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Two Years on and Still Defying Conventional Wisdom

3/4/14

By Ken Magill

Boy, time flies when you have a drinking problem. Or maybe it flies when you don’t have a drinking problem, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.

This month marks two years since I set up three dummy email accounts to see if signing them up for a bunch of lists and then letting them languish would result in individual brands being increasingly delivered into their spam folders.

To readers who have read my earlier posts on this experiment, there won’t be much news in this one. The only thing of note that is happening in the addresses is the fact that nothing is happening.

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.

If my three dummy accounts are any indication, a lot of people were wrong.

One brand is being delivered to the spam folder in the Hotmail/Outlook account: BJ’s Member Services. Interestingly though, most of the messages from BJ’s Member Services are being delivered into the account’s inbox.

Originally, some but not all of True Value’s email was being delivered into the Hotmail account’s spam folder. Then about midway through this experiment, True Value began getting into the Hotmail account’s inbox. True Value seems to have stopped sending messages to the account in October.

One thing I did not do two years ago that I should have done was make a list of all the email programs I signed the addresses up for. It could be that a significant number have gone the True Value route and stopped sending the addresses email. At this point it would be extremely difficult for me to tell with any accuracy.

Meanwhile in the Yahoo! account, messages from one commercial brand and email from one political organization are going to the spam folder: Priceline.com and the Heritage Foundation.

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.

As has been the case for two years, the Gmail account doesn’t yet have a spam folder.

Also, where I had earlier reported that my cigar merchant had apparently given one of my dummy email addresses to another merchant, it turns out the two are affiliated.

Some would argue that affiliated or not, I didn’t give permission to receive email from the merchant’s other brand.

I’m finding it difficult to get worked up.

And as has been the case for two years, none of the addresses are getting any actual spam. Conventional wisdom has it that all an email address has to do to get spam is exist. Conventional wisdom is apparently wrong.

So what can we learn? Well, it would seem that inbox providers decide whether or not incoming email is spam on a macro-, not a micro-basis.

Email service providers don’t leak addresses as much as some would have us believe.

Commercial senders do not share email addresses as freely as some would have us believe.

Email addresses don’t get spammed purely by existing. They get spammed because of address holders’ behavior.

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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: Norman Miller
Date: 2014-05-05 00:56:49
Subject: Email addresses getting spammed.

My experience tracks yours. I have a handful of email addresses only used for account-to-account testing; to satisfy my curiosity about how services stamp header lines. The ones never exposed publicly never get spam.
Posted by: Matt Fisher
Date: 2014-03-12 14:33:45
Subject: un/conventional wisdom

Ken, you're *hilarious*!! You consistently defy conventional (blog) wisdom in more ways than one, especially with confessions like this: "Boy, time flies when you have a drinking problem. Or maybe it flies when you don’t have a drinking problem, but I wouldn’t know anything about that." Keep up the good work. Your blog is bold and refreshing. I get a hundred emails a day, and 75% of those are sales-y/blog-y emails - most of which I scan, then ignore - but I always check yours out, because you DO defy conventional wisdom on a daily basis! Cheers, Matt
Posted by: Sarah Stambler, E-Tactics
Date: 2014-03-05 09:23:18
Subject: What about the 90 day rule?

I thought some mailers were removing inactive names that didn't click or open within 90 days. You didn't notice that any of these mailers stopped sending to these addresses? Spam box or not - it's more disconcerting that they keep sending for two years without a click or an open.

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