Can affiliate marketing cause my email marketing campaign to get blacklisted?

Wow, what an amazing question. Kudos to the advertiser that popped this one to our business development team last week. I think it is a vital question and one that, if you don’t know the answer to, you definitely should be asking and seeking a correct answer. You see, your affiliate channel isn’t a silo unto itself. It isn’t a lone wolf hunting new customers. It is a tool in your toolbox that works with your other tools and needs to be managed amongst them, not separated from them. And this question is definitely one that you need to ask, because… What if it did? Wow, if it did, that would be huge! I’ve been in some pretty uncomfortable meetings with executives regarding the affiliate channel when I was an in-house affiliate manager, but never one where this was the topic of discussion.

So, in order to answer this question, I think it’s best we first define some terms. And I’d love to say that I’m the expert on this, but I am just not that guy. But, I know a guy, er, not a guy, an amazing, accomplished and experienced email marketer, who I used to work with at Coldwater Creek, and is now one of our shining star affiliate managers, Melinda Kemp.

Melinda has over 18 years of experience in E-Commerce. From e-commerce customer service to managing the email marketing for a $500M women’s apparel ecommerce organization, Melinda has seen it all. We were lucky enough to bring her on our team after Coldwater’s unfortunate closing last year. Her expertise in all things e-commerce is an amazing addition to the team, especially for questions like this. Have I said she’s amazing and we love that she is working with us? So, now that I introduced Melinda, allow me to ask her a few questions.

Jamie Birch: Melinda, thanks for taking the time. The issue of blacklists and whitelists in email marketing is always a hot topic. Can you tell us what these things are?

Melinda Kemp: Sure, it’s not as complicated as you think. But here we go.

What is a Whitelist?
Whitelists are operated by various ISP’s interested in blocking spam. Having your email address and/or IP address on a whitelist is the best way to ensure your emails are quickly delivered to your recipients inbox rather than going to the spam and/or junk folders.  Being on a whitelist may also prevent your email from being deferred while the ISP determines if your email should go to the inbox or elsewhere.

How to Get On a Whitelist
Each ISP has different criteria that must be met in order to be included on their whitelist.  You may decide to reach out to each individual ISP which can be very time consuming if you have a large email file.  If you have a large email file, I would suggest working with a company specializing in commercial whitelists which allows you to bypass spam filters when sending email messages to its subscribers.

What is a Blacklist?
A blacklist is not a list you want to be on!  An email blacklist is a real-time database that uses pre-determined criteria to decide if an IP is sending email that could be considered spam.  There are over 300 publicly available blacklists that range from well known to independent blacklists and not all are created equal as just about anyone can start a blacklist.  ISP’s and email providers have to identify which blacklists will actually help prevent spam from reaching their user’s inbox.

There are two types of blacklists – IP based and domain based. 
IP based : Real-time Black Lists (RBL) and Domain Name Server Black Lists (DNSBL) are lists of IP addresses that can be queried real-time.  Email providers use these to identify the if the IP address of the sending server belongs to a sender that allows other servers to connect and send from their system (open-relays), are known spammers or an ISP that allows spammers to use their infrastructure.

Domain based: URI Real-time Blacklists (URI DNSBL) are lists of domain names that appear within the email body.  This type of blacklist looks for URL’s within the body of emails to see if a domain has been identified as a source of spam.  These blacklists look at the initial link as well as the link it redirects to to see if those contain spammy domains. If you ever find yourself on a blacklist, you will want to get yourself removed ASAP.

How to Stay Off a BlackList and What To Do If You Are Ever On One
Reputation monitoring and following email best practices will help prevent you from finding yourself on a blacklist.  Your reputation is directly affected by the amount of complaint rates you receive.  By closely monitoring your complaint rates, you can prevent delivery failures before they happen.

If you ever find yourself on a blacklist, you will want to get yourself removed ASAP.  While several blacklists have self-removal sites, it is imperative that you resolve the problem (or problems) that landed you on the blacklist before submitting your delist request.  Failure to do so may result in your ISP and/or email address being listed again and over time your delist request may be denied.

JB: Thanks Melinda. Now, it doesn’t seem to me that basic affiliate marketing would be able to land your corporate email marketing on any black lists.

MK: You’re exactly right. Because black lists are IP or Domain based, when your affiliates include your information in their emails, the affiliate could land themselves, their IP and their domain on a blacklist, but I don’t see how that would land the advertisers they are promoting on a black list. The emails are not coming from your domain or your IP. So those things are not associated with the affiliates’ email campaigns, thus your domain and your IP aren’t associated with those activities, at least from a blacklist/whitelist perspective. Now, I’m not a lawyer, so we can’t provide that type of advice, but in our opinion, it just doesn’t happen.

JB: That all makes total sense to me and you beat me to the “I’m not a lawyer” pitch :). Thanks for explaining that. Are there things they should watch out for then?

MK: Definitely. Advertisers running affiliate programs need to be aware of CANSpam.

JB: I remember doing quite a lot of research and talking with lawyers when we both were at Coldwater Creek and that law was passed. So, all in all, advertisers don’t need to worry about affiliates getting them placed within blacklists, but they should be concerned and monitoring CANSpam compliance. Can you tell us more about CANSpam?

MK: Yes, you shouldn’t have to worry about black lists, and yes, I can share what I know about CAN-SPAM. CAN-SPAM is a law passed by Congress which sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial mail and gives recipients the right to opt out from commercial messages. The CAN-SPAM Act also defines steep penalties for violations. There are 7 main requirements in order for your commercial message to be considered compliant:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From, “To, “Reply-To” and routing information has to be accurate and identify the person or company where the message originated.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. If you are selling women’s skirts, don’t promise a free trip to Cancun in your subject line. Deceptive subject lines lead to resentment which leads to consumers not trusting your brand.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of room in how you accomplish this, but you must clearly and conspicuously disclose your message as an advertisement
  4. Tell recipients where you are located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address, whether its your current street address or a post office box you have registered with the USPS. You may also use a private mailbox you have registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails from you. Your message needs to include a clear and concise explanation of how recipients can remove themselves from your emails. Basically, your 85 year old Nana who has NEVER been on the internet needs to be able to request that no future emails are received from you.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Requests to be opted out from your email list must be honored within 10 business days. Honestly, the quicker you can honor these types of requests, the better off you will be. Recipients who don’t feel their request is being honored in a timely manner are more likely to report your message as spam. Too many spam reports and you may find your email deliverability being negatively affected or even worse you may be listed on a blacklist.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law is very clear – even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you are still ultimately responsible to comply with the law. Both parties (the company whose product is promoted as well as the company sending the message may be held legally responsible. To avoid any potential issues, practice due diligence and be sure the company you hire is aware of the current requirements for the CAN-SPAM Act.

Penalties for violating the CAN-SPAM Act can be expensive. For every individual email found to be in violation, the penalty can be up to $16,000 per offense.

JB: Thank you for that concise outline, I’m sure that helps.

Well, there you go! While it’s our opinion that affiliate marketing does not put you in danger of your email campaigns being blacklisted, you should ensure that you and your affiliates comply with the CAN-SPAM law. If you need help in auditing your affiliates for CAN-SPAM compliancy or have other questions feel free to contact us at 1800-208-6215!

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