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Did you know that setting up an automated “I’m out of the office” vacation autoresponder message can hurt your email deliverability? In fact, there are a few different ways that those automatic vacation reply messages can hurt your email delivery, and for that reason, we advise you not to use them at all or, if you must, to use them very carefully.

In part this is because those messages can make your mail server have a profile very similar to that of a spammer’s mail server. Every time you get an email in, your server sends out what is an essentially identical message to each person who sent you email. Over time, your mail server is sending out potentially hundreds or thousands of identical messages to hundreds of thousands of different people. Just like a spammer.

Perhaps nowhere is this problem more obvious than in a company where several people are on vacation all at the same time, such as during the holidays. We see it when we send out our own newsletters – during the holidays we will receive dozens of identical messages for different people at the same company, all coming from the same domain – in fact from the same MTA. You have to know in that case that their server is sending out thousands of those messages every day – one for each one of their employees who are out on vacation, each and every time one of those employees receives an email.

And then they have no idea what hit their email deliverability come the new year.

If you must run a vacation program in your office when someone is away, then at very least be sure to set it so that each person who sends email to the vacationing employee gets that message only once, and not each time they send a subsequent email.

There is another – and far more insidious – way that running a vacation program can impact your email deliverability. And that’s when your email address – or indeed even your vacation program itself – is abused by a spammer.

If you are on vacation, running a vacation program, and a spammer chooses that time to spoof your email address in a spam run (in other words, making it look like the spam came from you), then all of the complaints and bounces will come back to you, and your vacation program will dutifully send out your vacation message for each and every one. We’re talking potentially thousands of email messages spewing from your mail server as a result of the spam run which appears to come from you, as the complaints and bounces flood in to your email address.

Worse, if your vacation program is set up to send a vacation message for each and every message it receives, then when you get a bounce message, it will send a vacation message back, which will cause another bounce, then another vacation message, and so on, until either your own system runs out of space from storing all those message, or until the system administrator on the other end gets so upset at you that they blackhole your server and report it as sending spam. Which of course, can affect your email deliverability in a multitude of ways.

Finally, we’ve heard reports of spammers looking for unwitting users who have set up a vacation program, and then sending a stream of spam to the vacationing user, each email identical except for the “From” address. The “From” addresses are actually the addresses of the targets to whom they want to send the spam – and with each one, your system relays the spam to their target along with your vacation message. They get your vacation message to do their spamming for them! Diabolical, eh?

Who knew that such an innocent-seeming thing as a vacation message was so fraught with email deliverability peril.

Well, now you do.

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4 Responses

  1. The nightmare scenario of spoof, send, bounce, resend is really scary. Even worse is that so many people seem to forget to turn off their vacation responders after they’re back, so the excess emails keep going out until they wise up.


  2. Segment marketing emails to be sent from different server/IP. Do not use the same server/IP that send out the auto reply for your email marketing…

    Does it help?

  3. cool!The nightmare scenario of spoof, send, bounce, resend is really scary. Even worse is that so many people seem to forget to turn off their vacation responders after they’re back,

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