This is my approach to dealing with email lists and spam. I’ve been using this setup (or something like it, gmail wasn’t around initially) for about 10 years and it works really well. It’s easy to setup and costs about $10/year.
This is a simpler setup that gets it done. You gain a bit more control by using a google apps account to handle this sort of thing separately but that involves several more steps and setting up MX records. This post is meant as a how to for nontechnical people unfamiliar with DNS.
Step 1: Gmail Account
Sign up for gmail. If you already have a gmail account this step is done. I recommend gmail because their spam detection and filtering options are quite good. Plus, gmail is free and feature-wise one of the best options out there.
The good spam detection is important as this account will get hit by a lot of brute force type spammers that just slam random names at new domain names. Gmail will filter all of this out so you never notice it.
Step 2: Domain Name
Register a domain name. This could be your name, or just some word you like (e.g. johnsmith.com). This will be the domain name on all the emails you sign up for things with. I recommend using namecheap.com. They just changed their interface to make it more confusing in my opinion, but are still pretty good. Here are the steps if this process is not familiar to you.
- At http://namecheap.com hit “My Account”.
- Click “Signup for an Account Now” on the bottom right and go through the process.
- Once logged in, select “Domains -> Register a Domain” from the top menu.
- Try different domains until you find one you like, add it to your cart, and purchase it.
- Select “My Account -> Manage Domains”, then click the domain you purchased from the list on the right.
- Click “All Host Records”, select the “Free Email Forwarding” radio button, and hit “Save Changes”
- Click “E-mail Forwarding Setup” on the left, and fill out the first line. Enter a single asterisk (*) on the left field and your new gmail account on the right. This will forward any email @yourdomain.com to the gmail account. You could hand someone the email firstname.lastname@example.org and it would work just fine without any extra steps, getting forwarded along to the gmail account.
Signing up for Lists
Now whenever you sign up for a list use a unique email at the domain you registered and setup forwarding on. I do this for everything and very rarely give out my main, personal email address. Some good candidates for using these:
- All politicians and political campaigns. This one is very important because political people have no respect or common sense when it comes to the internet and email. I do firstname.lastname@mydomain with the name of the candidate or occasionally include the campaign year as well.
- All utility companies (e.g. email@example.com). This can cause some interesting conversations with customer service as they will think your account email is fake but it usually isn’t too big a deal.
- All web sites. In addition to helping with spam tracking this has the added benefit of a tiny shred of extra security – you will have a different email address associated with each website (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org).
With this setup in place you have picked up a lot of advantages:
- You can see which lists have sold you out and passed your email along to other list buyers and renters.
- Related to that, you know who the buyers are and can call them out.
- If a particular email gets out of control (say from a politician selling it to everybody with a dollar) you can setup a filter in the gmail account that just deletes emails to that address immediately, effectively shutting it down.
- If you ever change your main email account (say you switch from gmail to hotmail) you can simply update the single forwarding rule at http://namecheap.com and all of those addresses you have handed out over the years continue working without any trouble at all.
- For contests, coupons, etc that only allow one entry per email you can just create whatever arbitrary count you want. (e.g. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc).
- If you are a developer this can be pretty handy for testing things out end-to-end with a real email address. I’ve created random lists of thousands of emails before to test sends and can just use a quick filter in gmail to clean things up.