Asking Subscribers To Whitelist You: Is It Ever Too Late?

United Airlines doesn’t think so.

I just got an email from them asking me to add the address they use to send email marketing campaigns to my address book.

The thing is, I’ve been getting emails from them for a while now. Years, I think. And as far as I can tell, they’ve done a good job of getting to my inbox.

The Email From United

I’m used to getting emails from United once every week or two (I believe I signed up when I joined their frequent flyer program).

Typically they contain fare promotions. Nothing really exciting (nothing like say, Kayak’s great email newsletters). But they are consistent, and I do usually take a look at them to see if I might be talked into taking an impromptu trip.

This message was different — not promotional at all. It was dedicated solely to getting me to add them to my address book:


(Click the image above to see the full email)

I Thought This Was Weird…

One other note: those links that say “united.com” don’t actually point to united.com – they point to tracking URLs. Which is a big HTML email no-no because it makes the email look to ISPs like a phishing scam.

I do like that they’re trying to get into subscribers’ address books — that does help your email deliverability, and it’s something we recommend our users ask subscribers to do. Their intentions are good.

And maybe, just maybe, the people whose emails from United are going to the Spam folder will pick out this email, whitelist the address, and get future campaigns in the inbox.

I just can’t help but wonder if United’s approach to whitelisting is bass-ackwards.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you think it’s a good idea to try and get subscribers to add you to their address books further down the road? Am I overanalyzing?

More to the point: would you send out an email like this?

I’m curious… share your thoughts below!

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Justin Premick is the former Director of Educational Products at AWeber.

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29 Comments

  1. After reading your following message

    " But they still include the little text at the top (just like they do in every email I get from them) that says “to ensure receipt of our emails, please add email@info.united.com to your Address Book.”

    I am committed to adding a relevant message to whitelist (Which I do not presently do) in all my newsletters.

    Thanks for the tip.

    7/18/2008 8:29 am
  2. Hi there

    When my hosting company changed their mail server spam catcher most spam is captured – sometimes too much. But, although I manually added important email addresses to the white-list, I noticed some still didn’t come through (like automated new subscriber notifications from my AWeber lists!)

    That problem was solved the minute I actually added those addresses to the address book in the email program on my pc.

    Now we all want to ban spam and limit the amount of spam messages slipping through the mazes – some anti-spam ‘solutions’ work too well. I can imagine some companies informing their prospects and clients on these other extra steps one can take to make sure their messages come through every barrier – with permission of course.

    Would I do the same? No, not yet ;-)

    7/18/2008 9:10 am
  3. KC

    They should have just done it from the start.

    Doing it at such a late stage is pretty lame… but that’s just an honest opinion… =)

    7/18/2008 9:46 am
  4. Lalitha and Karin,

    It’s definitely useful to ask people to whitelist you – I still think the best place to do it is on the thank-you page, but for some emails (particularly the first few you send new subscribers) it can be useful too.

    KC,

    That’s what I think too – I just don’t see the point of doing it so far along in the relationship. Get them to do it right when they sign up (and remind them in your first couple of emails). A year or two in is just way too late to do much good if you ask me.

    7/18/2008 10:56 am | Follow me on Twitter
  5. Dale

    I not only give people the "heads up" on the Thank You Page to check their bulk/spam folder if they don’t receive the offer within 5 minutes, I get them, along with those who did get the initial Offer email in their regular Inbox, to Click on "Reply" and "Send" it back.

    This 99% of the time adds our email address to their address book automatically depending on how the end users mail software is set up.

    The only thing I have a problem with is "aged" addresses being blocked, not fresh leads.

    7/19/2008 4:40 pm
  6. For Dale:

    You are absolutely right. In most cases it’s enough for your subscribers to just reply to your email to add your email address to their address book.

    And in my experience you get them easier to just to reply to the email than to make them go through the ‘whitelist’ process.

    7/22/2008 8:49 pm
  7. It’s a good idea for email delivery to do a solo mailing, maybe 2-3 times a year, dedicated to white-listing.

    We all know circumstances change. Your status with spam lists can change, people can change their email addresses, they may have deleted other emails, or they could have been in a rush the first time and not have bothered to have white-listed you. There are a host of reasons.

