Spam Resource Newsletter

Ask Al: Can I use an alternative TLD for my email sends?


Dear Al: How much does your email address matter when it comes to getting mail through, i.e. what about addresses like mycompany.guru or mycompany.live?

In those domains, the ".guru" and ".live" segments are called "TLDs" or top-level domain. You can find a whole Wikipedia page that dives into the details of what exactly is a TLD and another page provides a list of all the TLDs available in the world. (Though keep in mind, not every possible type of TLD is going to be available to you in your domain registration -- some TLDs have restrictions based on geographic region, business or professional restrictions, and wildly varying prices.)

It might be tempting to look for an alternate domain name, like spamresource.io, if I were looking to start a new Spam Resource business and found that I couldn't use spamresource.com, because it's assigned to this here blog. It looks cool, but is it risky?

I've blogged about this before, in generalities (here), but let's get specific. What TLDs should you stick to ... or avoid? In general, those "fun," alternative TLDs are not likely to cause you too much heartburn. But there are considerations (and some risk), so here's what you should be aware of:

  • I recommend that you check the Spamhaus list of the "Ten Most Abused Top Level Domains" and avoid domains in those TLDs. The risk here is that if a high percentage of domains under that TLD are visible in spam; it can bring down the email reputation of all domains under that TLD. Not every spam filter works that way, but some do, and you don't want to pick a TLD that's so overwhelmed with spam usage, that just the usage of that TLD itself is perceived as a spam sign, regardless of whether or not you follow email marketing best practices.
  • If you get a fair amount of spam, take a look at that and see if you denote any commonality in TLD -- it might guide you to avoid certain other TLDs. For example, throughout 2022, I've seen a ton of spam (and spam attempts) from somebody rotating through domains in the .click, .top, .link, and .monster TLDs. Those TLDs are now dead to me; as my own mail server will now just flat out just reject any mail from any domain in any of those TLDs. This has worked out well for me as a way to block some spam mail. You can see how that would cause trouble for you, if you decided to fire up a new mail domain in the .monster TLD, for example.
  • Know that Spamhaus isn't the only entity tracking TLDs in this way, but they're basically the only one you can read about publicly. I suspect that big spam filterers like Proofpoint and Barracuda also track this information and may adjust spam filtering rules accordingly. The bummer here is that you could stumble into a bad TLD as known by Proofpoint, without really having a way to know ahead of time. There's not much you can do about this, other than to be aware.
  • Avoid .org domains. I'm just one guy with one opinion; do with it what you will. But I've observed issues around .org domain abuse handling in the past that give me pause. This isn't just related to copyright-related complaints (as noted by EFF here). If you're going to send lots of mail and even if it's all opt-in, you're going to get some complaints about that mail, and I didn't like what I saw about how the entity in charge of .org handled those complaints in the past. That was a few years ago, maybe things are different now. I can't say. But personally, I would avoid this TLD.
  • When in doubt, go with the good old ".com" TLD. It's what almost everybody else uses, and nobody's going to block your mail just because your domain name ends in the ".com" TLD.

And finally, be aware that people saying they're having TLD-related spam filtering problems usually aren't -- issues they're having tend to have some other root cause, in my experience. It is far more common to find issues driven by the age of the domain name (too new = more likely to be blocked), first use of the domain name is too recent, the sender didn't go through IP or domain warming properly, or the sender has list hygiene and permission issues driving a low sending reputation. Don't assume your TLD is to blame unless you can prove it through specific and sustained testing (one head to head test is not necessarily proof). Contact your friendly neighborhood deliverability consultant for guidance as needed.

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