Disposable emails are inevitable. Some view them as real miscreants that take advantage of offers, disguise activity, and commit to only a transient affair. Some view them as a way to manage and protect privacy. But, no matter how you view them, they will inevitably make their way into your list.
In this month’s roundup, email experts from Netcore, Word to the Wise, ActiveCampaign, Campaign Monitor, as well as myself—your Kickbox deliverability geek—share our experiences and advice on how to approach disposable email addresses, explore their value and the risks of sending to them.
And off we go!
Greater Email Privacy Means Greater Challenges for Email Marketers
Back in 2019, Kickbox put out a great post about disposable email addresses. It explores both “the good, the bad, and the ugly” sides of disposable emails, the different types, why people use them, and ways to manage them. That same advice rings true today.
But, as with nearly everything in life, things evolve. With the continued focus on privacy, the prevalence of disposable addresses will likely only continue to grow. This is being played out right now as Apple will be offering this up in their iOS15 release this Fall.
Without as much fanfare, Yahoo/AOL Mail, a big proponent of privacy, has been offering this up for some time now (and not just with an alias spin), well before the recent Apple announcement.
The same goes for MSFT, although aliasing (for both O365 and freemail) is much newer.
Gmail has supported aliases for what might be close to a decade at this point.
With this in mind, there are likely even more disposable addresses on your list than you may have realized.
As we move into what feels like the ‘new world’, understanding the purpose of each type of disposable address and how it lives on your list is key.
Why? Because things are likely going to get muddier before they get clearer.
The privacy conversation will continue, as will the push to update the technologies we use day-to-day. This pushes the knowledge of how email works for marketers to the end-user and empowers them to create new ways to manage their inbox, whereas, before they may not have been aware.
Disposable addresses are frequently used to help keep a primary email account safe from potential data breaches or to manage the noise of marketing communications through filtering, account isolation or deletion — often when there is uncertainty or mistrust.
How to manage the change in list composition?
Managing this won’t change much from what has already been suggested. However, I would add that the first thing you should do is find out why you may have or are attracting disposable addresses, address those issues, and then move forward.
Identify and remove the ‘traditional’ disposable address or burner email. Services, like Kickbox real-time email verificaiton, can flag these one-time addresses upon collection (via API) to stop them from getting on your list or through a bulk hygiene request.
If you find that you did mail a burner address, resist the urge to reach out again even if it doesn’t bounce. Instead, invalidate it after the first touch as its lifecycle is short and will likely be discarded shortly thereafter. It may even change hands or be exposed to others if it’s in a shared environment.
For the other types of disposables, treat them like you would a permanent address.
- Focus on nurturing the warmth of the relationship from day 1.
- Kick off your re-permission & re-engagement campaigns sooner (maybe 3 months or 6, instead of a year).
- Make the relationship easy to manage, customize, and make private.
Make the most of the time you have with each address and leave a positive lasting impression. You don’t want to shut the door on rekindling a relationship in the future.
If your emails are valuable, non-intrusive, trusted, and timely, a disposable email address may end up being an address that is maintained and doesn’t get burned 🔥🔥🔥.
A Large Number of Disposable Emails On Your List May Indicate Problems
Disposable emails come in many shapes and sizes, from email addresses that are only good once to email addresses that will forward to the end-user until they break the connection.
But what do YOU consider a disposable address? Is it a traditional single-use disposable account? A second email address used for registration on websites then ignored by the consumer unless they need something like a password reset? A catch-all domain allowing any address to exist? Or even a tagged address that could be disabled at any time by the user?
The presence of a large number of disposable email addresses on your marketing list could signify a number of different issues you may want to consider addressing:
Trustworthiness – If a large number of consumers gives you a disposable email address, this could signify that they don’t trust that your brand will manage their data appropriately, or you’ll flood their inbox with numerous offers. There are several examples of retailers collecting emails then sending dozens of emails weekly, possibly across multiple brands.
Address this item by being a good data steward, providing a clear description of the data use, and clear opt-in consent management purposes (i.e., unchecked boxes for subscriptions).
