking your subscribers to whitelist you isn’t a guarantee that they will. If someone’s only just discovered your brand or your product, they may be excited about you, but still a little hesitant to give you such an affirmative thumbs up. Plus, if they aren’t really use what whitelisting means, they may not know exactly what doing so will entail.

So, give them a little explainer. Let them know that by whitelisting you, all they’re doing is making sure your emails don’t end up in their spam folder. Make sure they know they’ll still be able to unsubscribe in the future, and that you’re only asking because you want to be sure they are interested in your content and excited to receive it. Then, thank them for taking the step! Keep your tone light and friendly, and you’ll be surprised how many of your subscribers will accommodate.

3. Ask users to reply to your email.

Another way to make whitelisting you seem worthwhile to your recipients? Ask them to send you a reply. The incentive you use here can be anything from asking for some feedback about content they might find interesting or worthwhile, to offering to add their name to a prize raffle. You can even add a survey question about an upcoming topic and include the results to your next email.

In many email clients, replying to an email automatically adds the sender to their contacts list. Because of this, a reply is usually a way of whitelisting your address, as it indicates your readers are engaged with your content.

4. Automate your whitelisting request.

As we said earlier, getting your email recipients to whitelist you isn’t easy, and you may have to ask more than once. To make it easier and improve your whitelisting rate, you should include a whitelisting request when subscribers first sign up for your content. Then include a whitelist CTA in your email footer until your subscribers add you to their list. When they do, move them to a new list of whitelisted subscribers and remove the whitelisting CTA from the footer of those emails. This will ensure you don’t confuse recipients by making repeat requests for something they’ve already done.

5. Provide excellent content that makes whitelisting you worthwhile.

Finally, give your subscribers a reason to believe they’ve made the right choice. Keep the quality of your email content high, and even the recipients who don’t take the extra step of whitelisting you will be unlikely to mark you as spam. And don’t forget to include an unsubscribe link in your emails, too. As sad as it may be to lose someone on your list, it’s better for everyone if they have an easy way to opt out.

Going the extra mile is worth it to get the positive feedback from your subscriber list.

If it seems like extra work to ask your email subscribers to whitelist your address, you’re not wrong. But the added effort has benefits for you and emails on your marketing list alike.

For your email recipients, if they’re really in love with your content, they have guaranteed that your emails won’t accidentally be diverted into their spam folder. As for you, you not only take a significant step toward ensuring your email stays off a blacklist, you also build the health of your marketing lists. Recipients who have taken the time to whitelist are committed readers. This means you waste less time chasing down uninterested contacts, and more time focused on your real audience.

That’s the kind of win-win all marketing should be about.

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