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Slaying the Spam Dragon

Slaying the Spam Dragon

by Jessica Jones

In last week’s post we talked about some different ways that spammers get email addresses, and gave a few guidelines to help you reduce the number of spam lists you end up on. Unfortunately, though, the only way to completely avoid email spam is to not have an email address. If you have an active email address, even if you’re careful with it, you’re going to end up on some spam lists.

I'm pretty sure this guy is responsible for all that spam.
I’m pretty sure this guy is responsible for all that spam.

This week we’re going to talk about how to reduce the amount of spam that makes it to your inbox. Yes, getting added to spammers’ lists is inevitable, but there are tools for filtering out that spam so you have less of it to deal with. A good spam filter can make it seem as if you rarely get spam by detecting that spam and deleting it or directing it to a spam folder rather than your inbox.

Shouldn’t My Email Already Have Spam Filters?

If you’re seeing a ton of spam show up in your inbox, your spam filters – if your email system has them – clearly aren’t very strong. Why would this be? Let’s look at who provides your email and the software you’re using to access it.

If your email is provided by a free service, or you have the ability to create numerous email accounts at no extra cost as a part of a hosting package, there’s a good chance that your provider doesn’t have particularly robust spam filters in place. Why? Because good spam filters are expensive and time consuming for email providers to maintain, and if you’re not paying for the service then you’re probably not getting the best filtering available.

Filtering Spam Through an Email Client

If you’re otherwise happy with your email provider, you may be able to solve this issue without switching. Let’s look at the software that you’re using to access your email. If you’re checking your email through your browser at a webmail portal, then you’re relying on the spam filters provided by your email provider. If those aren’t proving sufficient, you can take matters into your own hands by moving away from the webmail portal and installing an email client.

An email client is software that operates on your machine by contacting your email server and downloading new messages to your computer, rather than managing everything on the cloud. One benefit to this is that the software can run your email through its own set of spam filters as it processes it. Most email clients will have their own standards to detect spam, but will also allow you to “train” them by marking an email as spam if it makes it past the filters to your inbox. Marking messages as spam will help the software to learn what kinds of email to filter out, improving its accuracy over time.

One of the most well known email clients is Microsoft Outlook, though it’s hardly the only option out there. If you’re looking for free software, Mozilla Thunderbird is a good choice with well developed spam filters.

Switching To A Business Level Email Service

Another option is to change email providers. If you’ve got email set up on the domain you use for your website, changing email providers doesn’t mean you have to change who hosts your website. Here at Slamdot, when our clients need a robust email service we regularly suggest that they look into Google Apps. In fact, Google Apps is what we use ourselves, so you can be certain it’s our top recommendation! Google Apps includes full-featured email service as well as a suite of other Google services, and the price is reasonable. As spam filters go? Google’s are top-notch, which shouldn’t be surprising. You get access to those same incredible spam filters through a free Gmail account, making Google the most notable exception to the “free email doesn’t have the best spam filters” guideline.

So if Gmail’s spam filters are as good as the filters you get with Google Apps, why not just use Gmail for everything? That’s a valid solution for your personal email, or possibly for your business email if you work independently and don’t have to provide email access for any employees. I own several domains personally, and have email addresses on a few of them that I’ve had in use at various times over the years. Now that I use Gmail to handle my personal email, I rounded up all of the email addresses I’ve used on my personal domains and set them to forward all messages to my Gmail account. That way I can continue to use all of those email addresses – four addresses, all going to the same place – and make use of Google’s stellar spam filters without the need for any additional software.

That sort of setup won’t work on a business level, though – in that case, using a more professional solution like Google Apps is going to make more sense all around. Of course, Google Apps is hardly the only option out there – not everyone is as on board the Google train as I am! There are many possible solutions – this AppStorm article, The Best Places to Host Your Email With Your Own Domain, is a great place to start researching possibilities.

Is All This Change Really Necessary Just to Get Rid of Spam?

There are also programs available for the sole purpose of clearing out spam. They don’t function as an email client or replace any software or service you already have, you simply run them in addition to what you’re already using. If you make one of the changes discussed above then you likely won’t need an extra piece of software, but if you’re perfectly happy with everything about your current email setup except for the level of spam you receive, and you’d like to change things as little as possible, this may be a good option for you. About.com’s article listing the Top 12 Free Spam Filters for Windows and the toptenreviews.com’s list of 2014 Spam Filter Product Comparisons will help you get started looking for the best solution for you.

Your Answer is Out There!

As irritating as spam is, spam filtering probably isn’t your only priority when it comes to an email solution. Every individual and business has different requirements for their email setup. Hopefully these suggestions are diverse enough to give you a good start in finding the system that will best meet your needs, including your need to stop wading through ridiculous amounts of spam!