Whitelisting with AOL

by Douglas Karr
Perhaps because it’s the largest ISP and the most finicky about emails, AOL really does have a fantastic Postmaster service online. I had to contact them a few weeks ago when a client reported that they were having issues with email getting through to AOL email addresses. Sure enough, we found out that the IP addresses of our application were being blocked.

AOL Postmasters

That sounds somewhat terrible, as though we were a spammer or something… but we aren’t. All of our emails are transactional or invitational in nature. In fact, no marketing emails come out of these addresses. I called good friend and deliverability guru, Greg Kraios, and he set me straight with the contact information for AOL’s postmasters as well as their website. I gave them a call and they let me know what steps I could take to get unblocked and onto a whitelist.

I found our biggest problem was that our system was sending to erroneous AOL email accounts with our Reverse DNS lookup disabled. Reverse DNS is a means for an ISP to lookup your domain and company information by the IP address it’s coming from. By turning it off, we looked like a spammer. With enough bad addresses – AOL decided to take a look at who we were. When they couldn’t find out who we were, they blocked us. Makes sense! I can’t say I blame them.

After we got Reverse DNS enabled, AOL dropped the block. I also spoke to our Sales team and told them to stop doing demos with AOL email addresses (they’re the easiest to type in, aren’t they?). After the block is dropped, you’re allowed to apply for whitelisting through the Postmaster site. I’ve applied at least a dozen times – but quickly found out that your ducks have to be in a row before you can make it:

  1. We enabled the Reverse DNS Lookup on each of the IP Addresses that we send email out of.
  2. We had to set up a feedback email address for AOL to write us when there are email issues. We configured abuse@. We’re still working on setting a custom email header for “Errors-To” but this is a great start.
  3. We had to wait a few days after we were unblocked.
  4. Your domain must match the domain in your contact and feedback loop email addresses.
  5. If you’ve got different domains, you should apply for each one.
  6. Be sure to monitor the email addresses you submitted with. You’ll need to click a confirmation link before they will work on your whitelist request.
  7. Last step is to wait for a response. If you get turned down, you can call up the Postmasters and provide them with the reference id. This will allow them to quickly look it up and see what’s wrong. Standby to do this a few time!

I’m looking forward to the day we can push these emails out of our email service provider’s system so we don’t have to worry about it! I’m waiting for the official release of their transactional email system (that I helped to define!) as well as for some growth in our company. The sooner we can use their deliverability services, the better!

AOL has some nice Postmaster services, but I’d rather we didn’t have to put up with the headache at all. One note, if you’re wondering whether or not I mind them blocking us or the trouble it’s taking to whitelist us… not at all. I love seeing a company vigilant about SPAM and looking after their customers.

UPDATE: 9/11/2007: Received the following today. So we had enough mailer history to get blocked, but not enough to get whitelisted. Sigh.

Your web request has been denied due to insufficient mailer history. We apologize for this inconvenience. Please resubmit your request and also include your IP addresses that have sent mail to AOL in the last 30 days.

UPDATE: 9/11/2007: I did manage to get our highest traffic IP address whitelisted! The previous denial was only applicable to our low volume IP Addresses:

Your Whitelist request, with the confirmation code xxxxxxxx-xxxxxx, has been approved.

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