Practical Ecommerce

How I manage email spam

We all receive email spam. The longer our businesses exist, the more spam we get. So how should we deal with it?

All businesses should have policies and procedures for dealing with spam. Choose an email client that gives you flexibility. I use Thunderbird, but I believe that Outlook is almost as good. Set your email client to (a) look at headers only, (b) not download the body of an email until it is opened, and (c) not download remote images or executable HTML.

Train your staff not to open any email where the header is clearly spam, and train them never to click on a link in an email no matter how persuasive the email is. This will prevent an employee from inadvertently exposing your systems to hacking or ransomware.

These are just the basics. Ideally you would never receive spam. But it is always a balancing act in setting an email client — restrict too heavily and legitimate customer emails may get caught and deleted.

The first line of defense is with your email provider, such as Gmail or your email hosting service. These providers normally allow some kind of spam trapping, either by blocking IP addresses from certain countries and areas, or by blocking blacklisted IP addresses. This is very useful, but treat it with caution. Set these parameters too tight and you will never see customer emails that may be incorrectly on a blacklist.

The next line of defense is your email client. A good one like Thunderbird can be used to detect spam and filter it into a spam folder. Thunderbird uses a self-learning method. If you train it by marking emails as spam, it will automate the process and mark all similar ones as spam. Over time it gets better and detects spam by analyzing the header and body compared to the ones you have agreed are spam. The advantage of doing this at the client level is that the spam folder is easily accessible, to confirm the contents are, in fact, spam.

Whatever defenses you have, sometimes you just get too much email and it simply takes too much time to wade through. Moreover, the more you advertise your email, or the longer it is a public address, the more spam email lists you will get on. Thus occasionally you have to try to get off the spam lists.

This is easier said than done.

One way is to change email addresses. Abandon the old one to the spammers. Say, for instance, you had sales@xxxx — now use orders@xxxx. It is very effective, but I don’t like it as it is basically retreating.

Another method that I have used is more aggressive. Many emails have an unsubscribe link. Some people advise never to use this, as it confirms your address exists, which will result in more spam. But that is not true in all cases. I have found that when I do an exercise of unsubscribing from all the more professional looking emails, the volume of my spam dips significantly for several months.

I report emails with no unsubscribe links to SpamCop, a service that analyses an email header and body and determines who sent it, and what site it is promoting. This lets you send a complaint email to all the relevant ISPs and hosting companies. It can be surprising effective.

One persistent email I receive is from a professional service company that has consistently ignored the unsubscribe link. However, the company lists a freephone (toll free) number. So I call it and let them pay for the privilege of hearing my complaint — or just listen to my background music.

Spam will never go away. The real answer in getting rid of spam is to ignore it. Spam would end if it were 100 percent ignored and never responded to.

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  1. Tom Bowen June 28, 2017 Reply

    Spam is a pain, we all agree. But your close is the most important – just ignore it. It doesn’t take that much of my day to just delete messages I know are spam. So while I’m glad we have legislation against it, I don’t understand why things that are WAY more intrusive, like spam phone calls, especially now that 95% of them are manned by robots who lie to you and say they are humans, why there is no legislation against that. As a business, it’s a much more difficult decision to ignore a phone call because you don’t know the CallerID than it is to ignore spam email. And to answer it interrupts you and does take time. It amazes me that we don’t have legislation against it.

  2. Elizabeth Hollingsworth July 4, 2017 Reply

    As a fellow Merchant Voice writer, some of the most persistent spammers have been those PR agencies which write to me to pitch their product for review on Practical eCommerce without a) ever checking that I write about them and b) without ever including an unsubscribe link.