Don’t Send From a Free Email Address

When is a “Free” resource or tool a bad thing?

We all like getting something for free. And when you’re a small business, especially if you’re just getting started, you’re probably on a strict budget. So you love finding anything that helps you run your business without spending a penny.

But there are times when “free” ends up costing you.

Email’s Supposed to Be Free, Isn’t It?

Email’s been around for several decades now, and free webmail services from Yahoo, Hotmail and others have gotten us used to the idea that it doesn’t — and shouldn’t — cost anything to send or receive email.

Additionally, if you’ve got a favorite webmail client that you used prior to going into business, it’s tempting to keep using that one (either with the same address, or with a new “business” address that you set up).

Please understand…

This is a BIG mistake.

What’s the Matter With Using a Free Email Address?

In our How to Get Started Webinars we discuss why not to use a free email account for the “from” address on your messages.

Some of the reasons we give there showed up in a great post I just read. I was on Joe Rawlinson’s excellent Return Customer blog today, browsing through some past posts. Turns out he recently discussed why using a free email address is just a bad idea.

I agree with him on all counts (though I think the odds of a major free email host like Yahoo! disappearing are pretty slim). Take a look and see what he has to say.

Why Shouldn’t I Use a Free Address For My Email Campaigns?

There are a lot of reasons not to use a Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail, AOL or any other free webmail address as your Reply address. Most of them mirror what Joe says, but there’s one more related to opt-in email marketing that I’d like to add:

Free email addresses get lower deliverability

Anyone can get their hands on a free webmail account. That includes spammers. Think about how much spam you get from free webmail addresses compared to the amount you get from all other domains!

Now, I’m not saying that an ISP is going to look at a message, see that it’s from Yahoo and immediately filter it. Most of us use free webmail accounts everyday for without issue. I send a lot of non-business email with my Gmail account.

But when you start sending higher volumes of email, more often, content filters become more of an issue. And sending from a free webmail account does increase the likelihood of your message being filtered. You’re much better off sending from an address at your own website domain.

How Do I Set Up Email To Be Sent From My Domain?

If you already have a website, your webhost probably provides you email accounts with it as part of your hosting package. Get in touch with them to find out how to set up email addresses at your domain.

Don’t have a website yet? That’s your first step (after all, it’s rather difficult to market online without a website). Get in touch with a web hosting company. Ask if they offer email accounts with their hosting package (they will).

Small businesses need to save money where they can, even when it comes to marketing. But your business email address isn’t the place to do it. It’s too cheap and easy to do it right, and there are too many consequences for doing it wrong (or not at all).

For more on why using a free email address is bad, check out:

Return Customer: Your Small Business Is Worth More Than a Free Email Address.

By:
Justin Premick is the former Director of Educational Products at AWeber.

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34 Comments

  1. Fantastic article once again.

    Just the other day I received yet another e-mail from a person who claims to have 20 other fitness people on-board with his newsletter cross promotion idea.

    He’s got a best of the web weight loss newsletter and fitness site and wants me to participate. The traffic would be overwhelming.

    Really?

    If you have such a great site and are so popular, then why are you sending this to me from a Hotmail account?

    That tipped me off that it was either spam or a person who doesn’t know how to market anyway.

    They obviously don’t read the Aweber blog entries.

    6/8/2007 10:04 am
  2. A topic near and dear to my heart.

    I run a technical support Q&A web site and a couple of years ago wrote this article: http://ask-leo.com/are_free_email_services_worth_it.html (Short answer: NO! :-)

    The number of people that have problems with free services is astounding. I regularly see businesses running out of Hotmail accounts that suddenly lose everything – all email and contacts – with no recourse. Deliverability is one important aspect of how inappropriate they are for businesses, but so is customer support, which is typically nonexistent.

    Free email services do have an important role when used with the proper expectations. Doing business isn’t one of them.

    6/8/2007 11:25 am
  3. Leo,

    Well said. "You get what you pay for" is as true for email as it is anywhere else. If you’re relying on email to help you grow and profit in business, reliability – and accountability – should be a priority. As a paying customer you’re in a much better position to hold your ISP accountable than if you’re using a free webmail service.

    6/8/2007 11:34 am | Follow me on Twitter
  4. This website is really worth it.
    Is there any website that offers like this?

