Just as “fake news” manages to infiltrate our media outlets, so can “fake” or invalid email addresses make it onto our mailing lists.
These invalid email addresses can tank your deliverability and engagement rates and damage your sender reputation score. This can lead Mailbox Providers (MBPs) to flag you as a spammer––a risk that your campaign, and bottom line, likely can’t afford.
But how can you determine whether an email address is valid or not? And what should you do with the ones that aren’t? Keep reading to learn what constitutes a valid email, and what you can do to safeguard your lists from them.
What makes an email address valid?
For an email address to be valid, it must be both in the proper format and in use.
First, to understand what separates a valid email from its invalid counterpart, let’s take a look at the anatomy of an email address.
Correct email syntax and formatting
There are four primary components to every email address:
- Username: The email starts with a unique username (e.g., janesmith11)
- Symbol: Next comes the @ symbol
- Domain: The domain name follows the @ symbol (e.g., hotmail)
- Top-level domain: To the right of the domain name is the top-level domain (e.g., .com, .org, .edu, etc.)
Of course, a syntactically and stylistically accurate email address doesn’t ensure its validity.
For instance, firstname.lastname@example.org may have all of the right components in their proper places and spelled correctly, but that doesn’t mean it’s an active email (or by default, a valid email).
An active email inbox
When a user abandons or deactivates an email address, it ceases to be valid.
This is more common than you might think.
For instance, if you’ve ever changed jobs or simply left behind the email address you’ve had since high school, then those emails-of-the-past cease to remain valid.
Not a spam trap
Companies and anti-spam organizations use spam traps (aka, honeypots) to bring spammers out of the woodwork.
Some spam trap emails are pristine––meaning a company created a fake email solely for fraud management.
While other spam traps, like a recycled email address, originate from old, abandoned email addresses that have been repurposed to prevent spam.
3 ways to identify and remove invalid email addresses
Send a test email
One sure-fire way to determine if an email address is valid is to send a test email to it.
If the email bounces, then you’ll have your answer.
However, over time this approach can hurt your sender reputation––your trustworthiness as a sender.
If you test emails like this in high volumes and have high bounce rates, it can negatively affect your sender reputation score. Why? Because, to an MBP, you’re not prioritizing sending to valid email addresses. And the consequence for that? Potentially being flagged as a spammer.
Manually ping the email address
Did you know you can ping an email behind the scenes to see if it’s valid?
This lengthy and not-so-simple process might work in a one-off situation, but if you plan to manually ping thousands of email addresses, it would take a lot of time and money.
Here’s the bare-bones breakdown of the manual pinging process:
- Contact the server of the email you’re pinging via the command prompt
- Input this command: nslookup –type=mx domain.com
- Once you replace “domain” with the domain you’re pinging, press Enter
- The Mail exchange (MX) record will load
- Connect with the domain’s server and “chat” via Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) commands
- After the chat, press Enter to ping
- Interpret the results (i.e., error code 550-5.1.1 means the email is invalid)
Use an email verification service
An email verification service can assess the quality of all of the email addresses on your list at one time, making the process more manageable. As well as identifying which email addresses are invalid, some services will mark email addresses as valid, safe to send to, or valid but risky. This can provide you with more detail about the email addresses on your mailing list, so you can make an informed decision about whether to include them.
Of course, not all services offer the same level of accuracy, security, or features. For instance, if they lack integrations, a secure connection between your ESP and their email verification platform to import/export email data is impossible. Some services may not offer an email verification API––so that you can verify incoming sign-ups in real-time.
In the end, a reputable email verification service will help to ensure you have a strong database of email addresses, which means a higher rate of deliverability, opens, click-throughs, and hopefully conversions.
Tips for keeping invalid emails out of your email list
To keep invalid and low-quality emails far away from your email lists, you need to take a proactive approach. Here’s what you can do.
Regularly clean your email lists
Sanitizing your email lists from invalid emails is a vital first step to maintaining adequate list hygiene. However, doing so manually can be both time-consuming and counterproductive.
This is especially the case if you have an old list with thousands of emails. Some email verification services will let you drag and drop your existing lists directly from your marketing platform to verify them, as well as continuously monitoring all incoming subscriber email addresses, saving you time and money.
You’ll need to continuously monitor your lists to keep them clean, and it’s good practice to bulk clean your lists every 3-6 months.
Implement a double opt-in approach
Implementing a double-opt mechanism can be a good idea when new subscribers sign up to receive news about your products or services.
This means that they will have to verify the accuracy of their email address through an email confirmation process before it ever lands on your list. This type of opt-in process generates an email to your customer and puts the onus on them to click a link or type in a verification code to confirm the accuracy of their email.
This approach is ideal because subscribers must re-confirm their intent but also creates an additional step to the sign up process. It’s always best to test your double opt-in method to make sure real subscribers are not dropping-off during the confirmation process.
Remove invalid email addresses immediately
Once you identify an invalid email, you’ll want to remove it right away to avoid sending (or resending) your campaign to it.
Sending to large volumes of invalid or low-quality emails could hurt your sender reputation over time and risk lowering your future deliverability rates––both of which are bad news for your ROI and your overall bottom line.
Flag unknown or risky emails until you have more info
Not all unknown or risky emails are necessarily invalid.
An email address could be valid, yet risky. If this is the case, you may need more information about the email address to determine whether you should remove it from your list.
The last thing you’d likely want to do is to remove a valid email prematurely, as you could be removing a subscriber that wants to hear from you.
If you have high volumes of “risky” or “unknown status” email addresses, you may want to delay sending until you gain more information. After testing, you can either cut them from your list entirely or add them back into your main mailing list.
Invest in email verification with point-of-capture validation
Of course, new sign-ups happen around the clock. One way to prevent an invalid email from joining your list is by finding an email verification company that offers point-of-capture validation.
As new customers sign up, this service can determine immediately if their email is valid, thus preventing an otherwise invalid email from ever joining your database.
Real-time verification can be integrated anywhere you collect email addresses online.
Verify your mailing list today with Kickbox
Your workday is probably already full enough, without worrying about whether your mailing list email addresses are valid or not.
Give yourself––and your campaign––the gift of a highly accurate and secure email verification service like Kickbox. Simply drop and drag or import your existing mailing lists into our comprehensive email verification platform, and we’ll handle the validation process for you.
Or, when your customers sign up, we can verify their email at point-of-collection with our email verification API, which will reduce syntactical or style errors and keep those invalid emails away from your lists.
Sign-up today and discover the peace of mind that comes from an email list free of invalid emails, a positive sender reputation, and a higher email ROI.