Get Me On the List! Whitelisting & Deliverability

Email Marketing

In the email deliverability world, one of the main issues you must deal with is: How to make sure that ISPs and domains don’t mistake your emails – the ones your team spent hours crafting and personalizing, finding images for, and testing to determine the perfect call to action – as spam.

You probably ask yourself questions such as:

  • How do I stay out of the spam folder?

and –

  • How do I get whitelisted?

Emails will end up in the spam folder, even though recipients have filled out forms, opted-in, and given permission to you. There’s nothing more frustrating than crafting a good email for your list of recipients – only to see that the message was blocked or placed in a spam folder.

So how do you combat this? Whitelisting and authentication are key players in the delivery game that can help you get more of your messages through the maze and into the inbox.


What is whitelisting, anyway, and how does it help?

A whitelist is the opposite of a blacklist; it’s a list created by receivers (or their intermediaries) to help good-guy senders get their wanted emails to recipients. Blacklists keep specific senders out; whitelists let specific senders in. Internet service providers and domains have whitelists, just as they have blacklists.

Getting on a whitelist can help improve delivery and reduce the chances of your email getting erroneously flagged as junk mail or spam. Whitelisting itself is essentially a way for email clients (such as Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Outlook and others) to recognize that mail coming from your sending address and/or dedicated IP is really YOU and not a spammer. This is especially effective if you are sending important and time-sensitive emails (such as transactional, triggered, and billing emails).

How to get on an organizational whitelist

Whitelisting takes place at three levels: the server level, the organizational level, and the recipient’s email client.

In the case of the server and organizational levels, you may be able to petition for whitelisting. If you’re accepted, an email administrator for the organization can make the necessary changes to allow emails in. In the case of some major ISPs, you can apply for whitelisting by filling out a form on their website. They will examine your privacy policy, review your traffic and volume levels, and look for evidence of established trustworthiness. You should have proper authentication in place (DKIM, SPF, etc.). You can’t do this before launching as an email sender; you’re evaluated by your track record. This evaluation generally takes less than a week.

Getting on ISPs’ whitelists is the most beneficial for those whose email lists contain a lot of addresses using those ISPs, i.e. B2C senders. It is thought to have a beneficial effect for B2B senders to a lesser degree.

How to get on a recipient’s personal whitelist

The other level involves your actual recipients whitelisting you by making changes in their individual email clients to note you as a “safe sender.” This means your emails won’t be held up or filtered.

Note that becoming a “safe sender” means you are deemed safe at the incoming server level. You also should try to get added to your recipient’s own “whitelist” (which is their actual address book). If they add your email address to a contact list – you’ll be seen by their email client, which should improve your luck getting to the inbox consistently. (Note also that this is one argument for using the same email address sending consistently.)

You can increase your rate of being whitelisted by recipients by asking them to whitelist you. Your language could be something like:

  • Want to ensure that you get every one of our emails? Just add <your email address> to your address book!
  • To keep receiving emails from us, <your email address> please add us to your address book.
  • Don’t miss a thing – add <your email address> to your address book and get all the news.

And then, to help with this process, you can let them know what action to take next. You can segment your email list by receiving domain, and customize those messages to include instructions on receiving your email. Here are instructions you can use for what I call the “big five” of email clients – AOL, Yahoo, GMAIL, Hotmail, and Outlook (Microsoft).


There are two ways to ensure that you’ll receive our emails:

  1. Add us to your Address book. Just right-click on the “From” address in our email.
  2. Add us to your Custom Sender List
  • Click the “Spam Controls” link on the lower right side of your inbox screen.
  • When the “Mail & Spam Controls” box appears, click the “Custom sender list” link.
  • Choose the “allow email from [your email address]” option.
  • Add [our email address] then click “Add”
  • Click “Save”

Yahoo! Mail

Add us to your Address book.

  • Step 1 Open the email
  • Step 2 Select the Add to Address Book link.
  • Step 3 Enter the email address of the contact and click on Save Contact.


There are two ways to ensure that you’ll receive our emails:

  1. Add [your email address]to your contacts list.
  • Step 1 Open the email.
  • Step 2 Click on More Options drop-down menu of the message (next to the reply arrow).
  • Step 3 Click on Add Sender to Contacts List.
  • Step 4 A confirmation message will be displayed above the email letting you know the sender has been added to your contacts list.
  1. If our email showed up in your “Promotions” (or other) folder, drag it to the “Primary” tab; this will ensure that you don’t miss our mailings in the future.


Add us to your Safe List:

  1. Click “Options” in the upper right corner of your Hotmail screen
  2. In the body of the page under “Junk e-mail” click the link “Safe and blocked senders”
  3. Click the link “Safe senders”
  4. Enter “[our email address]
  5. Click “Add to list”


Add us to your contact list:

  1. Open our email
  2. Right click on the “From” address
  3. Choose “Add to contacts” option

Even whitelisting will never guarantee 100% delivery every time – and the flipside is that having more visibility can give the ISPs more freedom to block you – but with the sheer amount of business done by email in today’s world, any steps you can take to authenticate your emails will put you ahead of the game and reduce your chances of getting denied or placed in the spam folder.

If you’re an Act-On customer with a dedicated IP address, Act-On’s Deliverability Services team can take care of this for you. It’s part of the services you get as part of the package.

Best Practices in Email DeliverabilityOur team can also manage your digital status, resolve sending issues, clean up your mailing lists, and ensure more successful – and more profitable – email marketing campaigns. Read more about our email services, or touch base and have a conversation today.

Ready for more tips on email deliverability? Check out our ebook, Deliverability 101: Your Guide to Inbox Placement, and learn the critical factors that affect the deliverability of your email messages.