Role accounts, ESPs and commercial email


There was a discussion today on a marketing list about role accounts and marketing lists. Some ESPs block mail to role accounts, and the discussion was about why and if this is a good practice. In order to answer that question, we really need to understand role accounts a little more.

What are role accounts?

A definition I tend to use is role accounts are email addresses that map to a business function rather than an individual person. Often role accounts go to multiple people inside a company. These addresses can also point at ticketing systems, autoresponders, pagers or alarms.

Examples of role accounts

A few role accounts are defined by [rfc 2142], other role addresses are created by businesses to perform specific functions within the business.
There are different kinds of role accounts, too. There are send-only role accounts, like DoNotReply@ and mailer-daemon@. Some accounts are receive only, like subscribe@ or unsubscribe@. Others, like abuse@ or support@ both send and receive mail. Common role addresses are info@, orders@, noc@, webmaster@, postmaster@, hostmaster@.
In medium and large businesses, roles are not used to sign up for mail. Each employee has their own email address to use for signups and there is no need for role accounts to be on commercial lists. In small businesses, however, the role addresses may map directly to an individual who uses that address exclusively.

Why do ESPs prohibit them?

ESPs, and mailing list providers like yahoo groups, prohibit role accounts for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that, in general, role accounts are not subscribed to mailing lists. Anyone who would sign up for a mailing list with a role address will also have a non-role address to share. There are a lot of role accounts on commercial lists, though, because role addresses are easy to scrape off websites and they show up a lot on purchased lists. Mail to role accounts is not just a sign that a list may not be opt-in, but can also generate blocks at business filters.
Very occasionally, role addresses will be signed up to commercial lists. These are the addresses at the small businesses I mentioned above. For marketers catering to the very small business community, this can cause challenges when mailing through an ESP that generally prohibits role accounts.
All is not lost, some ESPs will allow customers to mail role accounts, with an extra level of verification. A few make the customer sign a contract guaranteeing that these addresses are opt-in. Other ESPs require role accounts to go through a double opt-in process. It’s worth working with your ESP to see what their particular rules are surrounding role addresses on lists.

Avoiding problems with role accounts

The presence of role accounts on lists is a red flag that the list may not be opt-in and because of that lists with many role accounts may undergo extra scrutiny or be blocked altogether.  ESPs automatically count the type of role accounts, and the specific accounts, on every uploaded list. Too many role addresses or just the wrong kind of role addresses (subscribe@ investors@), may get a list flagged for manual review before the customer is allowed to mail to that list.
Senders who want to avoid problems with role accounts on their lists can flag role addresses at collection time and ask for a non-role address instead.

 Should ESPs block mail to role accounts?

Overall, it is a net benefit to the ESP to prevent customers from mailing to role accounts without some sort of verification process. Experience says that lists with a significant number of role accounts are not opt-in and therefore cause delivery problems. ESPs are trying to protect both themselves and their customers by monitoring role addresses.

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  • I’d like to assure marketing departments everywhere that the helpdesk@ address that feeds into my ticketing system is not interested in anything other than questions or problems for the helpdesk.

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