E-Mail Trouble? Here Are Some Things To Check

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Have you ever wondered whether someone got your email? You send a message, you wait to hear back, and…nothing. Did it arrive, or did it get lost along the way?

One of modern life’s greatest conveniences and frustrations, all in one, is email. When it works, it’s near-instant communication. But when it doesn’t, you’re left hanging.

How is it possible for such an important form of business communication to be so unreliable? Sadly, spam is to blame – I long for the good old days of reliable e-mail! As companies work to combat junk e-mail, chances are your mail may have some problems getting delivered. Fortunately, a little knowledge will increase the odds that your message gets through.

Bad Address
A common problem is simply an out-dated or mistyped email address.

With hard-to-remember addresses, frequent job moves, and changing internet service providers, your contact list should be updated regularly.

If you send something to a bad address, you usually get an error message sent right back to you. This is called a “bounce-back message” because the email was sent (“bounced”) right back without getting through.

Check for typos in the address line; if it looks right, pick up the phone instead. Be sure to update your address book with the new email.

A more serious problem occurs if your address is added to a blacklist. These are lists managed by a variety of spam-prevention services that flag people, websites, and servers that are known spammers.
Many anti-spam programs rely on these lists to filter out bad email. If you are caught on one, you will undoubtedly have problems delivering your message. Since different email servers rely on different lists, you may find most email gets through and only a few people have problems. Get on a big enough list – or several lists – and the number of issues will increase.

Even the innocent get blacklisted. For example, a spammer may “spoof” your email, making it appear that you are a spammer even though messages come from a completely different source. If you start getting bounce-back messages as mentioned above, that make it appear you sent large batches of obscene or get-rich-quick emails to people you don’t know, that’s the most likely cause. There’s no way to prevent this; wait a couple of days and it will usually subside.

A less serious but equally frustrating list is the greylist. Many large organizations will use these to filter email from senders they haven’t seen before.

As long as your message isn’t spam, this will more likely delay your message than completely block it. However, if you need quick response and the email doesn’t arrive for a full day, it creates a significant communications obstacle.

When the delay is a one-time occurrence and your next message gets through, there’s no need to do anything. Keep in mind you may encounter delays with several recipients; it’s only cause for concern if you run into multiple delays with the same person, or even the same company.

Other Spam Filters
There are a number of additional triggers that can flag your message as spam. Excessive use of the word “free,” for example, is commonly associated with spam messages.

Google “spam checker” and you’ll find a variety of tools (free!) that will scan your message and tell you how spammy it is. Use these tools when you have an email you plan to send to a large group.

Info Overload
Human error is also a factor. With the sheer volume of email coming into our computers each day, it’s challenging to keep email organized.

If your message has been missed, it’s always a good idea to follow up with a phone call. Perhaps it didn’t arrive, but more likely it came in at a busy time and was accidentally overlooked.

A Convenient Excuse
If you take all these precautions and still your email doesn’t get through, and there’s no bounce-back message, you may be the victim of a convenient excuse.

If your email isn’t rejected, isn’t in any spam filter, and yet doesn’t show up despite a “careful review”…and all your subsequent tests work just fine…well, let’s just say technology may not be your problem.