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Disposable Email Addresses: What Are They and How Should Email Marketers Handle Them?

Craig Swerdloff

January 22, 2014

Archive

Over the past few months we have been diving in on the topic of “inactive” email addresses and how marketers might manage them to improve email marketing performance. Continuing on the path of understanding inactive email addresses, I thought it appropriate to tackle one of the lesser understood examples: disposable email addresses.
 
While NOT a lot is known about the usage of disposable email addresses, one thing we know for sure is that disposable email addresses are created by users to avoid “spam.” Simply put, if a user does not trust you enough to give up their primary email address, they may use a disposable email address to sign up.
 

There are actually three kinds of disposable email addresses, ordered here in declining value: aliases, forwarding accounts, and non-forwarding throwaway accounts. While all three are quite different, there is some overlap. Here are their definitions:

  • An alias is an email address that is hosted at the same domain or ISP as the user’s primary account, and may even include the primary email address. (example: cswerdloff1 at leadspend dot com)
  • forwarding account, is an email address created by the user at a domain that is not the same as their primary email address, but that forwards mail to their primary account.
  • non-forwarding throwaway account is an email address created with a disposable email address provider for one-time use.
While aliases can be created as a throwaway address, a non-forwarding throwaway address is definitely not an alias account. Email marketers need to understand the differences in order to first make a decision on whether to send email to them at all. Smart email marketers can then use segmentation and optimize messaging to try and build trust with the remaining subscribers over time.
 
Many ISPs offer the ability to create disposable alias accounts. These addresses are real, deliverable addresses, and will forward mail into the user’s main account or to a designated sub-folder. At Gmail, you can receive messages sent to your.username+any.alias@gmail.com. For example, messages sent  tojane.doe+disposable@gmail.com are delivered to jane.doe@gmail.com.
 
At Yahoo!, you can receive messages sent to your.username-any.alias@gmail.com. For example, messages sent  to jane.doe-disposable@yahoo.com are delivered to jane.doe@yahoo.com. The same is true for any Yahoo! hosted domain such as Ymail.com and Rocketmail.com. Consider creating a segment of subscribers with a “+” or “–“ in their usernames. Mail these addresses more slowly, and with messaging intent on building trust over time.
 
Forwarding accounts look just like a real accounts and there is no surefire way for marketers to identify them.  For that reason, we will ignore this segment entirely.
 
A non-forwarding, throwaway email address is designed for single-use. Services that advertise these disposable accounts include Mailinator.com10minutemail.comGuerilla Mail, and YOPMail, but a quick search on Google will show how popular these services have become. Perhaps most importantly from an email marketer’s perspective, email sent to these addresses has little chance of being read and may, in fact, be made publicly available. While sending to these addresses is not currently known to affect a marketer’s sender reputation metrics or result in blacklisting, it is possible as both blacklist and disposable email address providers both exist to combat spam. Thankfully, these addresses are identifiable by their domain name and can be easily segmented. Marketers should reject these addresses at collection and reiterate the requirement for a valid email address in order to sign up. Remind the potential subscriber of your value proposition, and build trust by disclosing your data security and sharing practices. If these addresses exist in your database, remove them immediately.
 
Importantly, none of the three disposable email address types will necessarily result in a hard bounce when mailed. They are truly inactive email addresses and should not demonstrate any open or click behavior over time. Marketers can attempt to recapture a primary email address from these users on their website, in social media, or through retargeting via LiveIntent, Facebook’s Custom Audiences, Twitter’s Tailored Audiences, or LiveRamp.

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