    Everyone knows Eben Pagan aka David D of DYD. David does this. It’s a brief email with a link pointing to a page that gives thorough details for various email programs with diagrams. His partner, Christian C. does it as well.

    7/23/2008 6:55 am
  8. Dale,

    That’s a creative approach!

    Considering that you also would receive replies to your emails for other reasons (people asking questions, etc.), I wonder about the downside of that tactic.

    Are you concerned that as your list grows, you’ll have to devote more time to picking out replies that need your attention from the ones where people are simply doing it for whitelisting purposes? How do you handle scaling issues on the support end?

    Very curious…

    Joshua,

    You bring up a good point about subscribers’ email addresses changing – but a company with United’s resources should be able to see whether a subscriber has changed his/her address (I haven’t).

    As for "your status with spam lists can change" — that’s also a good point, but I’m not sure it applies here. As noted in the post, I’ve consistently gotten United’s emails in my inbox. While it’s possible that I’m an outlier and that they did indeed have wide-ranging deliverability issues, it strikes me as unlikely.

    I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t ask subscribers to whitelist us. But in my mind, it just doesn’t make sense for the majority of senders to dedicate an entire email to the topic.

    Thanks for providing a contrary view.

    7/23/2008 8:54 am | Follow me on Twitter
  9. Janice

    For Joshua

    "people can change their email addresses, they may have deleted other emails, or they could have been in a rush the first time and not have bothered to have white-listed you. There are a host of reasons."

    —————————————————————————–

    How would a solo emailing 2 to 3 times a year help.

    If they’re off the grid, they’re off the grid. How would these emails
    get them back in the fold.

    Am I missing something here?? I am not be sarcastic. I would like
    to have an "ah ha" moment.

    Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees.

    I like Dales idea by avoiding the white-listing hoops altogether.

    Elegance in simplicity

    I personally have never white-listed unless it was something I Paid for
    or of tremendous interest that I would I found in my spam folder.

    7/23/2008 8:59 am
  10. Dale

    For Justin

    "Considering that you also would receive replies to your emails for other reasons (people asking questions, etc.), "

    Not a problem because I ask the subscriber to simply send email back "As Is"

    I do this at the confirmed Optin Level.

    I really thought this through before doing it and it works like a charm.

    7/23/2008 9:04 am
  11. To take a totally different perspective, I think that the terms "Whitelisting" and "Add to Safe Sender List / Address Book" are often confused. Derek Harding provides a nice explanation of whitelisting here – http://www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=3629882 (What Whitelisting’s Evolution Means for Marketers). He argues that "…[Whitelist] membership provides absolutely no guarantee of delivery."

    Until proven otherwise, I’m not sold on the value add of whitelisting and/or add to address book.

    Keeping the conversion going…

    7/23/2008 9:32 am
  12. Joshua U

    "I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t ask subscribers to whitelist us. But in my mind, it just doesn’t make sense for the majority of senders to dedicate an entire email to the topic."

    I didn’t intend to say solo mail or no solo mail is the better choice. It’s very subjective. If you do think you should ask subscribers to white-list in emails, what’s the problem with sending a solo mail? Offering no content and losing subscribers?

    I would think offering a sole purpose in an email ensures more people white-list you, and those who don’t need to white-list you know what the email is about so they can easily delete it.

    Maybe the commitment and consistency principle plays an influence as the person invests in their decision to stay with you.

    You can also frame it to the subscriber in a way that shows how it benefits them – making them want to do it and being grateful for your suggestion.

    Not everything big players do is right, but something has gotta be going on if those guys I mentioned are doing it.

    Just stirring up the discussions :D

    7/23/2008 10:53 pm
  13. Might this standalone message have value if the sender’s email address changes?

    It’s not something you’d normally want to do for all sorts of reasons. But there are circumstances where a sender is forced to change that address (merger, rebranding, whatever), so would no longer be protected by a (now old) address book entry.

    So a kind of "we changed sender address, please update your address book" or similar might be a campaign worth considering?

    7/24/2008 6:31 am
  14. DJ,

    There’s definitely some dual-use of the term. However, in the context of a web-based ESP (who handles whitelisting in the sense you’re thinking) I think it’s OK to use the term to refer to adding someone to your address book/contact list/"safe senders" list/etc. I’m not a huge stickler for terms (example of why: Al Iverson’s post "When Terminology Attacks").

