What Is Email Whitelisting and Why Is It So Important?

What if your emails never hit your subscribers’ inboxes? What if your messages always end up in their spam folders or promotions tabs instead?

It happens more than you might think. Luckily, there’s a super simple solution: email whitelisting.


What is an email whitelist?

Email whitelisting is when a subscriber adds your email address to their contacts list within their ISP, like Gmail or Yahoo!.

Think of your inbox like a door with two locks on it: a deadbolt and a doorknob. If one of them is locked, a message can’t get in.

AWeber works with the ISP to get all of our customers’ messages into the inbox. We essentially “unlock” the deadbolt for your messages.

However, we have no control over what happens on the individual level. Anyone that has an email account can set up their own filters, which locks the doorknob. Even though the deadbolt is open, your messages still can’t get in. Your emails may be sent straight to their spam folder or promotions tab.

That’s why whitelisting is so important. When your subscriber whitelists your email address, he or she unlatches the second lock for you, regardless of what filters they have activated. The door is open for your messages.

“When your customers whitelist your email address, it provides feedback to their provider that your mail is wanted,” said AWeber’s Director of Deliverability Karen Balle, who gives multi-million dollar companies advice on how to reach the inbox.

Getting subscribers to whitelist you can also increase your overall reputation with an ISP, according to Balle. “Since your message is delivered into your customer’s inbox, it helps increase reputation by increasing your read, open, and click rates as customers are more easily able to find and interact with your message,” she explained.

And the higher your engagement rates, the better your deliverability to all your subscribers (whether they whitelisted you or not!).

Related: 4 Things That Hurt Your Email Deliverability (and How to Fix Them!)

Whitelisting doesn’t mean you can spam your subscribers . . .

Being whitelisted isn’t a free pass, though. You can’t send your subscriber whatever you want, whenever you want. Once your whitelisted, the ISP will keep a close eye on your messaging behavior to make sure you practice responsible email marketing, and that you’re not violating the CAN-SPAM Act.

If you take advantage of your whitelist status by spamming your subscribers, your deliverability reputation with that ISP will suffer and hurt your results over the long haul.

How do you get subscribers to whitelist you?

Ask them. It’s that simple!

Here’s a quick example of what you can write. (Feel free to tweak it to match your brand’s voice and tone.)

Take this important step! To make sure you receive emails from me, add my email [enter your email address here] to your contacts list. By adding me, you ensure my messages, special offers, and invites make it into your primary inbox.

Below are some more examples of how to incorporate whitelisting instructions into your content.

In your Welcome email

What to Write is one of AWeber’s most popular free email marketing courses. It teaches you how to effectively write an automated email series — and also includes 45+ downloadable fill-in-the-blank templates. The very first email is a Welcome email that includes short whitelist instructions.

email whitelisting instructions

Ann Handley is a bestselling author and the chief content officer at Marketing Profs. Through AWeber, Handley sends out a long-form newsletter called TotalAnnarchy. Here’s the automated welcome email she sends when you subscribe. It can save her newsletter from hitting your Promotions tab.

Related: How to Write the Perfect Welcome Email in Under 1 Minute

email white listing instructions

When you subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights, you get email alerts for discounted international flights departing from  airports near you. The very first email you’ll receive has easy-to-follow whitelisting instructions.

Email Whitelisting Instructions

On your Thank You page

Another key location for your email whitelisting instructions is a Thank You page. If someone signs up for your emails or a course, you can offer up whitelisting instructions then. So we not only asked people to whitelist AWeber in our What to Write Welcome email, but we also did it on the Thank You page.

email whitelisting instructions

SEO mastermind and Backlinko founder Brian Dean also includes whitelisting instructions on his Thank You page. You can see them in the P.S. section below the screenshot of his AWeber confirmation email.

Related: Writing Confirmation and Welcome Emails People Love

[Backlinko]

Stage One Startup reminds subscribers that their confirmation email may have landed in the promotions tab. They encourage you to drag it over to the primary tab to whitelist their email address.

Email Whitelisting Instructions

How does a subscriber whitelist your email address?

