(+) Sending Bulk Mail Effectively and at Low Cost

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

This article is in response to a couple of queries I received recently. I was asked how I send thousands of email messages to newsletter subscribers. Those asking the question want to do the same with their genealogy society newsletters or with similar requirements that involve sending non-spam email messages to hundreds or even thousands of people who have asked to be included in a mailing list.

Indeed, I went through a long learning curve in search of a way to effectively send lots of long email messages without too many of them being blocked by spam filters. Along the way, I had my email account canceled abruptly by one Internet provider after I overloaded and crashed their mail server every Sunday evening when sending long Plus Edition newsletters to thousands of subscribers. It is very irritating to learn that your email service has been abruptly canceled! In short, you need to use a bulk mailing server that is designed for the job.

Another major problem is spam filters. Most mail servers view incoming messages with suspicion. Software within each mail server scans each and every message, looking for any clues that the message might contain unwanted spam. Unfortunately, these software “solutions” are never as intelligent as humans. The spam filters are never 100% accurate at figuring out which messages are spam versus those that are legitimate. Spam filters often block legitimate messages and also occasionally allow spam to pass through.

Each email server is different. System administrators around the world change spam filter configurations frequently in an attempt to filter out the latest spam. A message that was passed through last week might get blocked this week and yet a similar message may pass through next week. A mail server installed at a different company might have the opposite results.

Any email message that is sent by a bulk mailing service, such as a society newsletter or the EOGN newsletter, is always treated with suspicion. Sending hundreds of identical messages at one time will cause some number of them to be blocked by the receiving mail servers.

Most administrators of mail servers also subscribe to lists of the I.P. addresses of known spammers. (An I.P. address is a unique set of numbers that identifies a computer on the Internet, somewhat similar to telephone numbers identifying individual telephones. A particular number might be unlisted but can always be identified by its I.P. address.) The list of known spamming mail servers is called a “blacklist.” The problem arises when multiple organizations share one mail server with one I.P. address. This is common in low-cost web hosting services.

I once had the eogn.com web site hosted on a low-cost shared hosting service that hosted web servers and mail servers for many different organizations in one computer. It was cheap; it cost about $5 a month for the hosting service, and then I paid a bit extra for some optional features. However, I soon found that a high percentage of the email messages I sent from the mail server never arrived in the addressees’ in-boxes. After digging for some time, I found that the I.P. address of the mail server I was using was on the blacklist. Therefore, many mail servers automatically blocked any email messages received from that I.P. address. The blacklisted mail server was shared by me and by dozens of other customers. At least one of those customers was a spammer and sent thousands of junk mail messages every week. When the mail server’s I.P. address was added to the blacklist, all messages sent by the spammer were blocked, along with all the email messages sent from other organizations who happened to be sharing the same server.

I solved the problem by moving my web site and email to an (expensive) dedicated server at a different company. The server is mine and mine alone, it isn’t shared with anyone else. It includes a dedicated I.P. address that also is not shared with anyone else. Even after the move, spam filters have continued to be an occasional problem as system administrators continually adjust their spam filters. Still later, I moved my email sending to bulk mail servers while leaving my web server where it was. I now have different I.P. addresses for my mail server and my web server.

You can find dozens of companies that offer bulk email services although pricing and performance vary widely. For several years, I used a bulk email service that cost more than $400 a month to send the 80,000 or so email messages I sent each month. Pricing was determined by the number of bytes sent. The longer each email and the more email messages sent, the higher the price. It worked well, but I continued to look for a lower-priced solution. I found many that were cheaper, but few of them were as reliable; many email messages I sent were never delivered to the recipients’ in-boxes.

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