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19 Months Later and Still Defying Conventional Wisdom


By Ken Magill

After 19 months, three dormant, dummy email addresses continue to defy conventional email-marketing wisdom in multiple ways.

As some readers are aware, in March of 2012 I set up three dummy accounts, one at Hotmail, one at Gmail and one at Yahoo, and signed them up for 30, 20 and 20 email lists, respectively.

The brands were a random mix of top retailers, non-top retailers, media, and liberal and conservative political lists.

With the exception of four brands that sent confirmation massages that required a response and one mistaken click I gave to Kroger in an attempt to scroll down, I have not opened or clicked on any of the messages received since I set up the accounts.

I began the experiment to see if mailers hitting a single, utterly disengaged email address would start getting shoved off into the spam folder.

When I set up the accounts a lot of people were saying inbox providers were increasingly making deliverability decisions at the individual level based on subscribers’ interactivity or lack thereof.

“All of the major Internet service providers are moving swiftly toward subscriber-level deliverability based on individual engagement,” wrote marketing keynote speaker and New York Times best-selling author Jay Baer in an article four years ago. “This means that whether or not you have opened or clicked on an email from a company in the past will directly impact whether you will receive that email in your inbox or spam folder in the future.”

My three dummy accounts are evidence that statement was simply not true.

Only two brands are being sent to the Yahoo! account’s spam folder: Priceline and Bon-Ton.

Also, whereas Radio Shack began getting delivered into my dummy Yahoo! account’s spam folder as soon as it was set up, in March Radio Shack began landing in the account’s inbox and has been getting delivered there regularly ever since.

My Hotmail account also had two brands in its spam folder: BJ’s and True Value.

The Gmail account doesn’t even have a spam folder.

None of the addresses is receiving any penis-enlargement, pornographic, affiliate, Nigerian 419 spam, or the like.

Conventional wisdom has it that sooner or later email addresses will begin getting spam merely by existing. With one exception, it’s not happening.

The Gmail account is getting spammed by one commercial emailer. More on that in a moment.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the messages coming into the Gmail account are landing in the promotions folder.

The political newsletters I signed the Gmail account up for are going into the primary folder. So is the Magill Report.

Strangely, the primary folder also has one message from Daily Candy and one from Family Dollar.

Promotional messages from my cigar retailer are also landing in the primary folder.

Now for the spam:

The primary folder is also getting messages from a cigar-related content publisher and retailer I do not believe I registered the dummy Gmail account with. I did, however, register the dummy Gmail account with my preferred cigar retailer.

I figured if my cigar retailer was sharing addresses with others in the industry, my real Gmail account—where I know I didn’t give the cigar-related content publisher and retailer my address—should be getting the same unsolicited messages.

I checked my real Gmail account and sure enough, I’m getting the cigar publisher’s emails there, too.

Its newsletter says I’m getting the email because I have expressed interest in cigars either to the cigar-related content publisher and retailer or one of its partners.

I smoke one brand of cigars available from only one American retailer. I do not do business online or off with any other retailer. So there is no chance the messages from the cigar content publisher and retailer are the result of a purchase with that retailer.

Apparently, my sole source of cigars has shared my email address with another cigar retailer.

However, sending email to apparently acquired addresses doesn’t look to be hurting the cigar-related content publisher and retailer’s email deliverability at Gmail—another snub at conventional wisdom.

I am purposely not divulging the cigar-related content publisher and retailer’s name because if it does start hitting Gmail’s spam folders, I don’t want it to be because an anti-spammer read about its less-than-stellar email marketing practices here.

Another thing all three addresses are lacking: reactivation messages. Or at least there are no messages containing subject lines that identify them as obvious reactivation efforts.

The email programs these addresses are subscribed to aren’t local mom-and-pops. They’re major retailers, presumably with major ESPs. [I can’t open them and check the headers.] Shouldn’t an address that has been inactive for more than a year and a half be getting at least some reactivation email?

And what does all this tell us? Conventional wisdom in email marketing is mostly crap. That’s what it tells us.

The major inbox providers are not making spam-folder decisions on an individual engagement basis.

An email address isn’t necessarily doomed to be swamped with spam merely by existing.

Email service providers don’t “leak” addresses nearly as often—if at all—as some would have us believe. ESPs are far more secure than some would have us believe.

Reactivation emails aren’t as popular as some ESPs would have us believe.

Major retailers and publishers for the most part don’t share email addresses.

An email marketer can send messages to an acquired list and still get email delivered. [This is not recommended.]

Bottom line: Don’t take anything anyone says in email marketing as gospel, even if a bunch of people are saying it.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-11-13 11:45:29
Subject: engagement role

Thanks, Goran: Good point. I did originally have some real people send email into the accounts I could respond to to make them look like real accounts but I haven't done so in a while.
Posted by: Goran
Date: 2013-11-13 06:22:02
Subject: engagement role

Thanks for the great article and useful conclusions. However, maybe we need to include one more premise here: engagement for one sender might be a factor which is used relative to the overall registered engagement on one account. Since there is no engagement on your dummy accounts at all, there is no way to compare engagement levels for individual senders and "flag" some of them as more or less engaging. Those who got delivered to spam, probably did so because of their reputation or some other specific deliverability issue tied to the ISP in question.