    One way I’ve found to make some distinction is to use "client-side whitelisting" or "end-user whitelisting" to refer to adding people to your address book.

    Re: the benefits – what about image blocking? Last I checked, some ISPs decide whether to enable/disable images based on the sender being in your address book.

    Joshua,

    The "sole purpose" argument is a good one. Not everyone will heed the whitelist request at the top of the previous emails.

    Re: commitment/consistency – possible, but wouldn’t it be better to get that initially in the subscriber relationship? This is a year-plus down the road.

    Mark,

    Absolutely – but as far as I can tell this is the same address they’ve sent from before.

    Also, in the event where you were going to change your sending address, wouldn’t you notify readers in advance (while still sending from the previous address)? I think I’d actually favor a dedicated message about changes to a newsletter/list (including asking me to add the new address to my address book) if it were done proactively and the benefits were clearly communicated to me.

    There’s a sort of Catch-22 at play in this email: if emails from this address get put in my spam folder, I’m not likely to see this email and add United to my address book – but if they go to my inbox, their concerns seem rather unfounded in the first place.

    7/24/2008 8:43 am | Follow me on Twitter
  15. I agree with you in principle Justin, but perhaps another clue is in the line "or properly viewing United emails." Maybe this is more about ensuring images aren’t blocked than deliverability?

    Or maybe it’s to secure against future problems with filtering into spam folders at places like Gmail?

    Still not convinced of the value – if they are going to send a one-off like this, it would seem worth trying harder to demonstrate the value to the recipient (which is what we all agree is critical in email marketing).

    7/24/2008 9:00 am
  16. Mark,

    That’s a good point. I guess I associate the first paragraph’s statement about not "missing out" on the offers with deliverability and filtering.

    Totally agree re: the need to demonstrate value. They need to do a better job of demonstrating WHY it’s beneficial to me to make sure I get (and can view) their emails.

    During a talk about this issue with Marc here, the idea came up of somehow incentivizing this action. Is there something we can offer to increase the likelihood of recipients adding us to their address books?

    It’s hard to directly incentivize an action like this (since we can’t track it), but perhaps an indirect approach could work?

    Example: announce a contest/giveaway/sweepstakes in an upcoming email, and remind readers that "in order to get the details/secret code/whatever, watch out for a special message from us. It comes from this address, so be sure to add it to your Address Book so it comes to your inbox."

    Loving the ideas & discussion coming out of this. Keep ‘em coming everyone!

    7/24/2008 9:59 am | Follow me on Twitter
  17. Jumping back in….

    @justinpremick – you say:

    "Re: the benefits – what about image blocking? Last I checked, some ISPs decide whether to enable/disable images based on the sender being in your address book."

    That is a good point. One that I didn’t think of. But, personally, I think the whole "address book" is a bit silly. My Gmail address book/contacts (until recently – http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/updates-to-gmail-contact-manager.html) auto-added everyone.

    But…if those are the "ISP rules" I guess (maybe) we have to play by ‘em.

    7/24/2008 9:59 am
  18. Dale

    One of my accounts totally insisted I put his logo in his emails.

    I dug my heads in, but gave it a shot to see what would happen
    and to prove a point to him.

    I have a 125 X 125 gif in the upper left hand corner.

    To my surprise, after hearing that html and images can be the kiss of death in terms of delivery, the Undelieverable rate was just as low as with NO graphic. In the past undeliverables averaged10 to 20 on any given broadcasts

    As mentioned in my other post here, my problem is that my ‘aged’
    subscribers have been getting blocked and other broadcasts they are not…… then they are again. ???***??

    It will bounce back and forth form 11 to 546, back down to 7, back
    up to 612

    Again 98% of them are "aged" subscribers.

    It’s like roulette.

    The first time I saw over 500 undeliverables and I think I stopped breathing.

    By the next day they all went out.

    Now that was weird. How did they bust threw that day and couldn’t
    the day before.

    Now what I do is check the undeliverables if it’s crazy I call in about it and 99% of the time the problem is fixed…whatever that problem is.

    7/24/2008 10:55 am
  19. Drew Miller

    Seems like this strategy would work well in a Welcome message, but not a random campaign.

    Perhaps this was an attempt at a reactivation campaign or maybe they felt this was a necessary task when switching ESP’s?

