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Confused about what is an email whitelist, what is email whitelisting, what is email certification, and how to get whitelisted or certified?  Email marketers and businesses spend time, energy, and money creating great email content and campaigns to inform customers and subscribers about products, services, and other information. This is a valuable way to connect with customers and subscribers when done right. But how many of those emails that you are sending are actually being delivered to the inbox, and how many are going to the spam folder where they are never seen? If you’re concerned about this (and you should be), it’s a good idea to tell your email recipients to add you to their personal whitelist.  But it’s an even better idea to get yourself whitelisted on system-wide whitelists, and to get yourself certified.

What is an Email Whitelist and What is Whitelisting?

To talk about email whitelists it’s helpful to talk first about the opposite type of list: an email blocklist (some people call this a blacklist, but in the context of email it’s actually a “blocklist” because it is used to block email). You may have heard of email blocklists such as SpamHaus and SORBS. These are lists of IP addresses which have been documented to be sending spam, and inbox providers may choose to refuse to accept email that comes from a listed IP address, or to “block the email” (hence the term ‘blocklist’). An email whitelist is the opposite of a blocklist. An email whitelist is a list of IP addresses (or email addresses in the case of a personal whitelist) from which email should always be accepted and delivered to the inbox.

The term ‘whitelisting’ refers to the act of having your email address (in the case of a personal whitelist), or your IP address (in the case of system-wide whitelisting) put on a whitelist.

The Personal Email Whitelist

A personal email whitelist is exactly what it sounds like: the end user adds your email address to their personal list of approved correspondents in their email program (also known as an ’email client’). It’s a good idea to ask your customers, subscribers, and others to whom you send email in the course of business to do this. We actually provide a personalized whitelisting instructions generator to our customers (it is included with our service), with which our customers can generate whitelisting instructions for their email, and we host the instructions here so that our customers can just link to them. You can see our own personalized whitelisting instructions, generated by our whitelisting instructions generator, here.

The System-Wide Email Whitelist

A system-wide whitelist is a whitelist that is used by an entire email receiving system. It may be a private or corporate inbound email system, or it may be at the ISP or inbox provider level. That said, most of the major ISPs and inbox providers no longer curate their own whitelists to which senders can apply for inclusion, relying instead on our certified senders list (the Good Senders List) and Validity’s certified senders list (ReturnPath Sender Score).

What is Email Certification and How is it Different from Whitelisting?

There are actually no widely-used, universal whitelists. There are two widely-used email certification lists (ours and Validity’s) plus the Certified Senders Alliance, which is less widely used, and primarily in the EU.

Part of the reason that there are no widely-used universal email whitelists is because a whitelist basically says “you should accept this email because we say so”. Unlike that bossy whitelisting model, our email sender certification system not only tells the inbox providers, ISPs, and spam filters that they should accept and deliver our certified customers’ email, but why they should accept and deliver it. Our system provides data in real time about our customers’ good email practices to each and every ISP, inbox provider, and spam filter every single time they check our list (we were, by the way, the first to develop and pioneer this system, which has since been incorporated into other services). Validity’s works in much the same way.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line here, the key take-away, is that if you send email marketing or other business email, you need to be sure to ask your subscribers and customers to add you to their personal whitelist (using our personalized instructions, if you are or become our customer), and consider getting certified with either us or Validity.

What is an email whitelist


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