    6/8/2007 1:30 pm
  5. Larry

    Hello!

    Given it only costs approximately $8.95 per year to register a domain name with GoDaddy that comes with webmail, there’s no excuse for using any of the so-called ‘free’ e-mail services mentioned in this blog post.

    Come to think of it, why wouldn’t SPAM filters take into account how ridiculously easy (and dirt) cheap it is for nearly anyone to grab a domain name and use it for e-mail?!

    6/9/2007 9:29 pm
  6. Thanks for this advice. I do not any business with people who have
    a *free email address. I just don’t trust them!

    6/10/2007 12:40 am
  7. Larry,

    It is indeed cheap to get a domain. However, 9 bucks is still more expensive than free, and when you consider the ridiculously low conversion rates that spammers achieve, combined with the fact that they’d have to constantly get new domains to keep ahead of ISP blocking/filtering, it just doesn’t make sense for them to bother with sending email from their own domains.

    Plus, when you send email from your own domain, you build (or destroy, depending on your mailing practices) your reputation/the reputation of that domain in the ISP community. How they handle your mail will depend in part on your reputation as a sender.

    So while all domains may start out created equal, they don’t stay that way – those sites that manage their email marketing campaigns responsibly will experience better inbox deliverability than those that do not.

    6/11/2007 8:04 am | Follow me on Twitter
  8. Besides all the fine reasons you mention, in general I just think it looks bad. Like the businessperson couldn’t even be bothered to invest the cost of a latte a month in his/her email communications by having an email account. I’m all for frugality, but this one comes down to image and is then backed up by the fine technical reasons you mention.

    6/11/2007 9:15 am
  9. Sometimes my email with domain get blocked easily by email filter. Dont know why. That’s why I use gmail to communicate.

    But if I use aweber to send email, always use email with my domain.

    6/12/2007 4:06 am
  10. Paula,

    Great way to put it. It really does come down to prioritizing our choices.

    People judge books by their covers, rightly or wrongly. The same goes for email… all the time that someone might fret over their subject line or body copy is wasted if the "From" line makes subscribers tune out.

    6/12/2007 8:42 am | Follow me on Twitter
  11. I am glad I read these blogs. I did not realize that it made that big of a difference.

    6/12/2007 5:50 pm
  12. I’d like to see a topic on emails used by the subscribers (vs the email marketer). I get more and more people subscribing with free email addresses that never get the verification email from aweber. Then I waste time sorting it out or manually adding them with a different email etc. Or they just never come back when they really meant to subscribe.

    We can block the free ones by domain but the blocking message is not customizable. I’d like to block them and send them to my own page which explains what they need to do.

    From my stats the worst offenders are hotmail, aol, yahoo, and gmail – these get much more "unverified"s than email addresses from other isps.

    6/14/2007 8:50 pm
  13. Hotmail isn’t always free and whosoever has this notion is very wrong. I have paid $20 a year or thereabout for my hotmail account long before 20MB became free for all. I was forced to do this when once, I suddenly found all my files and email contacts ‘gone with the wind’. I have been a paid member for the past 4 or so years and I have had no problems with hotmail per se nor with mail deliverability.

    6/14/2007 9:38 pm
  14. I’ve always thought that LOTS of spam would be blocked if sendmail HAD to have reverse DNS lookup be a manditory part of the process, sure there’d be some domains that would have to be corrected because they weren’t setup correctly. Guess, that’s part of being the IT person, is setting things up correctly.

    Our admin has setup a way to track the IP of the router that actually sent the email of "questionable worth" so I can then setup a filter in my Thunderbird email program that will effectively block future sends from that spamming source.

    We’ve incorporated the GoDaddy reseller’s service to register domain names and have the DNS pointed at our DNS straight away, no setup required it’s done ‘automagically’.

    6/15/2007 5:56 am
  15. Peter,

    It’s worth noting that those "free" addresses are more likely to be used as throwaway addresses and/or bogus submissions to your opt-in form. After all, if someone’s trying to get access to a download or another part of your site that you’ve placed behind a form, they may very well try sticking in something like 12345@yahoo.com just to try to get to the next page/download without having to give their email address.

    Also, given the amount of spam that does ultimately get through to major domains, on top of requested messages and personal communications, it’s very easy for someone to miss a message. That’s one of the challenges we all face when writing our confirmation messages and thank-you pages, and it’s definitely an ongoing task to make it as bulletproof as possible for people to go from website -> opt-in -> confirm.

