A “catch all” email address is a mailbox that is configured to receive emails sent to addresses that do not exist in your domain eg ain@refractiv.co.uk. There is debate about the usefulness of a catch-all address, but is it right for your business?

Setting up a catch-all option for a mailbox on your domain name has one main advantage. It will help you minimise the amount of lost email messages due to misspelled email addresses or emails sent to employees who have left your company.

The disadvantages may outweigh this one advantage – for instance the catch-all email will get lots of spam and private emails that just happen to have the recipients name spelt wrong will be viewable to anyone with access to the catchall account. However, one man’s solution is another’s headache so in the interest of research…

What a catch-all address can offer your company

If you don’t have a catch all address for your company mail and a sender misspells an email address, they should receive a non-delivery notification (NDR), realise their mistake, and start again.

This might be annoying for you both, if:

  • the mail was urgent
  • they missed the NDR
  • they couldn’t work out what had happened
  • they gave up

This is why some companies and individuals use a “catchall” mailbox to catch all mail sent to addresses that aren’t recognised. As well as misspellings these could be people who’ve left your organisation, addresses that you setup ages ago and forgot about, or they could be spam (and there’s a lot of it sent to made up addresses @yourdomain!). Since the catch-all is an email address, you can set up an out of office auto-reply informing the sender that the email address is not correct.

Why it may not be such a good idea

The downside of a catchall email address is that you’ve got to check the account like any normal email account, and be prepared to wade through a lot of spam when you do.  It’s worth pointing out that a catch-all email address means no NDR, so the sender will never know they got the email address wrong (unless you use an auto-reply). There is also an increased risk of spam as, without that NDR, spammers will think the address targeted is a true email address.

If you give other employees access to the account there may be a privacy issue. Any emails that were wrongly addressed will end up in the catch-all account and some of these may have been confidential, this could be solved by being careful who you give access to but it is still a major drawback.

How Google Apps could help

Google Apps and GMail makes a catch-all account more attractive because:

  • The junk filter is so efficient
  • You can grant access to the catchall account to many users (Settings – Accounts – Grant Access to…)
  • You can easily check the catchall’s account from your web browser, even if you use it as your primary email account. (See screenshot top right).

That said, the negatives make it a decision not to be taken lightly and a catch-all email address is not suitable for everybody. However, if you have been concerned about losing vital email it may be the answer you are looking for.