Me, Spammer?

wall-of-spam-image-from-huffingtonpostMe, Spammer? A member asks…

Hey what gives? I tried to send out an email to my kids’ classmates and got a warning from my email service provider. It said that I was approaching the ‘limit’ on emails I could send. I’ve never heard of that before – can you tell me what’s going on?

In two words, ‘combating spam’. Internet/email service providers all are working very hard to reduce the spam that’s generated. Perhaps 80% (some say 90%) or more of all the email messages flying around the world/internet at any one moment are spam, and there are over 100 million emails being sent over the internet every second. That’s a lot of spam! Frankly that is a significant reason why your internet speeds aren’t as fast as you’d want or expect, that much spam is choking our internet superhighway. Internet service providers work to combat spam in various ways including:

  • identifying and blocking spammers (the people who send out spam)
  • identifying and blocking spam servers and open relays (the devices on the internet that transmit a lot of spam), and
  • deciding whether an individual message is spam and blocking it.

shutterstock_119382859_resultIf you are sending an innocuous email (like a newsletter) out to a lot of people, it’s easy to get tagged as a spammer, since that’s exactly what spammers do. Each service provider can set their own limit for the amount of email you send as being identified as spam. Some have hourly limits and some have daily maximums. For example, Gmail has a 2,000 daily limit, Yahoo allows 500 emails per day that you can send, while Verizon is pretty stringent: no more than 100 recipients per email, 500 emails in an hour, and 1,000 emails in a day. Exceeding those limits will result in none of your emails being delivered and you being marked down as a spammer. Pretty much every single email service provider has some kind of limitation, so you can’t escape this. Trust me, you don’t want to get marked as a spammer, once you get on a list it’s very hard to get off it regardless of your legitimacy.

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Why do these service providers do this? Part of the reason for this limitation is self-defense. If a service provider is perceived to be sending out a lot of unsolicited email messages (spam), they can be blacklisted. And that affects every single user of that service. So if you use an email service provider and send out enough messages to be considered a spammer, your service provider and everybody who uses that service can find their emails not being delivered. So service providers are highly motivated to identify any user of their system who spams, and kicking them off their service.

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Mx-Logo-590x150Most internet service providers use one or more blacklists, such as spamhaus.org, barracuda, trendmicro, spamcop, and sorbs. One handy tool techies use is MX Toolbox, which can quickly check either a domain name or IP address against a whole host of spam blacklists. Most consumers don’t use this though, I bet you don’t know the IP address of the mail server you use!

Most blacklists operate using the numeric Internet Protocol (IP) address of the sending server – not your computer nor the domain name (e.g., gmail.com) that you’re using. When you send email out, your computer, tablet or smartphone communicates with an outgoing mail server, and that server sends your email off to the receiving email server. So it doesn’t matter what’s on the From: line of your email, all that matters is the sending server’s numeric IP address, which might be something like 173.194.78.108 (this is one of Gmail’s server addresses). Nobody really cares what’s on the From: line because that’s so easy to fake.

shutterstock_116445055_resultSo now that I’ve given you an explanation for why you got that warning, how about some advice for what to do about it? For businesses that send out a lot of email, certainly use a service designed for that purpose – Constant Contact and MailChimp are two of the more well-known services. We like MailChimp for individuals like you as there is a free option – you can send up to 12 thousand emails to up to 2 thousand people monthly for free. But I’ll warn you, these services can be pretty picky about what you can do – they require you to verify that every single person you send an email to has expressly told you they want to receive email. All it takes is for one of your recipients to complain and you’ll get yourself a reputation as a spammer – the fight against spam can be pretty brutal. For this reason, we prune our own newsletter mailing list prudently – we require an emailed confirmation of signup for every person who subscribes, and we remove any subscriber who’s email is rejected for any reason, or who complains (and of course for any subscriber who unsubscribes).

We also like Mandrill (MailChimp for Apps), SendGrid or ElasticEmail, which work great for small businesses especially if you use the excellent MailPoet service on your WordPress-powered website. Small groups (like homeowners associations) can sign up for a ‘List Serv” service, there are a lot of those either free or low-cost. Please leave a comment with your particular needs if you’d like a recommendation. Lastly, if you’re a small business or otherwise are in control of your own internet and mail server, we warn you against using your own server to send out marketing emails, it’s just too easy to get blacklisted. And getting off a blacklist can be exceedingly hard and tedious.

If you only send out mass emails occasionally and don’t want to bother with any of the above service options, then your best bet is to take your time sending emails. Don’t send one email to everybody, send the same email to multiple, smaller groups. And be sure to put the addresses in the BCC field – that way nobody can hit ‘reply all’ and spam everybody on your list.

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