How To Verify an Email Address Without Sending the Email

How To Verify an Email Address Without Sending the Email
08 February, 2023 • ... • 2933 views
Alexey Baguzin
by Alexey Baguzin

Before sending your carefully-crafted email campaign or newsletter, there’s a pivotal step you should take: checking your subscribers’ list for inactive addresses — to verify your contacts. Of course you can do it the hard way: send your campaign and see how many emails won’t get delivered. However, you’d probably be better off avoiding that. 

So in this article we’ll discuss how to check if an email address is valid before hitting “send”. But first an important line needs to be drawn.

How’s email verification different from email validation?

Email validation is a process that checks if an email address is valid. It happens when a “ping” is sent from one server to another. A pingback from the latter informs us the email address we are validating exists, is being used and accepts incoming messages. The validation happens between servers, meaning you don’t have to send an actual email. What email validation doesn’t tell us is whether there’s an actual person behind the first part of the email address: it only checks the domain part — the one that comes after @.

That’s where email verification comes in. Unlike validation, it’s not a single step (a digital ping to the server) but rather a series of steps. And unlike validation, verification allows you to make sure that an actual living person is on the other side — not a bot, a spammer or a disposable account (i.e. created for a single use).

Why you should verify email addresses before sending your campaigns

If you are selling a product or service, then making sure your emails reach as many recipients on your list as possible is common sense. The more people see your offer, the more will buy into it. Assuming of course your content is spot-on too.

However there are other reasons why you should periodically clear out inactive addresses from your mailing list.

  1. Increase email deliverability rate

An important note: email deliverability is different from email delivery. Delivery simply means that your email reached your recipient — but this could be in their spam or trash folder. Deliverability means that your message landed in their inbox.

And that’s your aim, for as many people to see your message as possible. On average 85%-90% of all emails generally reach your recipients’ inboxes: clearing out “bad” emails will help you reach that number.

You might be wondering why the hell bother with deliverability rate when your delivery rate will be high anyway. Well, the thing is, if your emails frequently end up in spam or bounced or even just seldom opened, email service providers might start treating you as a sender of harmful — or simply boring — emails no one wants to read. Which will directly affect your sender reputation for future campaigns.

Average deliverability rates
Email service providers average 83%-89% deliverability rate. Source: Email Tool Tester
  1. Protect your sender reputation

Your account — as well as everyone else’s — has a sender reputation score. The higher it is, the more likely your messages are to land in recipients’ inbox, and not in spam/trash.

There are many factors that affect your reputation: spam complaints, engagement history, unsubscribes… But the most important one is probably the email bounce rate. Now, an email bounce happens when your message was not delivered to the intended recipient. There are 2 types of bounces: soft and hard.

A soft bounce occurs when the original delivery was unsuccessful, but the email ultimately reaches the recipient. Which means the reason behind the initial failure was temporary: a full inbox, server-side problems, large attachments or images.

A hard bounce happens when the email cannot, and will not, be delivered at all. This occurs when the recipient’s address is inactive or invalid, when his email server has blocked your domain or when there’s spam content in your email.

It’s those hard bounces you should be scared of. They bring down your sender reputation score the most. So update your email list regularly to cleanse inactive/invalid addresses to keep the bounce rate down. A normal bounce rate should be under 2%.

  1. Achieve better ROI (return on investment)

Return on investment is basically money earned / money spent. By making sure your subscribers’ database is updated, you spend less by sending fewer emails to inactive addresses. How’s that? Email service providers charge you either for the number of emails you send, or the number of contacts on your list. Some — like us — allow you to choose one or the other.

The bottom line is, having a lot of junk emails on your list is a literal money waste.

When and how often should you verify email addresses?

There are 3 good rules of thumb when you should check your email database in bulk.

  1. When you build a new mailing list

It’s a simple one: you collect a bunch of new emails over time and once the list is complete, check whether all emails on it are still valid.This way you can ensure all the emails on the list are still valid — and avoid hurting your reputation by sending a campaign to inactive addresses.

  1. When you are using your old mailing list

If you haven’t done an email blast for a while — let’s say for more than 6 months — it’s a good idea to bullet-proof your old contacts. You simply cannot know otherwise how many from your list are still in play.

  1. Periodically, or when you notice anomalies

Periodically checking your mailing list is a good idea for any business — and the frequency should rise if you’re scaling the number of your subscribers at pace. You should also analyze your email campaigns: if the open rate drops dramatically, or if your bounce rate spikes — check your email database.

How to check if an address is valid without sending an actual email

There are 2 ways you can do that: manually and using software. We’ll start with the easier, software-based, method.

