/ Technology

Is your email overrun by marketing messages?

Delete button in inbox

What proportion of your inbox is emails from friends – and how much is newsletters and marketing messages you can’t be bothered to read? If you spend half your time automatically hitting “delete” you’re not alone…

The only problem with a blissful two-week holiday away from computers is coming back to hundreds of emails to pore through, as I found last weekend.

It took me a good couple of hours to sort through my bulging inbox, but the more time I spent, the more I realised I was mostly just hitting “delete”. Out of about 350 emails there were around 80 that I actually wanted to look at. But what really struck me was how few were from personal contacts – only a handful.

Admittedly, most of my friends knew I was away and probably avoided emailing me for that very reason, but it is indicative of the overall ratio of personal emails to newsletters and marketing material in my inbox.

Just hit “delete”

This has made me realise how I’ve become accustomed to automatically deleting endless emails everyday without opening them, purely because I’m too lazy to unsubscribe. My inbox has become nothing more than a portal to receive marketing messages.

Am I the only one who feels like their email account is becoming obsolete – or at least, overrun by impersonal messages? Judging by the growing number of other ways to communicate with our nearest and dearest (Facebook, Twitter, texting, Google+, instant messenger… the list goes on), it’s not surprising that fewer and fewer emails are being sent to friends and family.

And figures from the Direct Marketing Association’s latest Email Benchmarking Report reveal that UK marketers are dramatically increasing the amount of emails they send. In the first half of 2010 over 1.7 billion emails were sent – an increase of 50% over the same period in 2009. But with open rates at around 24% for retention emails and 11% for acquisition emails, there is obviously a lot of mail being ignored or deleted without ever being read.

Clear email clutter

So what’s the answer? Probably to start a second account purely for those times when you’re buying online or signing up to something. That way you can keep third party emails separate from personal ones, but it sure sounds like a lot of work getting it all sorted.

In the short-term I’m going to set aside a few hours to unsubscribe from all the emails I automatically delete. Thanks to a nifty new piece of functionality in Gmail which marks the most ‘important’ emails (based on what you open most) this shouldn’t be too difficult.

Have you ever had to do this? Or are you one step ahead of me, with separate email accounts for impersonal emails? Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who still use their email accounts purely for personal communication?

Emma Bryn-Jones says:
14 July 2011

Some time ago, the wonderful Kristian Carter recommended http://www.otherinbox.com/ – I have not looked back 🙂


Looks really good – thanks for the recommendation Emma I may just try it out!


I recently decided to purge the spam, unfortunately some websites either don’t have an unsubscribe function, or it just doesn’t work.

HMV is the worst for this, I have unsubscribed about 10 times, written to customer service and still I receive emails, looks like I’m going to have to pay for the costly customer service number then!

Some websites like Musiker-in-deine-Stadt (German musicians directory) are still sending me emails yet they don’t recognize my username/email address when I try and login to unsubscribe. They don’t even have any kind of contact details, unless you’re logged in!
Mmmmm, looks like I’m going to be receiving their emails for the rest of my life then 🙁


Don’t waste any more time or money unsubscribing. Just use your Junk settings to block the sender.


Separate email addresses for different purposes is essential these days:
a personal one for friends & family
one for official use eg banks, council …
one for shopping
one for use on forums and registering on info sites.

The problem I find is that while I may be happy getting marketing emails from xyz plc/ltd I dont want marketing emails from all the other companies in the group. BT is bad in this respect and difficult to unsubscribe from.


that’s quite a good idea, do you collect them all from the same place?


I agree with rarrar and have 5 different email boxes. This means that I can easily spot (for example) emails from family & friends or those dreaded bills without them getting lost amongst all the newsletters and e-mags I subscribe to. I only get spam/junk emails to the one address that I use for newsletters, e-mags, competitions, surveys.

I used to use Windows Mail. All my emails came into 1 Inbox. So I set up rules to sort them into 5 subfolders depending on which of my email addresses they were sent to.

Now I have Outlook 2010. This has 5 separate Inboxes, so I no longer need to use rules to sort.

Make full use of Junk to automatically sift out senders you mark to block. (And empty regularly.)

You can also set Spam (Outlook has 3 levels) to help filter out senders you’ve yet to block but are likely to be spam emails. Check this regularly in case legitimate emails go in there by mistake (and add to your Safe Senders list), and block the junk.

If you subscribed to certain emails initially and now don’t want those emails any longer, use unsubscribe.

If it is spam, do not unsubscribe or respond. That informs the sender that yours is a legitimate email address. Instead, just block the sender.

Hope this advice helps.

