What you can learn from your recipient’s email address…

Chances are if your email recipient is using a Compuserve email address there may be some challenges in getting your message read.  It could have something to do with the ISP or it could be that their email address is telling you something about them as an individual.

Not long ago, I spotted this illustration on The Oatmeal which jokingly analyzed “What your email address says about your computer skills…”  In summary, anyone not using their own domain or at least a Gmail address is a luddite while those that do possess either their own domain or Gmail address at least know their way around the internet.

This made me wonder…is there any truth to these statements?

Now, obviously The Oatmeal cartoon is a bit of satire at the expense of those that aren’t exactly on the bleeding edge of technology. However, can a person’s email address really reveal some secret about them that will help you connect with them?

We all know that each ISP has its nuances when it comes to what they will tolerate from an email delivery standpoint.  ReturnPath conducts regular studies on non-delivery rate by ISP.  The most popular ISPs tend to be the toughest when it comes to blocking email.  And Gmail seemingly has the highest standards of those surveyed.  

Is it simply that Google holds its product to a higher standard or is it that the average Gmail user is more discerning over the type of content they will allow in their inbox?  According to ReturnPath, “Most of the major drivers of poor inbox placement rates are the direct result of marketing practices, not technical ones. These include complaints, which spike when email is unexpected or undervalued by the recipient and spam traps, which are most often found on lists that are old or have been built with poorly sourced data.”  So there could be some truth that level of sophistication on the part of the recipient could play a big role in what’s perceived as SPAM.

But what else can you learn from a person’s email address?  Let’s assume that you’re in the early stages of building a relationship with a prospect and you haven’t gathered much information about them besides their email address (which they hopefully provided to you)…what can that email address tell you about them?  

First, it can tell you how you may want to approach the design of your email.  There are a number of third-party providers out there that keep updated lists on some of the nuances between various email clients/providers and how they might render your HTML emails.  Here’s one example.

Second, you can use the email address to get a general sense of your audience’s profile based on their ISP.  Now, you want to be very careful about making broad generalizations and hopefully over time you’ll gather a specific profile in your CRM for each contact, but analyzing some of the differences between ISPs could be useful if you don’t have much else to go on. Here’s why: demographics.

A quick search on Quantcast reveals some interesting demographic differences (and similarities) between some of the major web-based email services.  Here are a few quick snapshots comparing AOL, Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail.





So whether it’s due to audience perception or bias, or actual statistics, it’s evident that not all email services (or recipients for that matter) are created equal.  There are some important distinctions between ISPs that may be worth considering in your email campaigns to prospects.  Again, the point is not to make broad generalizations using this information, but rather to use this as an extra data point when considering how to tailor your messaging and outreach to early-stage prospects.  Happy hunting…