Use Selzy’s built-in verification

You can check all your emails using our service. Just click “Check contacts” from the home screen — or the Contacts tab — to do so. You can then check email addresses from a list, your own file, or by simply copying and pasting. We’ll provide you with a detailed report which emails are active and which aren’t — and allow you to remove the latter to increase deliverability.

how Selzy’s bulk email verification report looks like

Try an email finder

If you only need to check a couple of addresses, this is the way to go. There are plenty of email finder tools on the internet where you simply type in an email address, press “enter” and the software tells you whether your email is good to go. Hunter, Wiza and Clearout are all possible options — but there are many others.

an invalid email domain
An invalid email domain. Image source:
a valid email domain
A valid email domain. Image source:

Use other email verifier tools

Email verifier software works much like email finders — but it allows you to check email addresses in bulk. You get a subscription, upload a list you need to check and the tool does the verification. All you need is to simply download the results. ZeroBounce is one such tool, the aforementioned Hunter and Clearout offer this option too — on paid plans.

report on bulk email verification
Image source: ZeroBounce

Check email databases

There are B2B database companies, such as Cognism, Lusha, and Thomson Data, which compile lists of email addresses you can find on the net. However, the danger here is that these databases might not have been updated for some time, thus giving you the headache of separating which addresses are hot and which are not.

Manual ways to verify an email

We should clarify that the manual method won’t provide you with the full picture whether there’s an actual person behind the address. In most cases it will be a simple validation (a ping to the recipient’s server). With that in mind, let’s see which manual ways are available to you.

Check the email syntax

In other words, whether there are any errors in the addresses on your list, such as typos. Here’s a quick reminder what a correct email address should consist of.

The personal (local) part, which should be up to 64 characters long:

  • Uppercase & lowercase Latin letters (A-Z, a-z)
  • Digits from 0 to 9
  • Special characters, such as ! # $ % ^ & ’ * + – / = ?
  • Dot — however, it should not be placed at the beginning or ending of the local part, and it shouldn’t be next to another dot

The domain part — it could either contain the company’s domain name or the service provider’s domain:

  • Uppercase and lowercase Latin letters (A-Z, a-z)
  • Digits from 0 to 9
  • Hyphen — (however, it should not be placed at the beginning or ending of the domain part)
  • Dot — used to separate parts of domain labels, such as subdomains, main domain, and top-level domain

Ping the server

This is email validation, in simpler terms. Using Telnet on Windows or PuTTY/nc on Mac, you send a ping to the recipient’s server. If you get the reply “The email account you are trying to reach does not exist”, well, then there you have it. This method takes a lot of time because you’ll have to check emails individually.

Look up the IP address

This method allows you to check the authenticity of someone’s email address by finding the IP address associated with it. Here’s how to get the IP for someone’s email:

  • Open MXToolbox in your browser.
  • Add your recipient’s email address, then click “MX Lookup”.
  • You’ll get a list of IP addresses associated with the email. You can choose whichever you want.

After that you’ll need a tool like whatismyipaddress to check the IP of your choosing. If something in the details looks wrong to you, this email address can pose a threat.

no results found for an incorrect IP address
Source: What Is My IP Address

Look up DNS (Domain Name System)

This method is used to check whether the recipient’s domain is legitimate. You can also see spam and blacklist data associated with this domain — if such exists. To carry out such a checkup, follow these steps:

  • Open MXToolbox DNS Check in your browser.
  • Type in the recipient’s domain name and click “DNS check”.
  • You’ll get a list of hostname and details of the DNS records.
  • If no details pop up, the domain is available.
how a free domain looks like
Image source: MX Toolbox

The obvious downside of this method is that it only verifies the domain’s accuracy.

Final thoughts

Email verification allows you, as a business or a solopreneur, to make sure your mailing list stays up-to-date. This brings several benefits, such as better return on investment, better deliverability rate and a good sender reputation score.

There are 2 ways to check your subscribers’ email database: an automatic one and a manual one. Automatic relies on tools — like the built-in Selzy verification service.

Free tools allow you to check a couple of emails, while with paid plans can check your entire list.

Manual verification is laborious and usually has another drawback: you can only check emails one-by-one, not in bulk. It also takes up much of your time and resources.

But regardless of which method you go with, check your mailing list periodically to ensure bounce rates stay low and open rates remain high. Also verify any new lists you get externally, even from your partners, not to hurt your reputation score by sending a newsletter to a bunch of weird addresses.

Good luck!

Article by
Alexey Baguzin
Alex has an master's in Journalism, a keen interest in eCommerce & email marketing and a background of writing articles dating back to 2015. He reads about copywriting in his spare time, watches Netflix and supports Arsenal. He's into rock of all sorts - most recently Muse.
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