Just want the discount/gift – Some consumers will look at disposable addresses as they are only interested in getting emails for a short period of time while their order is processing and the item is processing. The discount offered to first-time purchasers is also a reason that consumers may use multiple or disposable email addresses when interacting with your brand. Who says no to a first-time shopper discount or gift on ‘every’ purchase.
This one is harder to address, but consider changing how you implement the discount process. Offer the discount or gift on the second purchase or by barcode redeemed in-store to avoid rewarding this behavior.
Contest/Sweeps – being able to enter a contest and not be bombarded with offers or random sponsor messages beyond the contest period. It is also a way to have multiple entries as each email is usually seen as a separate entry and increases the individual’s potential of winning.
Implement a confirmation process for each entry and add limits to your contest rules, excluding entries related to this type of behavior.
Separation of emails – Let’s face it there have been a number of massive data breaches over the past few years, and some consumers no longer trust giving out their primary email address to every brand, so a temporary or disposable email address is a way that they can protect themselves from future issues by easily disabling an address that is leaked or shared beyond the original company that it was shared with.
Good data stewardship and strong data security practices can go a long way to protecting consumer data in this case. Be sure you only use the email in ways that the consumer has consented to.
Just a quote – There are a large number of services that offer a consumer a centralized place to find things like insurance, mortgages or personal loans that clearly state that they will pass along the consumer’s information to several other parties. A temporary or disposable address is a tool that can be used to turn off the emails associated with these services when you no longer need the information or services.
Solve this by being clear on what you’ll be sharing and provide a single place for consumers to return to that will stop communication from partner websites. As the primary source of information being collected, make an effort to prevent possible abuse from your partners by limiting their numbers and holding them accountable for their actions. You could even offer services to send the service details on their behalf to the consumer without exchanging the user’s information.
It’s also important to understand that not all disposable email services are run by some random website. Yahoo even has a disposable email service available to their consumers that can be disabled at any time and look like mostly normal yahoo email addresses. Uses pre-configure email addresses with this service and then they can disable or delete them at any time.
Respect the Relationship & Agency of Your Recipients
Let’s take a step back from how marketers should deal with disposable addresses and talk about what disposable addresses are and why people use them.
Disposable addresses are email addresses created to direct email to a mailbox that the recipient doesn’t really care about. There are services that let users create email addresses that are only active for a limited period of time.
But that’s not the only mechanism for creating disposable addresses. Any freemail domain can also be used to create email addresses on the fly.
In fact, a few years ago I was working with a dating application that required users to sign up with a Facebook account. Users would create throwaway gmail addresses and use those address to create a single-use Facebook profile and use that Facebook profile to sign up for the dating app.
That actually leads us to why people use disposable addresses. People use disposable addresses so they have some control over their personal data.
The reason they want control is because they’re concerned about the company handling their data. Maybe they suspect that their data will be sold or mishandled. Perhaps they worry that the company won’t respect their opt-out. Whatever the reason, recipients use disposable email addresses to protect themselves and the data they care about.
Now that we know the what and the why, what do I advise clients?
Basically, I advise them not to care or worry about it. Because it’s trivially easy to create a free email account, it’s near impossible to determine if any particular address is actually disposable or not.
While it’s an issue now because Apple is rolling out their single-use addresses, it’s not a new thing. Other providers have been allowing single-use addresses for well over a decade. In some cases, the provider actually delivers the disposable address into the user’s main inbox.
Additionally, what is the alternative to allowing disposable addresses? The alternative is that the marketer forces the user to give them an email address that is acceptable to the marketer.
This leads to poorer data, not better. Simply telling the recipient that they can’t use the email address they want to doesn’t make them hand over the data they’re trying to protect.
In fact, refusing disposable addresses may lead to worse data rather than better. Subscribers won’t revert to their ‘main’ email address. They’re more likely to just put in fake information. This fake address could belong to an innocent third party, bounce or even be a spam trap.
At the heart of it, email is a relationship where both parties share control. Recipients are not targets. They have their own power and agency. Email is set up so a mailbox owner can control what they get. The best marketers understand and respect the relationship and the agency of the recipients.
