B2B lead generation programs are often centered around capturing an email address. It is common for marketers to segment email addresses based on domain for deliverability tracking. But, there is often deeper insight into lead type and quality to be derived from further interrogation of the components that make up an email address.

An email address can be split into at least three component parts:

  • The username
  • The website domain (also called the second level domain)
  • The website domain extension (also called the top level domain or TLD)

Each of these components has the ability to give you standalone insights that may not be readily apparent when you look at a submitted email address in its entirety.

The Username

The username is the portion of the email address that comes before the “@”. It is probably the most useful portion of the email address to analyze because it is so signal rich due to the amount of variation. Interestingly, it is probably also the least commonly analyzed component. Here are some common username structures:

  • Proper first name or proper first name and last initial like “joe@” or “joes@”. Email addresses with these usernames generally belong to employees at small companies or start ups. In some cases, these also may belong to very senior or tenured employees at bigger companies.
  • Proper first name and last name or first initial and last name like “jsmith@” or “joesmith@”. These types of usernames are most common for corporate email users at bigger companies that have developed standardization.
  • Any mixture of first and last name, initials or other words and a number “joes1977@”. These types of usernames rarely belong to corporate users.
  • A business or entity name like “joesbusiness@”. This username structure is common among very small businesses that may not have a dedicated website due to budget or knowledge limitations. Freelancers and independent consults will also use these types of usernames. That said, the advent of Google Apps and other solutions that make it very easy to set up a custom email domain without a great deal of technical knowledge required and low cost have made this less and less common.
  • Role based accounts like “marketing@”, “finance@” or “webmaster@”. These types of usernames can be a gold mine of insights as they can help you understand the lens under which an email lead may be analyzing your product. In other cases, role based usernames are too generic to be insightful.

Gmail users can add a “+” and additional text at the end of their username as a real time tagging mechanism. This looks something like “joesmith+word@”. Parsing out the content after the “+” can be extremely informational. For example, if a subscriber to your email list adds “+spam” to their username then you have a pretty good sense what their first impression of your website, list or service may have been! I’ve also seen the “+” used to segment out different clients or initiatives as in the case of “+marketing” or “+billing”.

The Domain

The domain is the portion of the email address that comes after the “@” and before the “.”.

  • Free email domains. The most common free email providers in the United States are generally Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail (plus legacy variants MSN and Live), Aol and Comcast. But, there are many, many free email providers worldwide. Here is a list of thousands global free email providers as a reference.
  • Unique email domains like “joesbusiness.com”. These are typically the most common domain types in B2B lead generation campaigns.

There is really very little advanced signal you can get from a free email domain other than the fact that the user is not using a unique/corporate email domain. The quality of leads with free email domains is typically much lower on average than those leads that provide an email address with unique domain. But, that is certainly not a universal truth and you should look at your own historical customer data to determine how predictive email domain type may be.

Once you have parsed the domain out from the email addresses you can easily map back the underlying organization to third party data sets. This may help give you even more insight into the overall value of the lead. For example, you can match the email domain to Quantcast or Alexa traffic data, evaluate the technologies used on that domain using a service like Builtwithor Datanyze, or use a service like SEMrush or Adbeat to get a sense of the ad budgets of the company. You can also look at domain frequency across your inbound lead population. Are you seeing multiple email addresses with the same corporate email domain? This could be a great signal of interest from a specific company.

You will also often find that unique domains are an exact match to social accounts for the associated individual or business. For example, a contact’s personal domain “joesmith” matches their Facebook username or Twitter handle. There is plenty of room for false positives, particularly with very common names or words. But this type of domain to social account matching works well as a quick and dirty approach. There are many services such as Fullcontact.com or Clearbit.com that can expand email addresses to social accounts and other contact data if you are looking for a higher accuracy approach.

The Extension

The extension, or top level domain, is the portion of the email address that comes after the “.” (or after the first “.” In the case of international domain extensions).

  • TLDs like com, .co, net, org, biz, info
  • edu, mil, gov
  • Country coded TLDs like “co.uk” or “ca”

The most common business domain extension is .com. I’d guess that >80% of the high value leads I’ve ever processed were business domains with a .com TLD. Your mileage will certainly vary based on your target customer organization and region. If you sell to educational institutions or are a government focused vendor then the .edu or .gov extensions will be full of signal for you.

ICANN, which is the governing body of domain extension standards, has allowed for the release of hundreds of “generic” extensions, or gTLDs, over the last few years. As the name suggest, these are generally descriptive terms like .travel or .education. These types of generic domains have not generally had great adoption in the past. But it is worth noting that they exist as there is potential for a lot of signal to be wrapped up in gTLDs.

Find the Patterns

As with most lead evaluation techniques, the most important step is benchmarking your historical data to know what to look for in analyzing email tokens. Look for trends (perhaps by running a regression in Excel) in your existing customer base or historical lead win/loss data to get a better sense of which of these signals may or may not be important for your business.