Email List Hygiene

Good, Bad, and the Space Between: Understanding the Risky Addresses on Your Email List

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by Rozina Hussain, Product Manager

If too many addresses on your marketing email list bounce-back or generate spam complaints, you increase your risk of:

Dismal Marketing Results: Too many email bounces and spam complaints can hurt your sender reputation and thus hurt your deliverability to valid addresses. Plus, a high bounce rate can muddy your campaign metrics, making it more difficult to understand what’s actually working.

Account Suspension: Sending to invalid or risky addresses could imperil your ability to send emails in the first place. Too many bounces, spam complaints, or unsubscribes may lead your Email Service Provider to suspend your account to meet standards from Internet Service Providers, anti-spam organizations, and other email protection services.

Wasting Money: Since email service providers base their pricing plans on the total number of subscribers across all lists, keeping a bloated list in the system can be a recurring waste.

How risky emails are determined:

At BriteVerify, we help measure and mitigate the risk of bounces by verifying and categorizing emails on a marketing list.

During the verification process, BriteVerify checks email syntax (“does it have an @ symbol”), verifies its email domain (MX record), and confirms the address exists on the server using custom protocols and integrations.

Then, BriteVerify sorts email addresses into different categories.

Valid Addresses

The act of sending to valid emails won’t harm your sender reputation.  Of course, marketers still need to make their content engaging and send it at a reasonable frequency: otherwise, recipients could make a spam complaint, ignore emails, or unsubscribe. ISPs like Gmail may also proactively keep your messages from the Inbox if they think it won’t be engaging based on their own algorithms.

Invalid Addresses

On the other side of the spectrum, sending to invalid emails will definitely harm your sender reputation due to hard bounces.

These addresses might contain a typo or improper syntax (marketers who integrate BriteVerify with their webforms can block these types of invalids at the point of entry). Or they might be once-valid addresses that have become invalid as part of the normal churn and attrition that impacts every marketing list.

The Risk In Between

The remaining categories that BriteVerify identifies are somewhere between valid and invalid: Accept All, Unknown, Role-Based, and Disposable. These are the risky emails.

Understanding “Accept All” and “Unknown” emails

“Accept All” emails will accept everything you send them – at least at first. There are two reasons an email address may be classified as Accept-All:

  • An administrator enables anything addressed to a domain to be delivered to a catch-all/accept-all address. Even if someone mails to “[email protected]”, it will still get delivered. Since this approach can attract lots of spam, most administrators don’t like to utilize this configuration on their mail servers. It’s not much better for marketers: if your legitimate email lands in a sea of spammy messages, the likelihood of any recipient action is dismal at best.
  • The mail server uses an old-fashioned configuration to initially accept email for any address, and then subsequently determine the validity of the address. Then for invalid addresses, the server sends a “delayed bounce” message to the sender.  Spammers, however, are likely to hide behind their own non-existent invalid addresses. This configuration can lead to clogged mail queues, as the server makes repeated – and futile –  attempts to deliver delayed bounce messages to addresses that likely don’t exist. For marketers, meanwhile, these delayed bounce messages negatively impact campaign metrics and overall sender reputation.

Given the disadvantages to both approaches, we believe administrators will look for alternatives and the number of emails with an “Accept-All” status will diminish over time. For marketers, attempting to reach these addresses will be a murky –  and thus an unappealing – proposition.

Meanwhile, “Unknown” emails are associated with a domain that isn’t responding. This may be a temporary issue, but it still creates uncertainty.

Since “Accept All” and “Unknown” emails are risky, it’s wise to proceed with caution based on your specific situation.

  • If you’re having a deliverability crisis, and you’re trying to get your bounce rates under control so that you can send mail again, consider not mailing to Accept-All and Unknown addresses.
  • If you’re just cleaning your list, and you already follow best-practices in terms of removing addresses from your list when they bounce, you can mail to Accept-All and Unknown addresses with less risk.
  • Take a large number of Accept All and Unknown emails as a cautionary sign about the quality of your underlying data.

Understanding “Role-Based” and “Disposable” emails

In BriteVerify’s categorization system, “role-address” and “disposable” are types of risky addresses. Unlike invalid addresses, these actually could accept mail – but here’s why they are considered risky:

Role-based addresses are usually set up to manage an organization’s generic inquiries or issues. Examples include addresses starting with sales@, support@, or info@. These emails may be managed by several people across different departments. In general, sending email to such addresses results in a high complaint rate.

Temporary or disposable addresses are created by users in lieu of using their primary address. Users may want to conceal their identity or may simply be wary of joining another email list. Temporary addresses are valid and active for a while – in fact, users may share them with multiple organizations. However, they are more likely to be shut down after some time. Because of their temporary nature, they are identified as risky emails.

As a digital marketer, you’ll sometimes have risky emails on your list. Just know that by proactively removing them (or at least proceeding with caution), you’ll achieve better performance, improve campaign measurement, and protect your campaigns from sudden derailment.