Recently I was browsing a website and found something that interested me. So I went over to their contact page where there was a contact form as well as an email address. Since the form was quite long I thought I would just send a quick email to the business owner. Not more than 5 minutes later, that email was returned to me.
I was shocked at first – how something so simple yet so powerful could be broken? It’s like having a disconnected phone number showing up in the Yellow Pages beside your business name! I know the business exists because I’ve been in their store many times. It’s a small local shop in town. So that got me thinking – I wonder how many other sites are out there with bad email addresses?
I ran a small test. I gathered a list of local businesses in a few different markets. I then found their websites and used a program to gather email addresses off those websites.
In the end I had a list of 2048 websites that all had email addresses on them somewhere. Some were domain emails addresses, some were ISP addresses (IE shaw.ca, telus.net) and some were free email providers such as Hotmail and Gmail.
I went through the list and removed duplicate email addresses, and ones that appeared to be not associated with the business such as web hosting providers and web designers. In the end I had 1 email address per domain and each appeared to be correctly associated with that website.
I then used another program to log into the mail server and verify the account was legitimate. This is where it gets interesting.
How to check for a valid email
First let me tell you how I did it. It is really quite simple and something most people can do. If you are not technically inclined then I would suspect you may have a harder time with this, but these are the steps:
First, I did an name server check to make sure the site actually had a working mail server by doing an NSLOOKUP for the mail exchanger of the site:
nslookup – q=mx site.com where site is the domain you want to look for a mail server for
You will receive a response similar to:
site.com MX preference = 10, mail exchanger = mail.site.com
Now you know that the actual mail server of the site is “mail.site.com”
Next, you telnet into the server. You cannot do this natively in Windows. You will need a program like Putty to do this. Luckily I have a linux computer with these commands built in. I also set up the commands to write their output to a comma separated file that I could open with a spreadsheet.
To telnet into the mail server use:
telnet mail.site.com 25
this tells the telnet application to connect to the site mail.site.com on port 25 which is the most common mail port.
From here you should get a response showing that you are logged into the mail server. Now you will then need to tell the mail server where you are sending the email from:
To which you should get a welcome message. You then need to tell the mail server you want to send a message:
MAIL FROM: moc.etisruoynull@uoy
You will then tell the server who the mail is to:
RCPT TO: moc.etisnull@emanresu – this is the email address you got from the website.
If you get a “250” response code it means the email address is valid while a “550” response indicates that the email address is not valid.
As I said, using a linux computer you can easily automate these steps. I created simple script files to perform the nslookups which I wrote to a text file, then using those results I set up another simple script file to connect to the mail server, check the email address, and write the output to another text file.
The Surprising Results
As I said, I started with just over 2000 websites that had email addresses on them. I made sure I only had 1 email from the website and tried to make sure it was somehow associated with the site (IE not a web designer or other non-related entity).
My results showed an astonishing 6.6% of the email addresses – 136 to be exact – were invalid! In most cases the server said there was no user here with that name!
Imagine that – something as simple as having a correct email address on your site – which takes 30 seconds to add to your website – and almost 7% of the sites I visited had invalid email addresses!
The numbers varied by town – one town was as low as 1.7% invalid while another list I had was closer to 10%.
Like I said, this is like having a yellow pages listing with an incorrect phone number, or having your phone number painted on the window of your shop and it’s wrong!
This sort of thing can cost a business hundreds, if no thousands of dollars per year in lost potential. All because they either changed internet providers, or web hosting companies and didn’t bother to check their website to make sure everything worked properly.
If you own a website and you are thinking of moving to a new hosting company PLEASE CHECK YOUR SITE AFTER THE MOVE!! Don’t leave it up to the hosting company or your web design guy to check everything.
If you change internet providers, even if it’s a personal switch – PLEASE CHECK YOUR SITE AFTER THE MOVE!! Because in some of these cases the email address on the website was a personal email from the ISP. When you change internet providers your old email address disappears.
Don’t be one of the 6.6% who have bad email address on their website. Check it today and check it often! Take a minute to email yourself using the address on your site just to ensure it does work.
This applies to forms on your site too. In many cases they are sent via email to you – ensure it works by filling it out occasionally to ensure you get it. I know I do this occasionally just to be sure my mail system is working properly and I don’t have any surprises like this. As a small business owner I cannot afford to miss any opportunity that comes my way