It can vary depending on the ISP. Here are examples of some of the more popular clients that your subscribers might be using to receive emails. Under each section are steps on how to whitelist a sender’s email address inside that client.

Feel free to direct them to that article for the specifics on how they could process this in their own email client, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!

Whitelisting is only part of the equation

Keep in mind, while whitelisting can help you reach the inbox, you won’t stay there long if subscribers don’t like what they get from you. So keep striving for the most relevant, useful content possible!

AWeber provides you with the best-in-class educational content to help you succeed. Our team of email experts constantly creates new courses, guides, podcasts, and articles (like this one!), and hosts live webinars and coaching sessions to help you crush your business goals with email marketing. Begin your free, 30-day trial with us today!

This article was updated on March 19, 2019. Additional reporting by Amanda Gagnon.

17 Comments

  1. Mark Brownlow

    2/10/2010 1:45 am

    Great advice and enjoyed the post. I would add that if you just use a simple "whitelist us" link in your preheader that you think carefully about the link wording.

    MarketingExperiments are probably OK because their audience is web savvy, but would a typical consumer know what "whitelist us" means?

  2. jim cockrum

    2/10/2010 2:50 am

    I made a related suggestion awhile back, but I’ll put it here as well since some time has passed.

    It would be awesome if the default aweber "thank you" page that subscribers see automatically included whitelist instructions.

    Even better:
    It wouldn’t be hard to pull the owners ‘from address’ from the account profile page and populate that on there as well right? This way the subscriber would have EXACT instructions at the point of sign up.

    If implemented wouldn’t this instantly improve everyone’s delivery rate?

  3. Diane

    2/10/2010 3:04 am

    hay, everyone, I want to add, this is one of the best sites I have visited, and I am new to marketing but learning how to set up a e-mail program plus learning other aspects of marketing has never been easier that Aweber, it is simple the directions are laid out clear that even a kid could learn, this site has help my frustration and has build my confidence in learning how to market on the internet, like I said I am a newbie, and I would refer this site to all the newbies who know nothing about e-mail and wants to learn this is the site

  4. Ricky Buchanan

    2/11/2010 5:39 am

    Even though ATMac is a technically oriented site my subscribers tend not to be very technically adept. I’ve adapted (updated and simplified) a version of the whitelist page from EmailDeliveryJedi and linked it to my "Thank you" page thus: http://atmac.org/subscribe/thank-you/

    It seems to work very well – thank you for the suggestion.

  5. Amanda Gagnon

    2/12/2010 12:19 pm

    Mark ~ That’s a great point. The Ramtha and ME examples are written for different audiences – always crucial to consider.
    Diane ~ Thank you, and we’re happy to help!
    Ricky ~ I like how you have two layers of explanation!

  6. Justin Premick

    2/12/2010 12:24 pm

    Jim,

    That’s an interesting idea for default pages – but a really customized and effective thank you page shouldn’t be a default one at all 😉 It should be a custom one that the marketer creates the content for him/herself.

    You also have to consider that some marketers may not want that whitelisting information on a default thank you page. They may feel it detracts from the message on the rest of the page (confirming your email address, activating your subscription, etc.). So while it might improve delivery to those people who confirm, if it reduces the confirm rate, is it a net gain? I’m not sure there’s a clear-cut answer.

    Changing default pages (for the better) is a tricky thing. I’ll share your thoughts with our design and development teams here, but I’m not sure whether or not that’s a change we would implement.

  7. Chris Lang

    2/14/2010 10:01 am

    Hey Justin thanks for the link to my whitelist generator at Email Delivery Jedi.

    After taking a look at my buddies generator at Clean My Mail Box I have to say that he as fallen woefully behind on what is going on today.

    So I want to ask anyone here if I have left any major filters out at the link Justin supplied.

    One thing I suggest you do use on any whitelist page is both McAffe, Syamntec and especially Trend Micro instructions. Sure webmail is very prolific these days but the big three all come bundled with various forms of Windows from XP on up. McAffe is still on a few million machines.

    And Trend Micro is THE most prevalent as it is the lowest priced and the 4th most often sold piece of Windows software in the world. Don’t leave these 3 out.

