Will Outbound Sales Emails Get My Domain Blacklisted?


Joseph McCarthy, famous blacklister.

Outbound sales email admittedly exists in a bit of a gray area.  After all, most sales development pros send unsolicited email to complete strangers in hopes of churning up a sales conversation.

As a result, there are long-term deliverability and reputation management considerations to consider.  Straying too far afield could lead to some painful consequences, namely a blacklisted domain / IP and ongoing email delivery problems.

So here are a few things to think about:

First, Don’t Be A Moron.

It seems a little ridiculous to write this stuff, but make sure that you:

  • Include an opt-out that is both conspicuous and friendly.
  • Include your mailing address and contact info in your email.
  • Use messaging that is friendly, direct, and helpful.
  • Don’t use overly aggressive, overly salesy messaging.
  • Don’t use misleading, fraudulent, or annoying messaging.
  • Don’t take offense if people opt out or send over a snippy response.
  • For goodness sake, don’t reply snippily to a snippy response.
  • Don’t email Canada.

Following some basic business email etiquette will get you a long way towards generating a bit of recipient goodwill, which will mitigate complaints from your recipients, which will help keep you in the clear.

Keep Your Data Clean.

If you generate a lot of email bounces, you risk generating long term reputation issues with your domain that could lead to blacklists and a host of deliverability problems.

We run every email that we generate in our app through two verification processes — our own and a 3rd party.  This scrubs out known invalid email addresses, which drastically improves delivery rates.

This also leaves a number of “unknown” addresses for which we couldn’t get a clear yes or no verification.  We typically suggest that you use these “unknown” addresses, but with caution.  You’ll still get bounces but way fewer than if you shotgunned your list without verification.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that we’re making some investments in this area using pattern matching, pattern harvesting, and machine learning to better assess the quality of “unknown” email addresses.

Use A Separate Domain For Outbound.

We actually started requiring this for all of our customers at RevBoss earlier this year.  For every new customer we on-board, we set up a new domain that we use only for our automated outbound effort — something like acmecomail.com for a customer whose primary domain is acmeco.com.

We set up all of the required authentication on the domain (SPF, DKIM, etc.), set up Gmail on the domain, and then authenticate our outbound sales email app to the Gmail inbox on the new domain.  We forward the new inbox to the customer’s preferred inbox and we’re all set to go.

This requires a bit of legwork, but it accomplishes a few things:

  • It creates a layer in between the prospect and the rep, which makes it easier for a manager (or RevBoss) to review prospect replies in order to evaluate messaging, process, etc.
  • For RevBoss, it makes it easier for us to deliver an automated outbound email system in that it gives us more control over the process.
  • For our customers, it separates their outbound email to a domain that is easily disposable in the (admittedly unlikely) event that something goes sideways.  Basically, it is a very cheap, very easy insurance policy.

Note that this process is effectively invisible for the prospect — their replies go through rep@acmecomail.com, which routes to rep@acmeco.com.  The rep’s replies go right back to the prospect email address.

The upside/downside of this approach is that it isolates all of your riskier email on a single domain, so it is a bit more likely to develop a reputation problem..but also much easier to fix because the domain is expendable.

So What Is A Reasonable Bounce Rate?

Obviously a 0% bounce rate is best, but it isn’t realistic when you’re prospecting via email.

An aggregate bounce rate of 5% to 10% is generally acceptable in our experience.  We check our customer domains on SenderScore.org on a regular basis and have yet to have a domain dip below 85, which is an ideal threshold.

Sales development pros get a bit of an advantage in that they will typically email a prospect multiple times.  So while the first send might churn up a 20% bounce rate, the subsequent 3 or 4 sends should generate a 0% bounce rate — which leaves you with a (3.8 / 4) 95% delivery rate or 5% bounce rate.

Your bounce rate threshold also depends on your email tool of choice. Email apps that send through a shared IP pool tend to be pretty restrictive. MailChimp has an incredibly strict bounce rate policy, so a single send with a high bounce rate is likely to land you in the penalty box.  For whatever reason, marketing automation apps like Marketo and Pardot (in our experience) tend to be a bit more forgiving.

Apps that integrate with a single IP address — including those that send via Gmail — don’t really care because you’re risking your domain / IP, not a shared pool of IP addresses that send mail.

So Just Be Reasonable.

The blacklist risk is actually pretty minimal if you follow the aforementioned practices.  And if it happens, it is pretty fixable if you’ve got everything running through a non-primary domain.

End up blacklisted?  Depending on the blacklist, you might be in good company.  (Burl Ives!)