    Either way its random…. Does anyone else think that image is creepy?

    7/28/2008 2:36 pm
  20. Let me share a real world situation. A Virtual Assistance forum I belong to started getting bounce backs from people who opted in. The reason given for the bounces were that it was from an automated mailing (Aweber of course!) and the ISPs were blocking all automated mailings regardless of the opt-in status. It was only by posting on the site to add the email address to your contacts (and having folks do it) that emails were able to get through.

    Like someone commented earlier, spam filters are becoming too efficient when they block opt-in mailings. My thinking is that the airlines, seeing this trend coming down the line, realized that sending an email NOW reminding folks to add the address to their contacts would alleviate problems should the spam filters tighten even more.

    I know this has happened to me and I realized, hey, "I didn’t get my weekly newsletter from _________ and I don’t think I got it last week either." :::Digging into my spam file::: Aha! Adding it to my address list and voila… There it is! By raising awareness, people know what to do if and when a regular email ends up in the wrong folder.

    8/3/2008 2:07 am
  21. Hi Cheryl,

    That’s an interesting take on the "better late than never" idea.

    To Everyone…

    Let’s assume for a moment that it IS a good idea to send out a message dedicated to whitelisting. We’ll ignore for the time being the downsides that I and others have pointed out.

    What would you put in that message? Would you do what United did? How would you explain/reinforce WHY someone would want to add you to the address book now (considering that s/he may have been getting your emails in the inbox all this time)? Would you try to incentivize the action somehow?

    This email just doesn’t do anything for me. And I don’t think I’d send one myself. But if people are going to do it, let’s at least help them get the most out of it.

    8/4/2008 10:43 am | Follow me on Twitter
  22. Our initial welcome message entails specific whitelisting instructions dynamically based on the user’s email address. Since more than 80% of our subscribers use Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail or AOL, I crafted dynamic templates with specific instructions on how to add us to contacts in each ISP. For those that didn’t fall into 1 of those 4 ISP’s, I created a generic template with general instructions. The email also has your welcome basics included: re-stated value of newsletter, frequency, a few links to browse and a special offer thank-you.

    I don’t think we would ever devote an ENTIRE message to whitelisting – just seems like there are so many other ways (best practices) to approach this issue.

    Justin – What was the subject line for this email? Was it enticing?

    8/4/2008 4:08 pm
  23. Drew,

    The subject was "Are we in your address book"

    Not sure if you’d consider that enticing or not. I did because of what I do, but it didn’t strike me as compelling for the average person.

    8/4/2008 4:24 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  24. No question mark? Wow!

    Why not a subject line like this:

    "Never Miss our E-Fare Deals!"

    Within the email body, you could encourage whitelisting while perhaps offering a sweepstakes by filling out a survey (also a way for United to collect more coveted user data).

    My point is: If you are hell-bent on sending out a whitelisitng campaign – why not make it engaging and fun?

    8/4/2008 4:40 pm
  25. Tony

    I have just joned AWeber as a customer and I am just about to join my first live video link next week and trying to get a feel of what is to come.
    Upon reading all the literature and your blogs and inter emails, I have come to the conclusion that I am in for a very exciting future as an affiliate marketer.
    Good luck to all and best wishes.

    8/22/2008 6:13 am
  26. Hey all,

    For those of you still following this conversation, there’s a nice example of a well-done "change of address" email on The Email Wars (another good email marketing blog).

    Click the trackback link (A Well-Done “Change of Address” Email…) right above this comment to see my reaction to it and to get the link to go see the email.

    10/3/2008 3:39 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  27. For Justin,

    To answer your question of, would I send an email like this, the answer would have to be yes. I would because I believe, when it comes to emailing that is, the "shotgun approach" as oppose to the "BB Gun" approach. I say that because although it may be a bit redundant, it is still better to try an get everyone to whitelist you even though, like you have been receiving emails consistently without being filtered. I think that approach would be for someone like me who happens to check my spam box for an interesting email that I would enjoy reading that may have been filtered. If I enjoy the content or think its relevant I’ll then add them to my address book.

    3/25/2009 7:27 am
  28. Am I the only one who would like to see AWeber put ‘Add me to your Address Book info’ on the automatic Thank You Page?

    6/22/2010 7:17 am

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