A quick overview of Outlook.com (Hotmail) sender support

Over the past two months, I have taken on a role to deal with deliverability and user complaints for Outlook.com (Hotmail). The main areas of focus are reducing user spam complaints, and helping to streamline the process for senders when they get blocked from delivering to Outlook.com. This includes fixing bugs in the spam filtering process, but also fixing bugs in the SNDS portal.From time to time, people ping me and ask to get unblocked from Outlook.com. The majority of senders know the existing process (probably better than I do!) but here's how it works.

I'm going to try to give enough information to be helpful, but not so much as to give too many clues to malicious senders about how to get around the process.

We consider it our primary responsibility to protect our users from spam, malware, and phish

Outlook.com has multiple filters including sender IP reputation, content filtering, machine learning (Smartscreen), feedback loops, and user personalization. When senders exceed a threshold in parts of those categories, they get blocked. This is in order to protect the service because Outlook.com is under attack from spammers every single day.

However, we understand that sometimes legitimate senders get caught up in our filters. That is why we offer a variety of Support tools.

a) Outlook.com expects senders to self-service and use these tools, and it is up to senders to ensure that they have best sending practices. They can use the Hotmail/Outlook.com SNDS portal to measure their deliverability: https://postmaster.live.com/snds/index.aspx?wa=wsignin1.0

b) There are third party organizations that can help in deliverability. One is the ReturnPath Sender Score Certified which helps in deliverability when on their good IP list. Another is 250 OK and while they don’t have an IP reputation list, they do help you manage complaints and bounces. Driving those down usually helps in delivering to all receivers, including Outlook.com.

There may be others but I can't think of them off the top of my head. We may also add more good IP reputation lists in the future.

c) For Office 365 customers, make sure you set up SPFDKIM, and DMARC. For senders using Exchange on-premise (not Office 365) to send out email, I recommend that they install DKIM to add digital signatures to their outbound email. There is a DKIM agent for Exchange on GitHub, I haven’t used it but several other Exchange customers have and it works for them. https://github.com/Pro/dkim-exchange.

For all others, make sure your SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records are properly configured using whatever setup and infrastructure is supported.

This doesn't guarantee delivery. But it can help (it certainly doesn't hurt).

So what happens when you create a support ticket?

We understand that when senders create support tickets, they just want one thing and one thing only - to get unblocked. Or, sometimes people say "How do I get whitelisted at Hotmail?"

The answer is: There is no way to get whitelisted. Everyone goes through the same process. Even internal teams at Microsoft that want to send to Outlook.com have to do it. Even if you get on the ReturnPath IP reputation list, user personalization might still send messages to Junk.

You must create a support ticket using the SNDS/Postmaster portal to troubleshoot delivery. You can email me saying "Terry, my IPs are blocked! Help!" I'll reply back saying "Please create a support ticket in the SNDS portal." Everyone has to do that, even internal teams at Microsoft.

The Support process has multiple layers; there is some automation, a couple of layers of higher Tier Support, and then finally some Product Team support when required. Because of the overwhelming volume of support requests, and the fact that there are lots of spammers that try to game the support process, this is why we push so hard for people to use the self-service tools (the SNDS portal).

Once it gets through the support process, IPs are either approved for temporary blocking or throttling mitigation (i.e., IPs that were blocked will no longer be blocked [temporarily; if they generate poor reputation after a time limit they will get blocked or junked again]), individual sending limits may be lifted, or the request may be denied. I won't go into the rationale for each of the decisions, but suffice to say, the Support folks do a good job such that we can scale the service given the volume of requests we receive.

That's a brief overview of the Outlook.com sender support process. Hopefully you find it useful.