    That said, I don’t recommend blocking major domains from subscribing for the simple reason that a lot of people only have addresses with those providers, and if you block those domains, you’re turning away many more potential subscribers than however many aren’t confirming for you now.

    Catherine,

    You’re right in stating that Hotmail offers paid email as well as free email. (other providers including Yahoo offer this as well).

    However, the overwhelming majority of accounts at those major email providers are not paid accounts; they’re the free ones, which spammers can and do abuse.

    Guy,

    Whether you have reverse DNS set up does affect your deliverability (and it’s set up for all messages going out from AWeber).

    Example: AOL will not deliver mail if you’re sending from dynamic IPs:

    http://postmaster.aol.com/guidelines/standards.html

    rDNS is part of the overall picture that ISPs look at when deciding if they should deliver messages from you/us/anyone to the intended recipient. There’s a ton more that ISPs do to manage incoming email (especially as volume increases)… I certainly don’t envy them, they’ve got a tough job.

    6/15/2007 8:23 am | Follow me on Twitter
  16. Good morning,

    I’ve been really interested in this post as I just recently had an experience that actually got me to thinking that I needed to start using gmail.

    I put up a website offering a free sample of our non-toxic cleaning product and it got picked up by 15 sites. I was getting on the average 40 requests every 10 minutes. I had all these requests coming to my regular email address and noticed that my regular mail wasn’t even making it through! Even my regular "junk mail", "spam" wasn’t making it.

    I am getting ready to re-open my sample site and now am wondering what I should do?

    Any suggestions????
    Thanks

    6/17/2007 6:46 am
  17. Nicole,

    If you’re using an email account/address at your domain, and having difficulty receiving email messages, get in touch with your hosting company to figure out what happened.

    One of the advantages to using an address associated with your website is that you’re paying them to provide services to you, and you should be able to call or email them for support. Much better than using a free service where if there’s a problem, well… "hey, you get what you pay for…"

    6/18/2007 8:42 am | Follow me on Twitter
  18. Very good point Justin.

    I haven’t done any marketing yet, but I think it’s important that any email you send regarding your site (whether responding to a contact request or networking), that it’s best to get in the habit of using your domain email. I personally don’t like the email interface my host provides, but I still use it. ;)

    6/19/2007 11:37 pm
  19. JoLynn,

    Webmail interfaces can be… let’s just say "less than ideal." I used one from time to time back in college and it wasn’t especially user-friendly.

    Fortunately, you may have better options available. If your webhost gives you the option to access your email from outside that interface, you can use a desktop program like Thunderbird (which we use here at AWeber for our work-related email).

    If you prefer to access your email via the web, you might look into Gmail – it can be used to manage any POP3-enabled account.

    6/20/2007 8:11 am | Follow me on Twitter
  20. Justin,

    Thanks for the link! I think you’re right that the odds of a Yahoo disappearing are slim. That is more likely to happen with smaller free email providers.

    I have had moments of terror when, for whatever reason, Yahoo or GMail wouldn’t let me login to my account. Fortunately, I was always able to get access to my email later.

    If I was ever a victim of something like Catherine’s "gone with the wind" episode I would have lost a lot of valuable information (both emails and contact information). That could be devastating to a business.

    6/29/2007 12:35 pm
  21. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for dropping by! While a major email host like a Yahoo! probably isn’t going anywhere, I think your point is well-taken anyway, especially when you consider the potential ill effects of using an email address from the company providing your home/office Internet access.

    One thing we see some people do is use an address at their paid ISP – Comcast, Verizon, Earthlink, etc. – rather than one at their domain.

    While users may be paying for those, if they want to switch providers they have to switch email addresses, too (after all, how likely are those companies to keep servicing your email address when you’re not paying them anymore?).

    Of course, it’s also a bad idea to use that type of email address for each of the other reasons you point out in your post :)

    6/29/2007 1:17 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  22. It’s true that using the address @yourisp.com isn’t the best, but since it’s quite easy to setup an alias on our mail servers and have mail forwarded to your @yourisp.com address, then simply use the reply to address of your doamin when you reply is one ‘work around’.

