Transferring Email to a New Provider

Norris writes, “What is the best way to transfer over inbound email, without taking all the spam with each account? We both have GMail accounts, and have been trying to get friends to make use of it. Plus we are both on numerous mailing lists because of what we do (myself–equipment suppliers, public affairs types, sites like yours, etc; my wife–professional, book suppliers, college admin, etc). We want to make sure these get moved to the proper email addresses without having to hunt each one down (some I only hear from when they have something new they want to get out). Sending an individual email would be difficult since some accounts are handled by new people who contact me in a bulk email.
And, like I said, we want to do this without the spam. I view the move to GMail as a big help to get rid of the spam, especially since their filters block the majority of what is sent to accounts on their service.”

There is no perfect solution for making sure all your mail gets forwarded to your new account while simultaneously avoiding any potential spam. Granted, GMail does a better job of filtering junk mail than most email services, but there are still no guarantees. The trickiest part of making a transition from one email address to a second address is making sure the people you want to continue receiving mail from actually receive notice that your email address has changed. The best way to make sure people always have your current email address is to register a domain name and use an email address with that domain. I realize registering a domain name isn’t practical for some people, so here are some of the potential alternatives.

Switch Your Subscriptions to RSS

Making an email address change is a great time to subscribe to an RSS feed instead of an email newsletter. You have all the advantages of immediate delivery, just like you do with email, eliminating the need to ever update your address in the future, because the subscription is controlled on your PC not in the publisher’s database. RSS won’t work for anyone you need to correspond with directly, but for newsletters like mine, it’s a perfect way to keep receiving the info without worrying about an address update.

Use an Address Change Service

Return Path seems to do an effective job of sending address change notifications. I have never used the service to change my address, but I have received address changes from many other people who use the service. Return Path works with Web mail services like Hotmail, Yahoo, MSN and AOL, in addition to more traditional POP3 ISP services like Comcast and RoadRunner. The new email address can be anywhere that receives incoming mail (like GMail). Forwarding is free for 30 days, which should be plenty of time for most people to update your information in their address books.
The downside to forwarding services is they also forward spam. As far as I know, forwarders make no distinction between mail you want forwarded and mail you don’t want to get. Since they also notify the originating address of your new address, it’s possible that spammers might update their records (although this is not as likely as you might think).

Notify People Directly

Contacting every person, business and publication you want to receive email from seems like a monumental task. If you need to make sure emails get through, the only way to have confidence in the changeover is to contact individuals directly. Ask them to respond to having received your change of email address. If it’s vital to stay in touch with someone, call them and verify they have your correct information.
Direct notification is one of the few ways to avoid carrying spam over with you to the new account. By only letting specific people know how to reach you, the risk of unwanted mail is minimized.

Manually Change Subscriptions

If RSS isn’t a viable subscription option, or if a particular publisher doesn’t offer RSS, manually changing subscriptions remains the best way to make sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle. If you need a subscription, take the time to update it yourself. As someone who publishes an e-mail newsletter, I make address changes a priority, but occasionally they don’t get processed because the person submitting the request mistyped their previous address (or new address). Some of the change requests end up in a spam filter, which means I may not find the address change immediately. The best way to deal with subscriptions is to keep your old account active for a transitional period and switch subscriptions as they come in. This generally takes a few seconds per email.