How do you get rid of excess spam?

“I get tons of unsolicited e-mail, often the same message from many (20-25) people. Most of these are sex-related, with NO unsubscribe link. There are also lots of other e-mails that are not similar, but mostly sex-related (although there are a few about real estate, vitamins, software, and anything else you can think of). I get between 200 and 400 a day, which makes it difficult to conduct my business. It also makes it easy to overlook a legit e-mail that needs attention.

“I killed that e-mail address for over a year. When I reinstated it, it was only about a month before the junk e-mail began again. What do you recommend?”

Ginger L.

Dear Ginger,

This is a common problem for small businesses, usually triggered when you post your e-mail address on your website. That makes your e-mail address easy pickings for spammers’ harvesting programs. Here are three ways you can nip the spam problem in the bud:

1. Some website hosts allow you to do spam filtering. For instance, I note you host your website with Dreamhost. You can switch on spam filtering within your control panel.

2. You may also wish to disable your domain’s “catchall” e-mail address. The “catchall” address allows spammers to e-mail anyaddress@yourdomain.com, and it will go through. Use only e-mail addresses you actually need, and specify their use – such as yourname@yourdomain.com, info@yourdomain.com, sales@yourdomain.com, etc. You can disallow any others by refusing mail to those addresses. Tech support at your website-hosting company will advise you how.

3. Keep your website hosting with Dreamhost, but consider moving the e-mail portion of your business to an external e-mail provider – say, Google’s hosted e-mail program. This is free, gives you 6GB of space per e-mail account, and has excellent spam filtering that should all but negate the problems you are experiencing. You can use your existing domain name and e-mail addresses, and Dreamhost recently made it very easy to make the switch. (It’s within your control panel under “e-mail settings.”)

And for everyone – small-business owner or not – “whitelist” or add to your address book any senders from whom you DO wish to receive e-mail (such as ETR), so their e-mail is not erroneously labeled as “spam.” If you aren’t familiar with whitelisting, check out ETR’s “whitelist us” page. You’ll find instructions there on how to ensure you get e-mails from people you know and trust.

– David Cross