Holiday Emails: How to Not Get Blacklisted This Holiday Season

November 2, 2022 Mythili Viswanathan, PhD


Think it’s too early to plan your holiday season email marketing campaigns? Well, think again! Strategically planning out your holiday season emails in advance is imperative to a successful email marketing campaign. You may be thinking ‘’winter is two seasons away, I have plenty of time left to plan!’’ but I can assure you that the holiday season will creep up on you before you know it, and suddenly you will find yourself in a frantic flurry of holiday email blasting, which may result in dreaded spam complaints, and even blacklisting. Make yourself invincible with more pre-planning, and less spamming. In this article, I will talk you through a strategic process of how to send holiday emails…all before there’s snow on the ground. 

The consequences of spamming with holiday emails

In the lead up to December, holiday greeting emails are inescapable. Think about it: individuals send emails to friends, family, colleagues, and everyone in between, and marketers send emails to their entire subscription lists. How has the holiday season become a time to inundate EVERYONE with emails? As if the holiday season isn’t chaotic enough, many companies spam individuals with way too many emails. Far from email marketing best practices, yet this trend continues, year after year. Spamming your email subscribers leads to a plethora of damaging outcomes. Why? Because excessive holiday emails can have devastating consequences such as blacklisting, domain reputation issues, and spam complaints, just to name a few.

Know the difference: holiday emails are not transactional emails!

When you override standard exclusions to send a holiday email, you are treating the email as transactional. However, a clear differentiation exists: holiday emails are not transactional emails. Transactional emails are emails that are mandatory to send: e.g., after a customer makes a purchase or places an order. Marketing emails, holiday emails, and check-in emails are NOT transactional. Oracle published an informative post about transactional emails, click here to read it and find out more. So, back to holiday emails. Let’s be fully transparent and treat holiday emails exactly as they are… non-transactional.

Which contacts should you email? Let’s examine a holiday email audit to find out:

To ensure that spamming and blacklisting does not take place, let’s look at a recent holiday email audit and breakdown the numbers. Company A regularly emails 20,000 contacts. As the holiday season rolls around, Company A emails their whole database of 100,000 contacts in one day. These contacts consist of people who have withdrawn consent, unsubscribes, those marked as Do Not Email, unnurtured prospects, and many more. A staggering 80,000 out of 100,000 contacts consist of high-risk recipients. That’s a whopping 80%! Consequently, these high-risk recipients can report the email as spam, or never open the email. Or perhaps, these contacts do not exist anymore - either at the email domain level or in the real world. Let’s face it, if your company policy is to keep everyone who has ever breathed near your website in the database, there will more than likely be stale contacts. Wishing these contacts a ‘’Happy New Year’’ will likely tank your IP. A tanked IP and unhappy recipients. Not exactly the Happy New Year that you were hoping for, right?
Dial the scenario up to a much larger company: an established sports team with a global fan base. This company engages with 1,000,000 contacts via email on a regular basis. Just like all databases, they too have stale, inactive, and unsubscribed contacts. During the holiday season, the company emails their entire database and overrides all email marketing best practices: emailing 5,000,000 contacts. Yes, you read that correctly! Five million. It’s not worth risking your IP reputation and wrecking your sender integrity with a generic holiday email sent to non-consenting recipients. So please take this as a word of caution, don’t risk it!
Still wondering who exactly should receive your emails? Stick to the following list to ensure best practices are followed:

  1. Include contacts who are subscribed.
  2. Include contacts who have consented to receive your emails.
  3. Do not include contacts that have been inactive for 12 months even if they qualify for the above two criteria.
  4. Differentiate vendors: If you have vendors who are part of your database, (like Tegrita!) segment your email lists.
  5. Vendors should not be part of your customer and prospects list.

Determine how you should send your email

When you email your customers, prospects, vendors, and partners, it is best to segment each group. Each contact type should be tabulated so you know how many people will receive your holiday email. Your total number is important so you can determine the timeline to spread your email campaign over. Here’s an example table:

Contact type
Total number of unique engaged contacts

Now that you know your totals, it’s time to determine the maximum number of contacts to email per day. This is called the “daily send volume”, which is the average number of contacts you email per day (if you email someone twice in one day, they count both times). You should also determine your current “maximum send volume”, which is the largest number of contacts you email in a given day (don’t include your last holiday send in this analysis). To calculate your daily and maximum volumes, a simple email frequency report or email analysis overview report will work. Once you know your daily send volume and maximum send volume, compare it to the total number of contacts you want to email.

