A Guide to Wildcard and Catch All Email Accounts

catch all inbox wildcard inbox

A catch-all email account is exactly what it sounds like: When an email is sent to your organization but the “to” address doesn’t match one of your organization’s email addresses—that’s considered a “wildcard” email. Maybe it’s a misspelling, maybe the email was sent an address for someone who’s no longer at your company. A catch-all email account saves those emails from the abyss. 

After all, everyone makes mistakes. In the rush of a busy workday, it can be easy for a customer or a lead to get an email address wrong. Those mistakes shouldn’t cost your business opportunities, or frustrate customers into thinking you aren’t being responsive to their questions or problems.

Why is a catch-all account useful?

Let’s say that a potential customer is emailing you, but they spell your address wrong (such as seals@yourcompany.com instead of sales@yourcompany.com). Without a catch-all email account, that misspelled email address will make the email “bounce.” When the email bounces, it doesn’t get delivered at all, and an error message gets sent back to the “from” email address.

You’ve probably seen this before: If you’re ever gotten a “cannot be delivered” error email in your inbox, it means that an email sent from your email couldn’t get through. The receiving organization’s email server “bounced” the email back to you.

The worst part is? The recipient never got it.

So, back to that “seals instead of sales” prospect: If they were trying to email you or your sales team, then you won’t ever know about that email—or the business opportunity it presented.

Unless that is, your organization has a catch-all email.

When do you need a catch-all account?

With a catch-all email account, any email, even ones with misspelled or nonexistent addresses, can still be delivered. Since the email is incorrect it won’t go to the intended recipient. However, the email will make it to your organization, and it will be in the catch-all account.

A catch-all can be useful when you want to ensure that every email can make it inside your organization, especially if those emails might be from sales prospects or customers who need support.

There is, of course, a big caveat:

Someone has to regularly check the catch-all account

There’s no use having a catch-all email account if no one ever checks it. As part of their regular workflow, make sure a dedicated staff member is responsible for monitoring your catch-all account, and for passing on relevant emails to where they need to go. 

How often should someone be checking it? People expect their emails to be replied to within one business day—but preferably sooner. Given those expectations, it’s a good idea to have your catch-all account checked at least once daily, and perhaps twice, such as once in the morning and again near the end of the day.

Pros and cons of catch-all email addresses

Catch-all emails are useful, but they also have their downsides. It’s important to look at the pros and cons of catch-all accounts (and to check with your email provider about the specific tools and features they do and don’t support for email):

Here are some cons of having a catch-all email:

More delivered spam

Spammers will send to any email address combination they can come up with. Without a catch-all, all that spam wouldn’t make it through. However, with a catch-all email all that spam has the potential to get delivered—and fill up your catch-all email fast, sucking up storage and other server resources.

Extra work

Somebody has to sift through that catch-all account. That means additional work that someone has to spend time on.

Sensitive emails could be seen by the wrong person

If a sensitive email is sent incorrectly, that email could get seen by someone in your organization who shouldn’t be seeing it. If the email doesn’t come through, the sender gets notified, then they can correct their mistake and re-send to the correct party.

Lots of haystacks for potentially very few needles

There’s a good chance that a lot of emails in your catch-all account will be irrelevant. Yes, there will be some real emails in there, but be prepared to find a small number of important emails scattered in amongst a lot of junk. In other words, expect to find only a few needles in some big haystacks.

Some email services don’t support catch-all email anymore

Mostly because of spam and the strain it puts on IT resources, some email hosting providers have ended their support of catch-all accounts.

It can cost more

Because more email is coming through, you may have to invest in more storage space, accounts, and processing capacity.

These cons are important to keep in mind. However, today’s email providers and IT pros also have tools and know-how to counter the downsides.

When considering whether or not to add a catch-all email to your organization, here are some pros to keep in mind too:

Every email gets delivered

No matter how someone screws up the email address, that email will get through. As long as your catch-all address is being monitored and messages processed, those emails are far more likely to get where they need to be.

Potential leads or customer inquiries won’t slip between the cracks

While many emails in the catch-all account might be trash, the relevant emails won’t get missed. That can make all the difference in keeping high customer service levels and improved conversion for your team’s sales funnels.

Reviewing the catch-all doesn’t have to be a slog

Email filters, routing rules, and automatic forwarding are just a few ways that your email account can do a lot of the work for you. Instead of personally reviewing every email, you can set rules that send spam to spam, trash what needs trashing, and even automatically forwards relevant emails.

Catch-all accounts are widely supported and easy to set up

Catch-all email addresses are a standard, widely used email feature. Many email providers make it easy to set up a catch-all account—sometimes with just one click.

Email providers can help you counter the cons

Since catch-all accounts are a long-used email feature, many email providers have also deployed various anti-spam or other tools that can help you counter the cons of a catch-all email. (For example, wildcard email aliases let you add characters to an existing email address to create purpose-based or disposable emails. If your address is boss@company.com, you might use boss+newsletters@company.com for email subscriptions.)

How to set up a catch-all account

If you’ve decided to set up a catch-all email account, you’ll be able to get started either by getting in touch with the person in charge of your overall email/IT setup or by logging on to your hosting provider.

For starters, you’ll need to pick what to use for your catch-all email name, such as “you,” “info,” “allmail,” “webmaster,” “catchall,” “contact,” etc.

If you are setting up the catch-all account for your organization’s email, that process will vary by email provider. Nowadays, though, it’s common for hosts to have a one-click catch-all email setup. If you have questions, you can contact your host’s support for guidance and options.

Once your catch-all account is set up, all emails coming to your domain but not to a valid email address will go to the catch-all email.

3 ways to get the most out of your catch-all account

Ready to get the most out of your catch-all email? Here are the three most important tips to take away and put to work:

1. Don’t let those emails pile up

Make sure checking the catch-all email is part of your or someone else’s workflow.

2. Check the catch-all account once or twice a day

Clear out any junk and route all relevant emails to the correct recipient.

3. Make the tool do the heavy lifting

Get to know the filtering, routing, and automation features that your email provider offers. Make sure those are set up to cleanse, forward, and filter your catch-all email as best you can. That way the tool can take care of the tedious work, and you can focus on the emails that matter.

Never miss an email

A catch-all account can be a great way to ensure you don’t miss any wildcard emails that might otherwise bounce back to the sender, without you ever knowing. Set up your catch-all email account to cut down on noise, so you can get right to the signal—and make sure you are getting the emails you need that help your business continue growing.

Posted in: Email

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair

Anthony St. Clair is a business copywriter, author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series, and a craft beer writer specializing in Oregon. Learn more at anthonystclair.com.

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