    6/29/2007 1:59 pm
  23. I haven’t use any desktop email for very long time. Why? because I like Gmail very much. The user interface is very user friendly, very fast, good searching capability, and they provide generous space, and it’s free.

    And now it’s getting better, because with Google Apps, now I can use Gmail using my domain, mytrumedia.com.

    So if you like gmail interface and like to use it as a business email, just apply Google Apps.

    7/3/2007 8:20 am
  24. It’s true that we have less control by using the free email.

    I still prefer to be in control.

    7/3/2007 10:32 am
  25. Your own domain name with a corresponding web site SEEM to be elements which should have been covered in Business 101. I’ve actually had clients who were driven to get a web site when vendors refused to consider a credit app without a valid web site address.

    The devil is in the details. It’s amazing how such a small detail, like the form the address takes in the from field, can shape the recipient’s opinion.

    Go ahead and ignore/argue with the advice offered in this post. I’ve seen first hand the power such minute details can make on a business’ bottom line.

    7/3/2007 10:58 am
  26. Thanks for the advice.
    This is my first time comming here and I’ve learned something. Great.
    Check back a lot I will.

    7/3/2007 3:28 pm
  27. Lou

    Gmail’s won me over, love the key features:

    - the labelling versus folders.
    - the heaps of storage
    - the smooth,relatively fast interface
    - the blindingly fast search of all my emails
    for anything based a few barely-remembered
    word fragments.

    Yup, I’m sold.

    But, I realize many clients will equate gmail accounts with hokieness.

    The answer? Pretty simple.

    - create a catchall domain at my website e.g. lou@myrealdomain.com

    - forward all email to lou@myrealdomain.com to my gmail account

    - set up a POP3 account for lou@myrealdomain.com in my gmail config

    - gmail receives incoming email to lou@myrealdomain.com and, when I
    reply, sets the reply address to lou@myrealdomain.com (which is what the recipient sees on the From: line).

    Works great for everyone: My clients see a reassuring "real" domain; I get to enjoy the benefits of gmail.

    :)

    7/4/2007 2:24 am
  28. Emmanuel NOLACK

    Here’s a fantastic advice!

    As a matter of fact, many people instead get
    frightened with the idea of getting something
    free. It makes no sense to be promoting or
    developing a business and, at the same time,
    be running up and down to search for FREES.

    A sound business should generate the necessary
    ressources to make it grow. People do know and
    believe, regardless of their culture, that in
    this world, every thing we can expect for, have,
    gain or earn has a compensation. Something for
    nothing is not possible!

    And let’s never forget, even our prayers are only
    heard when we accept paying a tribute to the Lord:
    SAYING THANKS FOR WHAT WE’VE ALREADY GOT.

    7/4/2007 2:30 am
  29. Thanks Justin for this blog. Well, I think it very difficult for a prospective customer to pay any attention to your business emails if you’re sending them out through free accounts such as yahoo or hotmail.

    7/4/2007 1:25 pm
  30. This is really complicated since if you use one of your domain emails, that email will get a lot of spam.

    If you don’t answer the emails, customers will get upset.

    If you deal with spam, you lose time.

    I use free emails addresses in the reply because I don’t want spam. I don’t like to use email filters either, so in this state of things, there is no real solution to me.

    4/15/2008 12:39 pm
  31. You have a valid point. I can’t tell you how many instances I have come across the truth to this. Especially a hotmail account.

    4/29/2008 11:59 pm
  32. S

    Justin,

    You are right on with this post. As Kathy said, the devil is definitely in the details.

    Andres,

    I can definitely understand your logic of not using important e-mail addresses to post everywhere, but rather more "disposable ones" for certain types of activities.

    When it comes to interacting with your visitors and customers as a group, here’s something I hope may help. Have you considered installing a ticket helpdesk on your domain… like TicketDeskPro maybe? I haven’t used it myself yet, but I know someone who uses it for all his user support for the very reason of not having to sift through tons of spam.

    So in addition to looking at using Aweber in conjunction with an e-mail address like donotreply@mysites.com or autoresponder@mysite.com for any lists/newsletters, a ticket helpdesk is one solution I definitely intend to implement in my site plans. After all, making more efficient use of our time, having good organization, minimal spam and less effort to accomplish these ends can only result in better customer service.

    At $67, it might be worth considering. Just a thought.

    Cheers

    6/24/2009 3:39 am