The 5 Layers of Email Address Verification — What Level Are You Using?

Many web and database developers may tell you that email validation exists on your registration form or CRM system, but beware! Not all email checks are alike. For this reason, it’s important to understand the various levels of sophistication that are available to make sure the email addresses you are collecting for your business are valid and usable.

The rise and rise of the email address

With all the recent movement towards self-service portals and doing just about everything online these days, business owners need to be sure that when they ask a customer for their email address, steps are taken to avoid any errors.

Unlike a poorly formatted postal address which in some cases may still result in a successful delivery, invalid email addresses are effectively completely useless to the business collecting that information.

Whether the email address was collected over the phone, from a coupon, on a registration form, subscription form or as part of an online purchase process, an inaccurate email address can jeopardize whatever next steps there are in the process for that customer. Email addresses can be used as unique customer identifiers and in many cases they represent the primary method of communication following an online transaction.

So what can be done to make sure that the email address that enters your database is correct?

The 5 layers of email address verification:

  1. Check for valid syntax
    The most common form of email validation. Is there an “@” sign? Are there forbidden characters such as a space or asterisk? Are there the necessary numbers of characters, e.g not a@b.c? This level of validation may help to improve the quality of email addresses you are collecting but there’s much more you can do.
  2. Check for spelling mistakes
    This is another common method. Often forms will request users to ‘confirm email address’ to check to see if both addresses match. If you’ve never copied-and-pasted into this field I have news for you: lots of people do!
  3. Check domain validity
    Now things are getting interesting. Many domains do not accept or transmit email. For some this is overtly defined while for others the necessary functionality may just not have been turned on. A good instance of this might be recently purchased domains.
  4. Check against a list of known spammers
    This one is a little-known trick that can help to weed out illegitimate registrations. Some providers of email verification have master lists of known spammers and fake email addresses like test@test.com for example. Defending against these addresses can help prevent fraudsters and time wasters from spoiling your data.
  5. Check the user name
    Finally we come to the pinnacle of email verification. Many email servers are configured to allow the existence of an email account to be verified, without a fully-formed email being sent or received. Enforcing this layer, in combination with layers 1-4 above should give you the best possible chance of making sure you get a deliverable email address when you ask for one.

What level are you using?

Talk to your developers and find out what layer of sophistication you have reached regarding email validation. You might be surprised. Even more importantly, did I miss anything? Let me know by joining the conversation on our QAS forum.