    Also if you Justin, or anyone reading this post has any suggestions how I can make my whitelist generator better, please, just let me know. – Chris Lang 480-381-0597

  8. Louisa Chan

    2/16/2010 10:02 am

    Hi There,

    It is certainly worth going through each list and requesting for white listing.

    Question:
    Does this method “Ask Subscribers to Add You to Their Contacts or Safe Sender List” produce the same level of “whitelisting” as “Asking Subscribers to Whitelist You”?

    Thanks

  9. Suzanne

    2/16/2010 1:30 pm

    Thank you for a great article. In future, if the messages are in text rather than an image, we could have simply copied them and pasted onto a text pad in preparation for the email, making it even easier than writing it ourselves.

  10. Ricky Buchanan

    2/20/2010 4:37 am

    @Amanda: although I run a technical site my readers are very low on tech skills. I was worried if I put it all on one page then I’d completely overwhelm the easily-scared-by-geek-speak ones. That’s also why I took the less commonly used mail programs out of the secondary page so it was shorter and simpler, although from what Chris wrote I should perhaps put those three back in!

    @Chris: I contacted the AOL people and signed up for an AOL webmail account and they said that for web and desktop AOL clients both, in the default configuration replying to an email will automatically whitelist the address. In the desktop client (not sure about webmail) you can change a preference so it doesn’t, but in my case knowing my own audience, I figured anybody advanced enough to be changing the default preferences could figure it out themselves.

  11. Amanda Gagnon

    2/22/2010 1:05 pm

    Louisa ~ Yes, the white list is the same as the safe sender list or the safe contact list. With both methods, subscribers are indicating that you have permission to email them.

    Ricky ~ That’s a great example of knowing your audience and making things easy for them.

  12. Chris Lang

    2/27/2010 5:23 pm

    @Louisa Chan, Does this method ?Ask Subscribers to Add You to Their Contacts or Safe Sender List? produce the same level of ?whitelisting? as ?Asking Subscribers to Whitelist You??

    I would guess that “Adding to contacts…” would do better than whitelisting. I use a mix of the two. But I wish I could say I split tested that.

    I would bet a split test using AWeber’s app would answer your question though!

    That is why in the Whitelisting Generator I created each email application uses the exact language for the particular app. That way it applies to each app that your user could be using.

    Web email uses “Contacts” allot. Many email filters use Whitelisting. Hotmail uses “Safe sender”…

    If just one more sale is made because that person is able to understand how to use their own email filiter I would say that would be worth the time.

    That is why I support ever major filter, and that is why they are listed and then hyperlinked within the page.

    Remember that there are millions and millions and millions more that use Trend Micro filtering apps than there are Gmail users (35 million).

    So why would you list Gmail instructions and not list Trend Micro, Symantec and McAffee instructions?

  13. Whitelisting: Why it's important and what you can do about it

    3/1/2010 10:09 am

    […] There are several opportunities, especially at the start of an email relationship, to push subscribers to whitelist. This includes on the sign-up form and thank you page, in the welcome message, in the preheader and so on. For tips and advice on how to get subscribers to whitelist through these traditional means, please see this post. […]

  14. What Your House Can Teach You About Email Marketing

    6/22/2010 8:55 am

    […] Get WhitelistedAsk subscribers to add your email address to their address books. While emails sent from AWeber customers already whitelisted on an ISP level, it’s important to reduce the likelihood of your mail being filtered to a junk folder on an individual level. […]

  15. A Beginner's Guide to Successful Email Marketing

    10/11/2010 11:23 am

    […] AWeber […]

  16. Josh

    8/26/2011 6:21 am

    Cool, thanks for this list 🙂 Although it does annoy me that so many marketers broadcast views like this without ever considering how it would be fulfiled.

  17. FSP

    1/17/2012 5:11 am

    There’s no ‘secret’ to getting a subscriber/isp/esp/whomever to whitelist you. It’s not smoke and mirrors. Simply send them a succession of emails that they will be interested in, open, read and click.

    If they’re not opening, reading and clicking then ask yourself why. Don’t just assume that by changing your email strategy, they’re more likely to buy from you…give them what they want and they will open.