Comments (4)
  1. Miguel Alfaiate says:

    I am registered in SNDS and JMRP for months, and I must say that SNDS can only be perceived as a joke, from a legitimate sender’s point of view.
    I have added the IP address ranges of all of my servers, all of them report normal status, and the truth is that emails are delivered to the inbox of all providers except microsoft.
    I have opened dozens of tickets to SNDS and always receive the same answer, copy-pasted from someone at the pther end of the support team, which could in fact be an automated software, as messages are indeed copy paste of a specific text, that I am leaving here below.
    If that wasn’t enough, the so called self service portal points to a sender support site which is often offline (as it is at the time of this comment) or where you can start creating tickets to realize that there was an error processing the request and tickets were not created (as it happened yesterday).

    Here is a short excerpt of a talk with hotmail sender support (well you can call that a talk, I call it a loop that I could program to keep on answering the same thing, as I get always the same reply even after saying that I have enrolled with SNDS and JMRP):

    I do not see anything offhand with the IP (XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX) that would be preventing your mail from reaching our customers.

    You may be able to find additional information on common delivery questions at the Outlook.com Postmaster Site found at http://postmaster.msn.com/ I would like to highlight some key areas that I believe are appropriate to your company.

    · Outlook.com has created the Smart Network Data Services (SNDS) program. This is a service that helps legitimate email senders work with their customers and partners to reduce spam originating from their IP. To register, please go to http://postmaster.msn.com/snds/ This program allows a sender to monitor the ‘health’ of their IPs.

    · Monitor user complaints. Outlook.com also has a sender complaint feedback loop program called the Junk Email Reporting Program (JMRP). Enrollment in this free program will benefit you as a sender as it will keep your email lists updated and populated with interested Outlook.com customers. This program will help you to remove those Outlook.com customers who do not want to receive emails from your company. If you are interested in joining this program, please visit https://postmaster.live.com/snds/JMRP.aspx?wa=wsignin1.0.

    While using the SNDS tool and enrollment in the JMRP will not allow emails from your mail servers to bypass our filters, these are in place to help legitimate companies deliver their emails to Outlook.com customers.

    Apply for the Sender Score Certified Mail program.
    If you are doing all the above and you continue to have deliverability issues, you may wish to consider joining the Sender Score Certified Mail Program, a third party program administered by Return Path, Inc. Many legitimate mailers and marketers have qualified and joined this program to improve mail deliverability and decrease email from being filtered to the Junk E-mail Folder. Sender Score (www.senderscorecertified.com) is the only service to which we subscribe

    The troubleshooting steps in this email are recommendations only. Microsoft makes no guarantees that following these steps will guarantee deliverability to MSN, Outlook.com, or Live.com customers.

    For more detailed information about best sending practices to Outlook.com users, please review the following white paper: http://download.microsoft.com/download/e/3/3/e3397e7c-17a6-497d-9693-78f80be272fb/enhance_deliver.pdf


    I wonder if microsoft receives money from sender score / returnpath?

  2. I agree fully with Miguel below (the first commenter). I went through the process and ended up in the same place. My users still can’t send to microsoft domains. Neither my IPs or domains are blacklisted anywhere and the 75 year old woman who just a few months ago was able to send email to her friends is still being thwarted.

  3. IT Hero says:

    Hi Terry

    Good article. But unfortunately I read this so many times..
    I am a network engineer at a small ISP and many of our IPs are getting blocked for no reason. We also take care that our systems are spam free.
    Our IPs are, as many others today, preburned. So what to do to get a good IP reputation at Outlook.com? Every other free mailservice (Gmail, Yahoo, GMX,…) take our mails.

    I cannot find an answer to this question. Would be great if I can get an answer.

    And by the way: SNDS does not show information correctly. Got two new IP blocked two weeks ago which are still not showing in SNDS.

    1. Chances are, you are dealing with issues with graylisting and not properly warming up the IPs. You should gradually send smaller amounts of mail and build a good reputation before sending a lot of mail. I can not tell you what those limits are, but you should be able to tell just by sending and monitoring.

      In regards to the issues with SNDS not showing correctly, as stated in the article, “Please create a support ticket in the SNDS portal.”.

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