Sender Complaints about Spam Filtering

Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise covers the topic capably, covering both sides of the ISP/blacklist filtering coin. Here’s my take on it, based on my experiences working both as a blacklist operator, and consultant working with senders on how to improve delivery by doing the right thing.

On one side, you have the Inbox Monsters – senders who care only about getting to the inbox. They don’t care about best practices, they don’t care about opt-in, and they think every filtering decision that impedes their inbox delivery must be a mistake, because, in their opinion, everybody wants their mail, even if stats suggest otherwise.

On the other side, you do you have spam filters that occasionally misfire. And you have some filtering companies that are notoriously unresponsive to requests for clarification or assistance with listings (companies like Postini and Barracuda). Do spam filterers owe it to senders to have a contact point, a web form where senders can reach out and request assistance to address a spam filtering issue? Of course not. Filterers, ISPs, and blacklists are free to decline any sort of contact with the sending world. I don’t blame some of them for working this way; there are a lot of bad senders out there, and I am sure any sort of “sender help line” receives 90% lies all day long, every day. “Sure, that list is opt-in!” “No, we would never buy a list!”

But not all senders are Inbox Monsters. And sometimes spam filters do misfire. Sometimes, even if they didn’t misfire, a sender would benefit from a bit of clarity over what actually went wrong; what send practice or list hygiene failure actually caused the block. This is useful information that helps guide senders on how to clean things up and keep the problem from recurring. And think about this: Who are the most successful, most respected spam filterers out there? The ones with the happiest customers, the ones with the best reputations? They’re the ones who actually talk to and work with senders to resolve problems. Entities like Spamhaus, AOL, Ironport. MXLogic, MessageLabs and Frontbridge. They’re all easy to talk to; easy to work with to resolve issues. They have staff and/or procedures for reaching out when there’s a filtering or blocking issue. They seem to want to help senders succeed, understanding that it results in less spam for them to have to filter, and it results in a lot fewer filtering misfires.

If you run a blacklist, make filtering decisions for an ISP, or sell a spam filtering service or appliance, ask yourself this: Do you work with senders? Do you help senders? Or are you rude to them, or do you ignore them?

I’ve observed that filterers that ignore senders, or are rude and short with them, tend to be less successful. Talking to senders doesn’t mean one has to bend to the will of every (or any) sender one talks to. But that dialog is valuable. Learning more about how senders work, what senders are actually doing provides valuable insight that helps making filtering efforts more successful.

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