Breaking Free

SEMA News—September 2018


By Joe Dysart

Breaking Free

Reaching More Customers With Your Own Email Server

Unbeknownst to many, a company with light to moderate email needs can run an in-house mail server on a simple PC or even an old dual-core desktop PC.

Businesses fed up with overly aggressive spam filters that block their ability to reach out to customers are turning to a new solution: bringing their own email server in-house. It’s a move that offers four major advantages:

  • The ability to bypass the often unforgiving spam filters internet service providers (ISPs) have erected against their own customers—spam filters that block email that their own customers are trying to send out onto the internet.
  • The ability to legally send email to any customer, or potential customer, the company chooses to, as long as it adheres to U.S. email laws.
  • The ability to make the change without breaking the bank. For instance, Postfix (, one of the most widely used mail servers on the internet, is free.
  • The ability to run a mail server on a very simple PC. Again, Postfix zooms along just fine on an old Pentium 4 PC with 2 gigabytes of RAM.

Businesses that are most attracted to such in-house solutions are often those that have been wrongly burned by their own ISP for sending what those services have unfairly deemed as “spam.”

“All you’re trying to do is keep in touch with your clients, maybe even stimulate a few sales,” said Jonelle Larouche, a copywriter who specializes in content marketing ( But unintentionally, she added, you may end up in a spam folder.

Indeed, many businesses have learned the hard way that ISPs have not only erected spam filters against email coming at their servers from all corners of the internet in recent years but have also erected spam filters against their own clients—the people they sell internet access to. Essentially, those ISPs have decided that they’re going to “stop spam at the source” by aggressively filtering email that is being sent out onto the internet by their own customers.

For example, Consolidated Communications ( is one of the many ISPs that have that have added a spam filter that all its customers’ emails must pass through before that email can even get a chance to go out on the internet.

“It was important for us to find an effective outbound filtering solution that would plug directly into SpamAssassin,” said Scott Barber, vice president and general manager at Consolidated Communications.

Added Jamie de Guerre, chief technology officer of Cloudmark (, a company that provides anti-spam services for numerous organizations: “We are beginning to see a concerted movement toward looking at both inbound and outbound email filtering in order to defend against messaging threats.”

While ISPs such as Consolidated Communications are apparently motivated by only the best intentions, the reality on the ground is that aggressive spam filters—as we’re all painfully aware—often mischaracterize some legitimate email as spam. Consequently, many businesses are being burned by this new twist in email filtering as they watch their own ISPs wrongly block legitimate email newsletters they’re trying to send to customers.

The reason is that the unthinking “spam bots” that are doing the spam characterizing for ISPs and other email service providers often “see” a business newsletter that is attempting to enter the internet as one message that is being sent to sometimes thousands of recipients. And while a single message sent to thousands of recipients is often spam, many other times it’s simply a legitimate newsletter that is being sent by a legitimate business.

This same mistake in characterization often awaits businesses that attempt to send a promotional email to all the customers on their customer list, send the same holiday greeting to all of their customers, or send the same flash sale or offer to all of their customers. Indeed, many ISPs and email service providers have become so aggressive with the way they regulate the email of their own customers that they’ve completely banned their own customers from using email newsletter software.

Essentially, businesses suffering this fate with their ISPs do not even have a chance to attempt to send an email newsletter to their customers. Their ISPs have programmed their services so that the businesses cannot even connect their email newsletter-sending program to the internet.

Moreover, many businesses victimized by these ISP practices often run into a stone wall when they complain. Indeed, the standard response to complaints from many ISPs and email service providers is: If you want to send a newsletter, use a bulk email sender. To which many businesses reply: No, thanks.

The reason? Like the ISPs, bulk email service providers are also playing their own overly aggressive game of email censorship. One example: If you send email through a bulk provider these days and get complaints from just a few people who forgot that they subscribed to your newsletter, a bulk email sender can shut you down in as little as 24 hours.

You can also forget about any new business that may have been generated by that mailing. Generally, all replies to any emails you send that have been mischaracterized as spam are also trashed by your service provider and are forever beyond your reach. Ergo the flight to an in-house email server.

Should you decide to make the move with your business, here are some of the specific changes you’ll enjoy:

  • You’ll be back in business. For many businesses, the ability to send newsletters and promotional emails is truly a life-or-death proposition. With an in-house mail server, many businesses are able to reconnect their email newsletter software to the internet again for the first time in weeks—or maybe even in months.
  • More of the email you send will actually get to your customers. Turns out, many of the servers on the receiving end of your emails are willing to give your email the benefit of the doubt. The reason this works is that the mail server receiving your email newsletter—the mail server hosted by the company you’re trying to reach—is not “aware” that you’re sending your newsletter to thousands of recipients. Instead, all the receiving mail server “knows” is that you’re sending one email to one legitimate email address at its company.

    So as long as your email looks legitimate, there’s a great chance that your email will not be blocked as spam. Essentially, your email will be given the benefit of the doubt.

  • You’ll be able to use any email newsletter or email merge program you desire. Instead of paying bulk mail service providers unending monthly fees—or fees that can skyrocket as you send more and more email each month—you can pay once for a mail merge program such as Atomic Email Sender ( or GroupMail ( and then send as many emails to your customers as you’d like, for as long as you’d like.
  • You can treat double opt-in requirements—which require a recipient to sign up for your newsletter and then reconfirm that sign-up a second time by clicking on a link in a welcome email they receive—as an option. That’s a stark contrast to the policy of virtually all bulk emailers these days, who require double opt-in.

    Granted, double opt-in is a good safeguard against spam and makes sense in many circumstances. But sometimes you’d just like the freedom to say to a client, “I’ll subscribe you to our e-newsletter, and you’ll find a lot of what you’re looking for in there,” sign up the client, and then forget about it.

    There will be no double opt-in requirements. No hoops to jump through. No saying to your client, “Please do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around, and only then can you receive our e-newsletter.”

Bottom line is that bringing your own email server in-house does take some doing. You’ll need to temporarily hire an IT specialist to do the initial setup and testing for you, which can take as little as a day if you’re interested in using Postfix, one of the most commonly used mail servers. And you’ll mostly likely need to rely on an IT specialist now and again when your mail server—like virtually any other piece of software—stops performing the way it’s supposed to perform.

But for many businesses that have made the move, the freedom to reach out to customers unencumbered—and the freedom to send e-newsletters without worrying that an entire email campaign may get shut down by complaints from a few cranky subscribers who forgot they subscribed to their newsletter—is well worth the price of admission.

One caveat: If you decide to use your in-house mail server to send spam—not at all recommended—you will most likely end up on the various spam blacklists monitored by (, and your newsletter and/or email campaign will be shut down by companies that subscribe to those types of spam monitoring services.

But if you steer clear of breaking the law, you’ll find that you’ll enjoy much more freedom and a much more forgiving environment for your newsletters, emails and similar promotional content with your own in-house mail server.

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan.


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