Ask Al: Group mail is being blocked, what do I do?

Recently, a reader wrote in with the following question:

I host an email group of about 450 people who share a common autoimmune medical condition. I send/receive email through a Gmail account set up in Windows Live Mail on a home PC. My ISP is RCN.  Recently, any emails sent to any group member using an AOL or account are being blocked by AOL. I sent an email to AOL asking to not be blocked and my request was denied with little feedback as to why. I was then pointed to recent changes concerning DMARC and FBL. I generated an AOL account just for those members to get the information they need but this is an awkward way to send emails, using two separate accounts.

What changes do you recommend that I make to my current setup shown above so AOL and users can get my email updates along with everyone else without having to use two email accounts? Any help would benefit our group!

Thanks for reaching out. Nowadays you really can't get away with managing a large user group (450 seems pretty large to me -- good job on bringing them all together) using your personal email account. The intent of a Gmail or AOL account really isn't to send mail to hundreds of people. You found a workaround for AOL but you're going to run into the same issue with other ISPs and will probably run into some other issues too.

You really need to use a specialized tool or service to manage this process. Here's what you should consider.

  • If you just send mail out to everybody -- it's not for group discussions, it's just they email you and you email info out to everyone, then use a tool like Mailchimp. It's free, up to 2,000 subscribers/12,000 emails per month. It would be just for you to send outbound email to your subscribers. It does not facilitate direct online discussion.
  • If your intent is to support group discussions, then you should look at Yahoo Groups or Google Groups. I personally like Yahoo Groups, but Google Groups is also quite good and powerful. It is likely that both of these services would prevent you from importing 450 people all at once -- they're probably worried that you might be a spammer -- so you might have to invite people to come join the new group.
  • If you run your own Unix or Linux server, you could install free mailing list management software like Mailman. The current version has the ability to rewrite headers as needed due to DMARC issues. Setting up Mailman is not for the faint of heart, though.

I would avoid managing the group or its mailings with any software that runs on Windows or has a name with "desktop" or "bulk" in the name. Those are usually hacky tools that try to work around limitations that ISPs have in place. They can make you look like a spammer and they are often poorly made.

Dear readers, do you have any suggestions of other tools or options that might make sense for managing this person's online group? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments below.

Gmail: Filtering mail into folders

Somebody recently asked me how does one set up folders in Gmail, and how does one then filter mail into those filters? Setting up filters and folders (labels) makes Gmail much more usable; makes my very busy email stream much more manageable.

Here's how you do it, courtesy of Wikihow.

Gmail & B2B Spam

A client recently reminded me of Gmail's yellow bar that explains why a message went to spam. I decided to pull up the last few spams out of my spam folder and check the yellow "why" bar. Why is this message in Spam? It's similar to messages that were detected by our spam filters. Why is this message in Spam? We've found that lots of messages from are spam. Why is this message in Spam? We've found that lots of messages from are spam. Why is this message in Spam? We've found that lots of messages from are spam.

If Gmail says that these three sending domains seem to be spammy, who am I to argue?

(If you recognize your company name there, maybe it's time to reconsider your B2B strategy. I never signed up for your emails. Send a lot of mail to people who didn't sign up for it, and that's what happens.)

AOL/Yahoo Transition Update: AOL DMARC & FBL Reports

AOL Postmaster Lili Crowley posted an update yesterday to the AOL Postmaster Blog regarding the future of DMARC and FBL reports from the AOL platform.

Here's my summary of that information:

For DMARC reports: AOL is saying that the MX records for their domains are in the process of being transitioned from AOL inbound email servers to new email servers. As each domain's MX record is transitioned, AOL will no longer send DMARC reports for that domain. Any DMARC reports for that domain will now come from Yahoo.

(These are reports that you get from other ISPs, when you have a DMARC record in place that specified that reports should be sent providing information about DMARC failures. Most people feed these into a DMARC-specific automation platform for parsing and reporting. Not everybody has this / does this.)

For ISP Feedback Loop reports (spam complaints): AOL is saying that currently, FBL reports for AOL users on AOL domains will continue to come from AOL. But, at some point in the (very?) near future, these AOL users' mailboxes will be transitioned to new infrastructure. When that happens, AOL FBL reports from that user will cease. That user is now covered by Yahoo's Feedback Loop, and if that user reports an email message as spam, it will be handled in accordance with Yahoo's FBL process.

In my estimation, it's very likely that the transitioning of all AOL users' mailboxes to new infrastructure will take some amount of time. It seems quite likely that there will be a period of time when some of those AOL users are on AOL infrastructure (resulting in AOL FBL traffic) while you see some other AOL users sending in complaints via the Yahoo FBL process.

If you sign all mail with DKIM authentication, and you register your domains with Yahoo's FBL system, you should be all set. If not, it's time to get that process going.

List-Unsubscribe header: You need it!

Allow me to distill this very insightful article from Word to the Wise down to four simple points:

  1. Microsoft wants you to include the list-unsubscribe header. And today, you'll want to use the "mailto" version, not the "http" version.
  2. If you don't, Microsoft is going to make it very easy for Hotmail/ subscribers to BLOCK your mail, when in fact they perhaps only wanted to unsubscribe.
  3. If subscribers BLOCK your mail, they're not going to get any followup transactional mail, which isn't great. Or if they opt-in again later, they won't receive that new mail.
  4. It's unclear whether or not this BLOCK action registers some sort of negative reputation market against a sender, but I suspect it does.

I've seen some folks complain that the list unsubscribe header is bad and that it should be removed, because it makes it too easy for recipients to unsubscribe from a company's marketing email messages. Well, here's a very significant downside that can apply to you if you don't have (or if you remove) the list-unsubscribe header from your email messages.