Bulk Email at the UW

What is bulk email?

Bulk email can be defined as sending essentially the same message to 100 or more people.

If you are planning to send bulk email, it is important to be aware that bulk email has the potential to heavily burden the UW email's systems and to cause the UW to be considered a source of unwanted email (spam). This page will help you avoid causing these problems.

How can I send bulk email?

University Advancement and UW Marketing operate a broadcast email marketing application called Convio which can do email engagement such as e-newsletters and event invitations. For more information, contact advhelp@uw.edu

UW-IT offers two other systems for sending bulk email:

  • Mailman is an email list management system with many features, including address management, automatic archiving, access control, and much more.
  • UW Bulk Email is a service provided by UW Information Technology for sending messages to the UW community

Use of these two services will insure that your messages will be sent in a way that has the least impact on overall UW email services.

If you intend to use methods other than Mailman or the Bulk Email service to send your email, they must comply with the following guidelines to avoid overloading the system:

  • Timing and flow rate: Messages should be sent in the off-peak hours (11:00pm - 5:00am) and at a rate of about one per second to avoid overwhelming central email services.
  • Use a recognized legitimate program: It must be capable of flow control to avoid flooding the next hop. Examples are 'sendmail' or 'postfix.'
  • Proper message structure: Message structure must comply with standard email protocols.
  • Routing control: Email programs should properly respond to routing instructions from Domain Name Servers ("obey MX records").

Improperly sending large batches of email messages can flood email services, a violation of email use rules. Failure to follow these guidelines may result in discard of your messages or blocking of your UW internet connection to protect email service for others.

If you do not understand these guidelines or if your software does not seem to offer a way to address them, please contact UW Technology before proceeding (send email to help@u.washington.edu).

How to avoid problems

You can help the UW and yourself by taking the following precautions:

  • Clean up your email address list

    Messages with bad addresses are bounced back to the sender. You should immediately remove all such addresses from your email list. Many ISPs assume email with bad addresses is sent by spammers and thus will use such messages as proof that the originating site should be blocked.

  • Send to people who want your message

    Make an effort to identify people who are likely to want your message. The more your message goes to people who do not want it, the more they will block or filter out similar messages from you (or anyone else at the UW) in the future.

    Look for ways people can choose to be on your mailing list (voluntary opt-in) rather than putting them on a list with the choice of getting off the list (involuntary opt-out).

  • Give people an easy, reliable way to get off your list

    Make it easy for people to opt-out of receiving your messages so they can maintain a sense of being in control of their email. Provide an email address that "unsubscribe" requests can be sent to, a web form they can fill out and submit, or a phone number they can call.

    In some cases you may not want to give your recipients the option of getting off the list, such as in work situations where you want all staff in a department to receive work-related notices. Such transactional or relationship messages, as long as they are not misleading or deceptive, are not covered by the anti-spam laws.

  • Comply with state and federal anti-spam laws

    Bulk email sent from the UW must comply with state and federal anti-spam laws including:

    • Do not falsify any information in the message, such as in From, To, or Subject fields.
    • Primarily commercial email must conform to the requirements of the federal CAN-SPAM act.
  • Avoid sending lengthy messages or large attachments

    Large messages sent to many people will occupy large amounts of storage space on the UW Email system.

    A better way to make large texts and documents available is to put them on a website and send the URL to your audience. Putting the file on a website makes it readily available without using local diskspace.

Frequently asked questions

  • How can I design my messages so they will not be filtered out by spam filters?

    The criteria for determining spam scores are always changing as spammers try new tactics and spam filter writers come up with methods to counter them, so there is no guaranteed, simple answer.

    You can check the spam score of a message by sending it to an address at the UW and then viewing the message header.

    Keep in mind that delivery of email is not guaranteed. Aggressive anti-spam and anti-virus methods used by ISPs often discard good messages.

  • My email is important! Why do people filter it out?

    There are many reasons:

    • Rivers of spam: Everyone's email is being assaulted by torrents of spam. Currently, about 40 percent of the email arriving at the UW (12 million out of 28 million messages a month) is spam (as identified by spam scoring systems).
    • Dangerous email: People have good reason to be wary of unexpected email. Some of it is fraudulent or dangerous. Some messages try to coax recipients into entering personal information by pretending to be official messages from reputable organizations (a form of fraud called "phishing"). Other messages carry dangerous computer viruses. Some messages simply verify your email address. If you respond to the message in any way (such as clicking on an opt-out button) and your address is sold to spammers as a "proven" address.
    • Security experts tell them to: Because of viruses in email and vulnerabilities in email programs, email services (including UW Technology) strongly advise everyone to be careful how they respond to any unexpected messages. Common advice is to never buy from companies that spam, do not click on any link in a spam message, and do not respond to opt-out offers unless you trust the message sender.
  • How do spam filters know which messages are spam?

    Users tell them. With many email systems the recipient of an unwanted message can just click a "Report As Spam" button indicating they do not want the message or others like it. Future messages with similar characteristics will be filtered out. The result is that the more you send email to people who do not want it, the more messages like yours get filtered out by everyone's spam filters. Also, Internet addresses that are the source of large amounts of email that users consider to be spam are often categorically blacklisted by email services.

  • Can I use an email marketing program on my own computer?

    While they may seem attractive because of features like email list management, use of desktop email marketing programs is strongly discouraged for a number of reasons:

    • The same programs are used by spammers. Your messages will be given high spam scores simply because they were sent with such a program.
    • Many email marketing programs do not conform to the guidelines listed above, particularly in the area of timing, flow rate, and flow control and therefore are likely to create problems for the UW email infrastructure.

    For further information about the use of such programs please contact help@u.washington.edu

Resources

Anti-Spam Laws

Anti-spam organizations

Last modified: April 9, 2014