In mid-2012, then-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney found himself in the midst of an embarrassing email hacking debacle. Romney formerly worked for a large financial institution and therefore should have understood the necessity of quality email security, but he was allegedly using a Hotmail account at the time. The hacker who breached the account was able to do so by guessing Romney’s favorite pet in response to a “security” question. Surely, Romney should have known better, but he and other high-profile citizens are not the only ones who need secure, professional email accounts.
It is equally important for business owners and marketers to have well-secured, private email accounts that allow them to put their best foot forward with correspondents and potential clients. In terms of security and professionalism, consumer-grade email accounts such as Hotmail, Google, AOL and Yahoo, are inadequate for conducting business online. A public email account can hurt your credibility with prospective clientele, cost you sales, and do your marketing campaign more harm than good.
Loss of Credibility
A professional email address immediately boosts your company’s image. It shows contacts that your company has a strong web presence and marketing initiative and is fully ready to do business. Conversely, a public email address creates the idea that you took the path of least resistance or lacked the resources to secure a professional address. In this way, a public email address undermines your professionalism and credibility immediately. It leaves clients to wonder whether your company is legitimate enough to have its own website and, if it does, why you are not using it.
Missed Opportunity to Establish Brand Identity
A branded email address can be a marketing tool in itself. When a potential client or contact sees your company’s name in your email address, they can immediately navigate to your site and learn more about you and your business. However, seeing “firstname.lastname@example.org” is an immediate turn-off to most clients, immediately killing their interest in what you have to say. What’s more, even if they remain interested in your offer despite your pedestrian-looking email address, they do not know where to look. Most will delete your email rather than hunt for context clues and launch a search on you and your business. This can even be true of people you have worked with before. Without your brand where they can clearly see it, they may forget who you are and what company you represent.
Risk of Being Overlooked or Viewed as a Scammer
Security for public email accounts is not as strict as it might be. Spammers and scammers take full advantage of these vulnerabilities by signing up for accounts and using them to embezzle, harass and hack other users. When a potential client sees “email@example.com,” they have no way of knowing you from a common scammer. Having your email identified with spam culture is a quick way to get your lovingly-crafted query, correspondence, contract or sales letter sent to the trash bin.
Lack of Username Control
With public email accounts, you could be left having to fill out your desired screename with a convoluted series of numbers, letters and symbols because the name you truly wanted was unavailable. What self-respecting professional would want to entertain an inquiry from a “janedoe1%8$2291AAJ@hotmail.com?” This contributes to the spammer look that you are trying so hard to avoid.
Consumer-grade email services are rife with risk. Most free email providers do not have a dedicated IT department to oversee email security upgrades. For example, in late 2011 a celebrity-loving Florida hacker known as “hackerazzi,” hijacked the email accounts of 26 celebrities. They were able to change the account owners’ passwords using information easily obtained from their fan sites. High-profile, consumer email providers Apple, Google and Yahoo were involved.
With such lax security standards, it was no wonder that the hackerazzi was able to pull off such a feat. None of the major public email providers offer private email with encryption or public key cryptography for messaging, and they fail in three other major ways. Firstly, you do not know when you are being hacked. These companies fail to notify you when an unknown person makes multiple attempts to log into your account. Secondly, because they do not allow you to specify what devices can access your account, anyone is free to make as many log on attempts as they wish to your account from anywhere. Finally, you have no idea who has tried to hack you, how many email accounts the company has lost to hackers or other useful pieces of information because there is no publicly available audit data.
Fortunately, there are several low-cost alternatives to a public email account. The first is to secure a “firstname.lastname@example.org” address through your chosen web hosting company. Usually they provide your custom email through a third party such as Rackspace, PoBox, Google Apps or Fastmail.fm. These services cost from $2-4 per month and sometimes include special features such as calendars or cloud storage. Simply purchase or transfer a domain name to your chosen hosting company, and follow the steps they provide for setting up private email forwarding.
Alternatively, with a little technical skill, you can create a custom email yourself by adding add any third party’s MX record to the DNS manager for your domain. While instructions vary, you can usually access this option from your cpanel and have an email address within a few minutes. You can connect the address to a personal, public email account if you so desire.
You can also sign up for Zoho. Zoho is a secure, ad-free, third party email service that allows you up to five custom email addresses for one domain name at no cost. Additional domains cost extra.
Mail.com, another free service, is unique in that it provides over 200 domains to choose from when signing up. For instance, you may select “@graphic-designer.com” if you run a graphic design firm or “@petlover.com” if you are offering pet-sitting services. This affords you a free, semi-custom email account with spam and virus protection, mobile service and calendar integration.
The success of your business depends greatly on how well you present it to potential clients. When reaching contacts via email, every detail – the timing of the email, its wording and the email address itself – is of great importance. Take the time to invest in your company’s growth by securing a private email address. It helps your business look credible and professional, makes it more likely to get noticed and gives your correspondent a favorable image of you before they have even read what you have to say. Boost your business by taking control of your online identity today.