What is with these email addresses?

I was recently asked about email addresses with a company name in the user alias and why would someone take the time to make these addresses for their service/subscription information. To some of you this will be old hat and common, as it’s not a new concept, but many people still don’t understand the motivation behind creating a tagged email address for subscription to products and services.

Why would anyone use an email like this?

      1: Trust – users don’t trust a company to safely guard this information and would like to track who has the information and how it is being used
      2: Organization - it’s easily to filter off the inbound email address for filtering purposes as some marketers uses multiple emails to send from
      3: Security - it is easy to disable or block all email coming to a compromised email address if it is leaked, traded, sold or otherwise abused
      4: Monitor spam – spammers make up all kinds of interesting email addresses trying to get a hold of someone
      5: Accessibility - Easy to reach if all emails for the domain lead to the same user

I personally fall into categories 2 and 3 with my tagged email addresses. Over the last couple of years I’ve been able to notify ESPs and Marketers of Data breaches and list leaks (both unintentional and intentional), and in a few cases before they even knew it had happened. Hopefully preventing further loss and misuse of others information.

Tagged email addresses go back some time and have become more common over the last several years as specialty services and mainstream web email clients have started to support these features.

For example services like Yahoo‘s AddressGuard allows users to build a disposable email addresses for the sole purpose of subscribing with an alternate email address that will route to their main Yahoo email address. This feature protects the users email address by sharing an alternate address that can be deactivated at a later time by the user without having to change email addresses. This feature takes a little planning from a users perspective as the AddressGuard email addresses need to be pre-configured by the recipient to properly receive email. Gmail also allows for similar function where you can build an email like USERNAME+TAG@gmail.com – these addresses will deliver to USERNAME@Gmail.com automatically. These addresses can be created at the point of sign up and require no configuration from users. Other services also exist to do these types of address tagging and monitoring including those that act as free forwarders or provide temporary availability – from hours to days or a set number of messages before the stop functioning.

Tagged email accounts are something that is becoming more commonplace; due to 9$ vanity domains, free email hosting and virtually unlimited storage, are the presence of a catch all email domain being used by individuals and corporations. These function like the Gmail example above where they allow for the creation of any email address at a domain and they will deliver to a centralized email inbox without the need for a plus sign in the email (ex: ABCWidgets@example.com, XYZThingy@example.com). While Catch all email addresses have their drawbacks, they can receive a lot of spam, smart filtering can make these solutions effective for tagging the senders.

Most databases will contain a small number of these types of addresses, be sure you are aware of these users and understand their motivation.

How can I use this information?

      Subscription testing – add a unique identifier to each of your subscription pages and test and prove the work flow is right from subscription to deployment
      Dynamic content testing – With one mailbox, save yourself time by subscribing multiple user profiles in the same Gmail account (USERNAME+profileA@, USERNAME+profileB@, USERNAME+profileC@).
      Third party monitoring – if you are using a 3rd party for data collection or co-registration, be sure to subscribe with a tagged address and use this for compliance monitoring purposes.

Use the ability to tag email addresses in your favour and streamline your testing process. No more logging into multiple accounts or asking co-workers to test the multiple variations of your newsletter.

Are there other uses or motivations for Tagged emails I haven’t mentioned – please feel free to share them in the comments.

Author: Matthew Vernhout

Author, CPO, Digital Marketing & Privacy Advocate, Gamer Founder of EmailKarma.net and FeedYourConsole.com

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