Follow these steps to determine how you should send your email:

  1. Do not exceed your daily maximum send volume. If your typical send volume is 20,000 per day and your maximum send volume is 45,000, but your total holiday email recipients total is 400,000, you need to break up the send over a period of at least 9 days, with a few rest days in-between.
  2. Each day’s send should be a mix of customers and prospects.
  3. Ensure you don’t email the same contact twice in one day: include your regularly scheduled emails in your daily send volume, so that the same contact is not emailed twice in one day.
  4. Differentiation is key: segment your email lists, so that vendors/ partners receive separate messages from your customers and prospects.

Your email sending IP address builds up a reputation over time. Mailbox Providers (MBPs) come to expect certain behaviours from your IP, one of which is send volume. For example, if you are emailing 600 Gmail contacts per day, Gmail learns that this is how you operate. If you suddenly email 60,000 Gmail contacts - Gmail is intelligent enough to become suspicious of your activity and say ‘’no way!’’. This does not exclusively apply to Gmail, in fact, it applies to all MBPs.

Alarm bells are set off when you email recipients who you haven’t emailed for a long period of time or hit too many contacts from the same domain. The same applies to corporate domains. Each company has an IT team that sets threshold levels. If your company is the recipient of an email blast, chances are, it never gets to your inbox. When you blast out a holiday email, the same thing happens to your email – it is either rejected or ends up as spam. By planning your sends and determining timelines, you can revise your contact criteria and send emails to those it will serve in a meaningful way. Personally, I prefer a conservative approach to sends because I have seen ugly things happen when clients take a more aggressive approach. Simply following standard exclusions will keep your send volume down and increase your chances of delivering an email without risking your IP and domain reputation.

Try this approach to create valuable email sends

“Okay party pooper Mythili, I shouldn’t send a mass holiday email and wreck my company’s IP and domain reputation. But I want to wish people a happy New Year.”
Well, don’t fret, you can - in the New Year. Wouldn’t it be nice to stand out from the crowd? Through transitioning away from a generic holiday email into a more original email campaign, you can create a meaningful experience for your consenting database contacts.
Let me set the scene for you: the new year rolls around, and it’s mid-January. I receive an email from your company - who didn’t send me a holiday email. Instead, your company emails me asking how my year has started off, and if there’s any new information I want to learn about your company/product/tool. The email includes some new website links and provides an overview of functionality improvements in Q1. Wow, now I am interested! Why? Because this is a valuable email. It’s not just more clutter in my inbox, it’s come to me after the holiday email clutter has subsided. Your company is still wishing me a good year ahead, but it’s ultimately pointing me to valuable information. I have never seen this happen in my inbox, but I would love to see it happen because it:

  • is strategy-driven,
  • differentiates your brand from the others,
  • will not wreck your IP because it is not a bulk send, and
  • could be used to email unengaged contacts, and determine whether to keep them or discard them from your database.

What more could you ask for? It’s a win-win situation!

Use your time wisely to plan holiday emails effectively and create a valuable experience for your recipients. Really think about how your IP cannot withstand your desire to email everyone in your database. Engage in a more meaningful email marketing strategy that will ultimately add value, rather than clutter, to your recipients.

Holiday emails are just one of many things that can tank your IP and cause issues with email delivery. At Tegrita, we can assess your email delivery metrics and analyze messaging from failed or incomplete sends to create a custom plan to solve your issues and help you hit more inboxes. We are here to help you! Feel free to reach out to us.


About the Author

Mythili Viswanathan, PhD

Mythili Viswanathan is our IP Warming and Deliverability SME. With two decades of academic experience, Mythili is results-driven and focuses on short-term goals that help our clients achieve long-term marketing success. Mythili is from Hong Kong and resides in Toronto. Her global background helps her work efficiently with our clients who have teams located on various continents. She received her BA and MA in the United States and a PhD in Developmental Cognitive Psychology from York University, Toronto.

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