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Disappearing domains

On May 31, British broadband provider EE discontinued service for a number of email domains: Orange.net, Orangehome.co.uk, Wanadoo.co.uk, Freeserve.co.uk, Fsbusiness.co.uk, Fslife.co.uk, Fsmail.net, Fsworld.co.uk, and Fsnet.co.uk.

These domains were acquired by EE as part of multiple mergers and acquisitions. On their help page, EE explains that the proliferation of free email services with advanced functionality has led to a decrease in email usage at these domains.

Yesterday, Terra.co.br announced they were discontinuing email to a number of their free domains as of June 30, 2017: terra.com, terra.com.ar, mi.terra.cl, terra.com.co, terra.com.mx, terra.com.pe, terra.com.ve, and terra.com.ec.

I’m not surprised to see these domains going away and I think we’ll see more of it going forward. The reasons are pretty simple. Mail is not an easy service to run. Mail doesn’t bring in a lot of money. Dedicated mailbox providers do a great job and the addresses from them are portable.

Mail is not an easy service

Managing a mail server is not an easy task. There’s so much to pay attention to and monitor to keep the network and users safe. Spammers are always changing tactics and modifying their methods. They work tirelessly to find ways to get their mail in front of people. Filters cannot be set and forgotten. Someone must manage and tweak them constantly. Sure, you can outsource it to commercial filters, but that’s still a cost.

It’s not just spam filtering that requires expertise, it’s also virus and malware filtering. Think about the botnets and worms affecting users recently. They’re often infecting machines by way of email. But they use broadband networks to spread. Broadband providers, at least the responsible ones, have dedicated security teams to monitor infections, cut off infected users, and assist them in cleaning up and getting back online.

All of these functions take money, which leads me to the second point.

No one wants to pay for mail

OK, maybe not NO one. But, in general, consumers won’t pay extra for email service. It’s a core feature, not an add-on. This means that broadband providers have to pay for spam and virus filtering out of general revenues. They can’t add features and then bump rates. Consumers expect all the bells and whistles with their email accounts, and if it’s not there, well, they’ll go to Gmail.

Which leads me to my third point.

Free mail providers are driving innovation

Mailbox providers, like Gmail and Microsoft are driving innovation in the inbox. Both companies have announced new products over the last few years like Sweep, Tabs, and Focused inbox. They’re also driving standards and innovation in the backend email space. Gmail has already started using ARC, they support TLS, and they have one of the most advance spam filtering systems in the world.

All of these factors are contributing to the decrease in mail usage at broadband providers. Even better, a free mail address isn’t tied to your location. If you move out of your broadband provider’s area, you can lose your email address. Freemail addresses are portable and stick with you forever. I’ve had one Hotmail address for over 20 years now, and the same username at Gmail since someone sent me one of the coveted invites to the Gmail beta test.

Ironically, over the years there’s been a push by marketers to find a users real email address. The theory was that the free mail addresses weren’t the addresses recipients really used, and so weren’t as valuable as the real address. But that’s not what happens. Many people use freemail addresses as their primary addresses.

Advice for marketers

As domains continue to disappear, marketers are going to have to up their game when it comes to bounce handling and data hygiene. Unless marketers allow users to update their email addresses, they risk forever losing contact with those customers. That’s a loss. But there’s a bigger loss hiding in these domains. Filtering companies and public blocklists use abandoned domains as a data source.  Sure, they’ll bounce mail for 12 – 24 months, but down the road these addresses could drive spam blocking.

Data hygiene is a fact of life. Domains, and email addresses, going away are a fact of life. Planning ahead and incorporating ongoing maintenance into processes will lessen the events of domains going away. Companies that have preference centers or the ability to change addresses can react swiftly to events like this. A domain is going away? All they have to do is grab subscribers at those domains and send a few emails asking for the new address. Companies that don’t have processes in place to handle these events, are going to lose subscribers. They risk blocking in the long term.

Failing to implement data hygiene processes will lead to poor delivery. Don’t let it happen to you.

2 comments

  1. Ed says

    Happy to read your article as I just had a conversation about this with a colleague specifically on the EE closure. What’s your opinion on a provider just stopping accepting SMTP connections versus actually bouncing email when they close their service?

    1. laura says

      Good question.

      I think that it’s better to 550 all mail for at least a few months rather than just shut off SMTP connections for a couple reasons. One is bulk mail, but the other one is personal correspondents. By rejecting the message with something human readable in the text portion of the message, that will get filtered back to the friends and family of the user. If you just pull the SMTP connection the message personal correspondence gets a “mail server could not be reached” time out after a few days from the local SMTP server. That’s not very friendly or helpful.

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