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Unsolicited Commercial Email, spam, junk or whatever you call it, unsolicited emails are both annoying and costly. In an effort to combat spam, major ISPs are increasingly monitoring incoming spam and blocking spamming servers. AOL, Hotmail/MSN, Yahoo, and others all use some sort of spam filtering technology. Sometimes this is as simple as the end user clicking a “report spam” button.

Getting your server reported and potentially blacklisted by a major ISP can seriously disrupt service for your clients. Many people use free email accounts for newsletter sign-ups, first contacts, feedback forms and other items in order to avoid either their personal or business emails spammed. As a result, if AOL or some other major ISP began blocking your email many web sites on your server could be impacted. Your phone will start to ring and your helpdesk will fill up with complaints about not being able to send mail.

To reduce the chance of getting blacklisted by a major ISP, we suggest you use their spam feedback services and/or follow their bulk sending guidelines closely. Though they do not publish their blacklists, many major ISPs provide guidelines for web hosting companies and senders of large newsletters to monitor their email. We will touch on a few of these tools at some of the major email providers. Even if your newsletters are opt-in, you must follow the ISP’s bulk sender guidelines to assure delivery of your email. Sending large numbers of solicited emails is not spam but still considered bulk email.

AOL’s Feedback Loop
If you maintain any sizable newsletter, operate business-oriented web sites or do virtual hosting, someone on your server will likely need to send email to an AOL user. AOL has become increasingly quick to blacklist servers that either send large quantities of emails or have several spam complaints. AOL’s spam reporting is very simple – the end user just hits a button to mark the email as spam. If too many users report emails from your server as spam, regardless of the contents of the email, AOL may blacklist your server.

AOL provides a service called the “Feedback Loop”. The feedback loop enables you to get copies of email reported as spam. Though the recipient’s email is hidden for privacy reasons, AOL does include the remaining mail headers. These headers can be invaluable for tracking the source of the spam.

Setting up a feedback loop is easy. You simply visit the request page at AOL and signup your server’s IP for feedback. You will probably want to use a dedicated account for this purpose because should a significant volume of spam originate from your server, you will be flooded with spam reports from AOL. After filling out the form, you should start receiving notices from scomp@aol.com.

If you do large volumes of email with AOL subscribers, you may want to try to get on the whitelist at AOL. This process can take some time and you will need to meet certain requirements. Though the minimum number of emails per month is only 100, we do not suggest going through the whitelisting process unless you send 1000’s of emails per month to AOL.

Visit the AOL Postmaster site for full details on their feedback system.

Hotmail’s Postmaster
Though Hotmail does not provide a feedback loop, they do provide a very informative postmaster web site. The web site outlines a number of guidelines to improve your delivery rates of email to Hotmail addresses. Following their guidelines may reduce your spam complaint rate. If your server gets blacklisted at Hotmail, you may have a very difficult time getting it removed.

You should watch for bounces from hotmail addresses. Spammers, especially those using exploitable web scripts, often target AOL, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. If you start getting a large number of bounces from Hotmail addresses, you may need to investigate further.

Hotmail also maintains guidelines to get approved to send large quantities of email to Hotmail accounts. Though the procedure is not as straightforward as AOL, you can also get whitelisted at Hotmail. See their documentation for bulk senders on the process.

Visit the Hotmail’s Postmaster site for more details.

Yahoo! Postmaster
Yahoo provides less information than others but there are still a few nuggets on their site that can help you out. They do have some general guidelines but most useful is their Mail Feedback form.
By using it you may, get help from Yahoo if they are blocking emails from your server. As far as we know, they do not implement an automatic feedback process like AOL.

You can find out more by visiting the Yahoo! Postmaster.

In short, monitoring AOL’s feedback loop and adhering to the ISPs’ bulk email standards will help you stay off of major ISPs’ blacklists. Getting blacklisted can cause major headaches for both you and your clients. If you operate large newsletters, busy forums that send out emails or other high volume email activities, you should review the policies at AOL, MSN/Hotmail, and Yahoo. Following their guidelines can help keep your server out of their blacklists.

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