Spam is a problem for everyone, and when you run a company, it becomes a bigger problem. Spam is Unsolicited Bulk Email. You didn’t ask for it but you got it anyway!
There are various ways of attacking the problem but there is not a one-stop fix; don’t go looking for a magic solution. It is not a problem that can simply be turned off, it is an ongoing process.
Here at DreamGenius, we have until recently allowed all emails sent to our domains to be delivered regardless of the local address, and we sifted through them, deleting the irrelevant and dealing with the rest. That finally got to be too much, so here’s what we’re doing now, and it might help you.
Choose a provider with good server-side Spam filters
We have used Google as our email provider for nearly a decade now and in our opinion, there is nobody who provides simpler, better, cheaper server-side Spam filtering. Other solutions are however available, for free.
How they do it, how you work with it, what are the pitfalls, etc will be the subject of a later post. Suffice to say at this stage that it’s a key element of the solution for us, and a lot of our customers.
Turn off any client-side Spam filters
Generally, client-side Spam filters are built-in to your email program; Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, Apple Mac Mail, et al. Such Spam filters only work when your email program is running, so they’re worthless when you are checking emails on your phone or tablet!
In addition, they’re usually driven by the manufacturer. How’s that different from the solution we’ve recommended? Good question! In short, you can alter the Spam status of individual emails, senders or domains and that is fed back to Google to contribute to their algorithm, which is therefore constantly evolving. In your email program, you get the settings you’re given, until they’re updated via a security release.
Many internet security solutions, as well as protecting you against viruses, also contain Spam filters. They usually have plug-ins to your email program, enabling them to filter Spam automatically. However, they don’t usually ask you to confirm that it’s Spam, and they frequently conflict with other plug-ins or software. Turn ’em, off!
Use bona fide unsubscribe links
In accordance with the EU Privacy & Electronic Communications Directive in 2002, made law in the UK in 2003, and similar legislation passed in the majority of largest internet-connected countries, for instance the United States’ Can Spam Act of 2003, it is a requirement of email marketing campaigns that the option to unsubscribe from a mailing list is presented clearly to the recipient, in the form of a link in the email.
Some such links are an old-fashioned mailto link to an address which you have to send UNSUBSCRIBE as the subject to. Frequently, these don’t work and often, they just confirm the existence of your mailbox, which doubles the influx of rubbish!
However, bona fide marketing emails will have been sent out by a legitimate mailing service and the link will take you to a web page which prefills the email address it was sent to, gives you unsubscribe options and may also ask you for an optional reason why. These should be used as they’ll very likely be honoured.
Turn off wildcard forwarding
Jargon Alert! Wildcard forwarding is simply allowing absolutely any email sent to your domain to be delivered to a real user or group, so email@example.com is not automatically rejected just because there’s no mailbox or list with that name. There are both pros and cons to wildcard forwarding but, having established that the latter outweigh the former for us, we’ve turned it off. You should consider it too.
Instead, make sure that you configure each email address that you give out or use as either a mailbox or alias in your domain or email control panel, so that these addresses exist and are not rejected by the server as undeliverable. Everything else can then be safely rejected. It’s an administrative burden, but so is handling Spam!
Turn off redendant domains or use a different one for email
DreamGenius own several domains, and you probably do too. Do you use them all for email though? We moved email some years ago from one domain to another and, truth be told, the majority of what comes in on the old domain now is Spam.
We have therefore changed the MX Records in DNS to point away from our email service provider, to a place where no mailboxes are configured. All mail to this domain therefore gets rejected as undeliverable. It’s a bit of a drastic solution, but it’s not permanent, and it’s very effective especially on a domain that you haven’t used for a long time, or indeed ever, but want to retain.
However, if you got a long, SEO-friendly domain for your website, you might consider using something rather snappier for your email. For instance, if your web site is WeMakeRightHandedWidgets.com, you might use say wmrhw.co.uk for your emails. If you mapped the domains as well, people who used plausible guesses for your email address based on the web site domain would still get delivered, the rest rejected.
There you go then. Five steps to reducing the influx of Spam; some quick tasks, others a bit more of an ongoing project. By all means, let us know what you use, or whether our solutions made a difference for you.