Spam, whitelisting and low-flying aircraft

I have a proposition for you.

You see, it’s like this. I’ve recently been forced into exile, but was lucky enough to grab $8,000,000 of my father’s fortune before his regime was toppled. All I need is somewhere to store all this money temporarily before it’s seized by the authorities. Now, if you could just let me have your bank details, your passport, your mother’s maiden name and a $3,000 administration fee, I’ll give you 10%.

Probably.

Well, maybe not. Maybe I’ll just empty your bank account and steal your identity…

No? Are you sure?

For most people, spam is a bit of a pain and nothing more. But for others, it causes real difficulties. I’m not talking about the people who are lured into handing over money or installing malware. No, I’m talking about unintended consequences.

Part of the problem is that as the spammers get cleverer, anti-spam measures get more and more aggressive. This can present difficulties for organisations (such as our own) that send out thousands of emails a day.

Of course, our communications are not only legitimate – they’re essential. People need to know if there’s a problem with their website and they rely on us to tell them.

The unfortunate thing is that they cannot – and should not – rely on us (or anyone else) to tell them by email. Now that most of us get email on our phones, we’re naturally inclined to use it more often. But, partly because of the spammers, it’s inherently unreliable.

It’s just too easy to get blacklisted by an email management company or caught in a client’s spam filter. And quite apart from the issue of spam, it’s surprising just how often and how significantly emails can be delayed.

The solution

The easy answer is to use other methods. If reliability and timing are important (they usually are), we advise customers to make sure they set up voice and/or text alerts or else to use RSS feeds (which have the added advantage of being easily integrated into other ticketing systems). Email is great because it allows us to convey more detailed information, but if all you need to know is that a certain part of your site encountered a particular problem and needs fixing now, a text or voice alert is more than up to the job. But if email is especially important, we can also set up a tracker as part of our monitoring service that will alert you if our emails aren’t getting through to you.

The other thing we urge all customers to do is whitelist siteconfidence.co.uk (and mailconfidence.co.uk if you use our email tracker service). While email is often unreliable, we might as well make it as reliable as we can. Unfortunately, if only a few fail to do this, we’re still in danger of getting blacklisted occasionally. When this happens, we move quickly to rectify matters, but it still takes time.

Finally, if you send lots of emails, it’s important to have systems in place that let you know when they’re not getting through (such as our own message monitor – part of our performance monitoring service).

So the moral is that you should probably treat email as the second class post (at best) or the carrier pigeon (at worst) of the digital world. More often than not, it will get there, but there’s always the chance that it will fall victim to the low-flying aircraft of spam filters or the power lines of blacklisting.

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