Understanding Delivery Problems: When to Contact an ISP

Unfortunately, too many marketers think the fastest way to resolve a deliverability issue is to call someone at the ISP where the email is being blocked.  In the *vast* majority of case, the delivery problem is because of problems on the sending side, not on the ISP side.  Fixing the underlying cause of the delivery problem (complaints, spam traps, etc.) is the way that 90% of our clients' delivery problems are solved -- no ISP contact required.

When you do need to contact the mailbox provider, many of them have a ticketing system available through a form on a postmaster site or an email address provided on their postmaster site.   We find that a lot of the remaining issues can be cleared up through these systems.

So when is it a good idea to contact an ISP or blacklist about a delivery issue?  Marketers should only do so in two specific instances:

1)   To ask for resolution of junk folder delivery or blocking if there's no automated way at the ISP or blacklist of doing so, but only after you've corrected all issues first.



2)   After you've thoroughly done your homework, and there really seems to be no good reason for the blocking/junk folder placement. You need to be totally sure the issue is not on your end.  

So, how do you craft a query that will get results? Here are some recommendations:

1)   Include the SMTP bounce code you're receiving.  Don't even try to contact an ISP without this.  They will never look at your problem unless you can show this.  If you can't get logs, telnet to the ISP's mail server to get the rejection reason.

2)   List all of the steps taken to correct the issues you've tried and the positive results you've seen from the changes you've made.  If your data isn't reflecting a positive change, then you haven't solved the problem.

3)   Include reputation data from sites like that show that you've corrected the problem(s) and that your reputation is seen as "good" to other sources as well.

4)   Include the long term steps you've taken to ensure this doesn't happen again.  You'll lose credibility fast if you cry wolf too often.

Meanwhile, avoid some of these common pitfalls when communicating with the ISPs.

1.     Don't say "But I'm CAN-SPAM compliant!" The ISPs and blacklist owners could care less if you're CAN-SPAM compliant.  Most feel that CAN-SPAM is useless and does nothing to stop spam.  Experience also tells us that senders that tell ISPs that they are CAN-SPAM compliant are the ones to worry about. All you are really saying is that you adhere to the minimum permissible standards, which rarely inspires faith.

2.     Don't be contrite, just fix the problem. There's nothing worse than getting repeat calls from the same person with the same problem being overly apologetic about a problem that they should have fixed months, if not years, ago.  If you have to call the ISP, check and double-check that you've fixed the problem. If you can't fix the problem, don't bother calling. (See #4.)

3.     Don't ask what the problem is and why they're blocking you. As I mentioned previously, you have the information in front of you to tell you why you have a problem.  Check your bounce logs, check the postmaster site, and check your system.  ISPs are just too busy to answer a question that you already have the answer to.  If you're still uncertain and need help defining those things, consult with your deliverability vendor.

4.      Don't ask for special exceptions. The ISPs' filtering mechanisms work the same for everyone, so there's usually no way for an ISP to make an exception for just your case without changing the rules for everyone else.  The rules of the road are the same for everyone, regardless of who you are.  You can get to the inbox by playing by the rules.

Of course, it's really best never to have to contact an ISP in the first place.  You can do this by following the checklists in my previous articles and all of the best practices that you find here on Email Insider.

2 comments about "Understanding Delivery Problems: When to Contact an ISP".
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  1. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., October 27, 2010 at 11:10 a.m.

    Great suggestions and advice, George, with the best one being that 90% of deliverability issues can be solved by fixing hygiene problems with the underlying list. The leading email marketing companies have solved this problem by:
    a) Vetting and correcting their email address registrations through a real-time email correction service PRIOR to putting these records into their marketing database, and
    b) Cleaning this list on a quarterly basis thereafter

    If you've ever tried to resolve a blocking or blacklisting issue, you've learned that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." If you haven't run into any deliverability problems to date, then "better safe than sorry" should be your motto.

  2. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, October 27, 2010 at 7:56 p.m.


    Awesome article man. I have challenged people before to say that deliverability and all that comes with it is squarely in the hands of the company. Everything that you do as an organization should be scrutinized.


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