Long-Term Effects of Disposable Emails Can Hurt Deliverability
As a Security professional, every time I consider a new security threat, I think about what the impact is. How much should I care? When first considering the use of disposable email addresses, I thought to myself, where is the security concern here?
Your campaign might end up public!
Disposable emails are not just a free email address someone made specifically for spam. It also includes services that are not traditional email addresses. These services are great for those looking to avoid spam messaging in that they do not require a real sign up to use, which makes it easy to simply make up an email on the spot when being pressured for one.
But, the huge concern as the campaign sender is that these are public for anyone to see on the disposable email website. For some, this is a bonus because your amazing product could be seen by anyone checking out the website.
But on the other hand, if you are sending sensitive information, it could be viewed by anyone with internet access. If the sensitive information belongs to your customers, you might find yourself in hot water.
Short gain for long-term pain!
While adding any email address to your list may feel great in the short run, the long-term effects of disposable email addresses are only going to hurt your deliverability. You may end up with a high delivery rate, but you will have a very low engagement, open and click rate. Additionally, the email address you are trying to deliver to may have already expired and will result in a high bounce rate.
So what can you do?
- There are plenty of tools you can use to remove disposable and temporary emails from your lists at a variety of prices.
- Focus on proper list acquisition from the start to prevent the need for wasted energy cleaning up a fault process.
- Build a trustworthy and desirable brand, which will encourage customers to share non-disposable or primary emails with you.
The Difference Between Alias, Masking & Disposable Email Addresses
Disposable email addresses (sometimes called burner or throw-away addresses) are used by individuals to primarily limit the number of emails a person receives by obfuscating their primary email address. While disposable emails, alias addresses, and masking addresses can be grouped together, they all work in slightly different ways and people use them for different purposes.
- Alias addresses can be a variation of the individual’s primary address, like firstname.lastname@example.org, and these are set up within the primary mail account.
- Masking addresses are usually created with a dedicated email masking service and allow individuals to view emails within that service’s mailbox and automatically forward them to their primary mail account.
- Disposable addresses may not be unique to an individual (multiple people using the same address), generally don’t forward emails, and they have strict limitations on usage so they’re “active” for only a few hours.
Masked and alias addresses can potentially accept emails and forward to the individual’s primary mailbox indefinitely (or until the person revokes access and emails start to bounce). However, disposable emails intentionally have a very short lifespan and a high churn rate.
Another way to differentiate between these addresses is to say a masked or alias address may be a sign of distrust while a disposable address is a sign of disinterest.
A subscriber may use a masked or alias address because they want regular emails from that sender but may not trust how frequently they’ll receive emails, what content they’ll receive, or if their address is going to be shared or sold to a third party without their consent. However, if a person uses a disposable address, they clearly don’t want regular emails or on-going contact from the sender. The use of a disposable address is likely a transient interaction like getting access to gated content or a one-off download.
As such, the presence of a significant number of disposable addresses on a sender’s mailing list is synonymous with email collection and list management issues. These underlying issues will have an overall negative impact on the success of the sender’s email program and skew recipient engagement data which many senders rely on to make critical business decisions.
To address these issues it’s important to be clear and transparent on how and where a sender will use a subscribers’ personal data. As such:
- Allow people to directly and specifically opt-in to a list, rather than relying on bundled, implied or 3rd party consent.
- Let subscribers select how often they’ll receive emails.
- Send a follow-up welcome email to reaffirm the subscriber’s expectations and build a lasting relationship.
If a sender does find many disposable addresses on their list they may consider:
- reviewing their subscription process for mixed motivations for signup—separate their opt-ins as often as possible
- tracking the different ways they collect emails to determine the source of the disposable addresses, AND
- setting up a separate email journey for these sign ups, offering them the opportunities to opt-in to regular content, AND
- automatically unsubscribing them from the email journey without being asked (as they’ve now had the opportunity to opt-in to more regular content).
- that an unused disposable address has been bought by an anti-spam organisation and is being used as a recycled spamtrap to track and block senders.
Just like we would say to all senders, the message here is to build trust and show the value of what you’re offering. You can do this best by giving people control of their marketing experience and meeting their expectations, resulting in both list growth and an on-going healthy sender-recipient relationship.