Rose says:
15 July 2011

I’ve tried the separate email accounts approach (I have at least 6 of them now!) but I now get junk in all of them! The latest is messages with the heading starting “ADV” (for advert, presumably, which I have no clue as to their origins and why I’ve suddenly started receiving them). I did the “unsubscribe” bit on them but it hasn’t worked.
I too have “unsubscribed” but then the organisation starts mailing me after a period of time. Some big, supposedly reputable, companies do this.
With personal emails, so many of my friends forward “funnies” to me but make the address lists visible to all addressees – despite me repeatedly asking them to put people’s addresses in the “BCC” (blind copy) field so that we can’t see other people’s email addresses. There will always be someone who sees this as a marketing opportunity and, being personal, your details might be being given out to someone in your past personal life who you don’t want to have your contact details!
Quite a few businesses I deal with also circulate emails with other businesses’ email addresses on them, and again I tell them not to do it but they still do (breach of data protection/confidentiality??).
Competitions seem to be really bad. I’ve entered several on the ITV website and, despite not opting for communications from “third parties”, each time I’ve entered I’ve received lots of junk emails from various companies almost immediately afterwards, plus phonecalls.
I agree re company “groups” too – there are so many huge organisations these days and the last thing we want is to be bombarded with emails from each arm of the organisation.
I think too that the “surveys” approach is another ploy to send us junk mail (eg signing up to complete surveys in return for reward points/airmiles, but the surveys become more and more related to us personally and the junk mail increases again).
I’ve even stopped rushing to answer my (sole trader) business mobile ‘phone as 99% of the calls are from people wanting me to advertise with them or let them do work re Google listings (who’ve obtained my details off the internet), and they always seem to call at lunchtimes!

Andrew Molyneux says:
15 July 2011

Good suggestion on the OtherInbox. Yahoo! Mail has that built in as an application in its Mail. It’s called the Automatic Organizer, and it’s powered by OtherInbox. It’s a huge time saver.


Yahoo Mail eh? Will not be signing up to that one thankyou 😉

Fat Sam, Glos says:
15 July 2011

Genuine newsletters that you’ve actively subscribed to can still be too much. I tend to filter these and then read them a batch at a time. I’d prefer them monthly, weekly is too much.

Spam (i.e. unwanted email) – I used to have a tiny but great spam filter tool called K9 (by Keir.net). Worked brilliantly with my POP3 account as it learnt over time. It scores all your mail as a % so you only need to check the borderline scores for any ‘false positives’. It also scanned mail on your POP3 server so when you deleted spam it effectively sent an ‘undeliverable’ message to spammers. Now, believe it or not, spammers do care because the large number of people paying vast sums of money to use their services demand ‘hit’ and ‘success’ rates and want confidence that their emails are only being sent to genuine email addresses. This actually resulted in a significant decrease in the amount of spam being sent to me.

However, I’m on Blueyonder and good old Virgin decided to team up with GoogleMail. The result? K9 no longer works and the Blueyonder Spam filter is just Yes/No – so if there are any false positives you have to sift through all your spam. Because it’s Googlemail the email doesn’t bounce and so the spammers know it landed which results in even more spam.

Sometimes the simple ideas (like K9) are the best.

Peter Lorton says:
15 July 2011

Service providers should all be required to provide a “BLOCK” buttom so that persistnt spammers do not get through


My friends don’t seem to do much communicating by e-mail because we tend to meet or talk on the telephone [none of us Tweets or has a Facebook profile] so 90% of my inbox is probably commercial of which half is marketing [say 20 a week]. I don’t think I get too many marketing messages because I strictly control who gets my e-mail address and diligently de-subscribe from those I do not want [or block them if they do not have an effective “unsubscribe” facility]. It is useful to get Sale or Promotion announcements from certain favoured companies but I get fed up with those I otherwise approve of [like Amazon and Screwfix] that send something every single day. Annoyingly, John Lewis sometimes has a bout of daily mailing.

The Junk and Spam filters on my MSN system [Hotmail] seem to work pretty well and I can mark any incoming message as a phishing scam; that stops further deliveries from the same address but the bad scammers are wise to that and keep contriving different origination addresses.

Hannah, I sympathise with your predicament – having to instantly delete 270 out of 350 messages on return from holiday is no joke and perhaps you do now need to spend some precious time dealing with the unwanted senders; it should be worth while in the long run. Some companies deliberately make de-subscribing difficult – you have to send them an e-mail then respond to a questionnaire about why you are unsubscribing and then answer their confirmation request and it still doesn’t do it. However, most firms have a quick one-click system that does the trick and I think you could quickly eliminate a significant proportion of your unwanted senders.

I certainly share Rose’s views on circulation lists. A friend recently let all his contacts know his new home address and has effectively transferred his entire address book [including some people’s most private ‘second’ e-mail addresses] into the public realm. Many people do not seem to know about [or how to activate] the BCC field on their round-robins. The major drawback with the e-mail system is the ease with which anything can be forwarded and re-forwarded with completely unpredictable consequences and without the consent of the original correspondent. I was not very happy when my solicitor insisted on doing all the conveyancing correspondence by e-mail; luckily nothing went wrong for me but I saw some material in an attachment from the other party’s side that should not have been recirculated.

The strange thing is that, despite the growth of e-marketing, we still get a daily deluge of printed material through the letterbox, so perhaps e-mail will die on its feet for this purpose as companies presumably get so little return on it. As they say, 50% of all advertising is wasted, it’s just that nobody knows which 50%.

Em says:
17 July 2011

The best approach is to register your own domain name – it’s only about £5 per year. Any email address you need for commercial reasons – mostly online purchases – you give them a unique email address – drivethedeal@[mydomainname], ebac@[mydomainname], etc.

By displaying the To: column in you mailbox, you immediately know who is the source of the email. More interesting is who these people are on-selling your email address to and sometimes just how careless they are with your email address. It’s amazing how often I get phishing mails, offers of counterfeit goods, etc. that purportedly come from these companies.