When and Where Seed Hits should be used in Email Marketing

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While we at UnsubCentral always recommend the use of MD5 or SHA-256 encryption when sharing email addresses, we certainly understand that in some cases it is neccessary to share data in plain text format. In these cases, we recommend the use of seed hits to help you determine if the plain-text suppression data being shared is ever misused.

What is a Seed Hit? UnsubCentral inserts homegrown email addresses into suppression list downloads that are intended to alert you if someone sends email to address within the suppression list. Messages to these email addresses are captured by UnsubCentral and registered as “seed hits”, which display information in the user interface and notify admin users via a system generated email. The beauty is that seed email addresses are unique to each access key, so each seed hits would let you know which affiliate key was potentially misused.

It is important to note that not all seed hits reflect misuse of a suppression list. In some cases, there can be “false positives” where an email message sent to a seed email address triggers a seed hit, but does not necessarily mean a downloaded suppression list had email sent to it.

False positives occur when one of the referenced homegrown email addresses receive message(s) from spammer who send millions of emails to addresses that they fabricate by using all kinds of combinations of letters and words (this is similar to how we create fake email addresses to be seed addresses).

On the other hand, when there are numerous seed hits for a key that was distributed in plain-text, it is much more likely that someone did in fact send email to at least some of the addresses that were obtained via a suppression list download. When this occurs, it is best to follow-up with the partner to whom the key was provided to try to understand what may have occurred.

Lastly, while seed hits are an effective way to determine if your suppression list has been misused, UnsubCentral recommends to avoid misuse in the first place by only distributing suppression lists as MD5 or SHA-256 hashes.