A Rose By Any Other Name…

September 25, 2009

We mark thousands of domains in our Truemark service, representing more than 1700 companies. One of our biggest challenges (which is shared by companies themselves) is keeping up with all the domains used to send email. Most consumers would assume that email is sent from the main corporate domain (e.g., company.com), but that’s not the case.

In reality, while there may be one main front door for web visits, there are usually many side doors (and windows, and vents, and…) for sending email. It varies by company:

  • Large multinationals usually have domains tied to specific countries (e.g., company.co.uk, company.ca, company.fr)
  • Some use a different domain for each line of business (e.g., Dell  for large business vs. small business/home office vs. consumer products)
  • Some use different domains for different types of messages (alerts, transactions, promotions, etc.), and
  • Most create one or more separate domains that are managed by third parties who send marketing or informational email on their behalf (email.company.com and news.company.com are typical examples). 

When you calculate the possible permutations (countries, lines of business, types of message, third parties), it quickly gets out of control. It’s not uncommon for a company to send email from dozens of domains even within one country.

Why does this matter? The answer varies for each player in the email ecosystem:

  • Companies who send email – They want their messages to get through, so the more consistent they can be in their naming conventions, sending process and authentication practices, the easier it is on the other players. Ideally there’s some central point of coordination where these items are tracked and managed, but practical reality dictates that implementation specifics are usually delegated to countries, departments or lines of business. 
  • Receivers of email – Whether its an email service like Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail, or a corporate email system, all mail servers these days are geared to block spam and phishing while delivering only the good stuff. When there’s consistency in use, naming and authentication of domains sending email from a company, their job is easier, the right mail gets through, and everybody’s happy. 
  • Users of email – Though most consumers don’t really understand the innards of email, actual domain names are often seen as part of the address in today’s systems, so they carry brand value (yes, brand value!). Use of funky-looking or many different domain names can make consumers leery, preventing them from engaging with the message.

So what’s the right way to do it? There’s no one size fits all answer to this.  We’ve seen the entire spectrum. Amazon.com probably has the tightest use of domains, with just one primary domain per country. They use addresses to differentiate the type of message. Some of the banks are on the other end of the spectrum, with different domains for each line of business and type of service.

The happy medium that looks to be a manageable best practice is use of the main corporate domain for transactional email (orders, statements, confirmations, etc.), and a few additional domains (e.g., email., offers., updates., news.company.com) to use for specific purposes or outsourced services.  

Keeping a tight rein on domain names makes everyone’s life easier and helps them accomplish the ultimate goal – get the message seen by the person who wants it.