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gmail aliasWhen it comes to email organization, the immediate reaction is often all about folders, tags, filters, priority marks, and things of that sort. Not that any of those are bad – in fact, most of those features are plain awesome. But there’s another feature in Gmail that can help you to automatically organize your incoming mail – the alias.

In any field that requires organization, methods can be split into two types – reactionary and proactionary. A reactionary method would be something the user does after they’ve received the mail, whether it’s moving between folders, deleting, renaming, tagging, or whatever. A proactionary method organizes mail for you as it comes in, like a filter that automatically deletes spam.

The Gmail alias feature is a proactionary measure that works in tandem with filters to truly keep your inbox as organized as possible. Keep reading to find out how you can set it up and how it will benefit you.

What Is A Gmail Alias?

gmail alias

First, what is an alias? It’s a modified version of your true email address that Gmail uses as a parameter in filters. If that sounded confusing, don’t worry. Here’s an example.

Suppose your email address is johnsmith@gmail.com. When you sign up for a website, forum, newsletter, or anything else, you’d probably type that as your email and be done with it. But here’s where the alias comes in.

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In Gmail, you can add a plus sign (‘+’) after your email identifier and any string of characters – and Gmail will still recognize it as your own. For instance, if someone sent an email to johnsmith+abc@gmail.com, it’d still arrive in your inbox. johnsmith+test@gmail.com would work as your email, too.

Everything after the plus sign is the alias. But what good is any of this? How will you benefit from using aliases at all? Let me explain.

How To Use A Gmail Alias

A few years ago, I was an extremely active member in a certain online community. At the time, people would send me private messages and emails on a daily basis and the forum software would send me email notifications. These notifications were helpful so I couldn’t just disable them, but at the same time they were clogging up my inbox.

gmail alias tips

Here’s how I used a Gmail alias to free myself of that clutter.

I changed my email address on that forum to myemail+forum@gmail.com. Doing this made it so these notifications were sent to my alias address. In Gmail, I then set up a filter to automatically move any emails sent to this alias to a particular folder. It worked like a charm.

You can use aliases in pretty much any circumstance. Have your coworkers send emails to +work while your friends and family send to +personal. If you’re signing up for a service that might potentially send spam, you can use +spam.

A bonus to all of this is that if a particular alias is compromised by spambots, you can just filter it all away and start using a new alias instead of needing to create a whole new email account. Very handy.

Setting Up A Gmail Alias

gmail alias tips

First, go to your Gmail account settings (by clicking the gear dropdown menu and selecting Settings). When you’re presented with all of the different options, go to the Filters tab.

gmail alias tips

At the bottom, click on Create a New Filter. You’ll be presented with a popup box that asks you for the relevant filter designs. Since people will be sending their emails to your new Gmail alias, you’ll want to set the filter parameters to your alias (e.g., johnsmith+test@gmail.com) in the To: field. Click Create Filter With This Search to confirm.

gmail alias trick

The next page is a list of potential actions that Gmail will perform when it detects an incoming email that’s assigned to your new alias. To tag it under a specific folder, enable the checkbox for Apply the Label: and select the label that you want for it. Click Create Filter to finish.

gmail alias

All done! Now that your filter is set, any emails that are sent to your alias will automatically be assigned to the label that you specified. Do this with multiple aliases and you’ll be organized in no time – just remember to use your aliases when filling out email forms! Also, if you’re looking for even more advanced features in Gmail, don’t forget to check out our useful Gmail guide for power users.

Image Credit: Email Picker Via Shutterstock, Frustrated Guy Via Shutterstock

  1. Usman Mubashir
    October 4, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    gmail rox!!

  2. AP
    October 3, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Earlier I had tried to create alias but failed because of not using '+' sign with my gmail ID , thanks for this tip.

  3. mohit kumar
    September 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Hotmail (http://outlook.com) supports email aliases without any fuss. Plus Outlook is free from ads. Go for it.

  4. dwream
    September 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I'm missing something in the explanation. Isn't the addition of the alias to the G mail address too transparent to be useful? I mean, if you have "+spam" added to your address wouldn't any potential purveyor of spam just delete that portion of the address before using it?

    • allan
      October 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm

      I have the same question as dwream

    • Joel Lee
      October 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm

      Good point! I didn't address the issue, but here's a quick answer. There are two types of spam: 1) the kind you get from random unsolicited emails, and 2) the kind you get from services for which you signed up.

      Gmail aliases will help against the second kind. Whenever you sign up for a service that may bombard you with a lot of emails (newsletters, Facebook notifications, progress updates, etc.), then Gmail aliases will help you to filter all of that out so you can read it later without clogging up your inbox.

      As for the first kind of spam, Gmail aliases help with that too, though on a lesser scale. Most spambots and botnets are automated. If they pull your email from somewhere, they most likely won't truncate whatever's after the '+' sign.

  5. GrrGrrr
    September 28, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    This is so good to avoid getting spammed when we sign up for xyz...

    thanks a lot for sharing.

  6. macwitty
    September 28, 2012 at 2:55 am

    it is great when signing up for things where you don't know how they are going to use your adress. Never thought of using filter but it seems good

    • Joel Lee
      September 28, 2012 at 5:28 am

      Yep. That's primarily what I use it for these days. :)

    • HLJonnalagadda
      September 28, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      Yeah I know! Going to use an alias everywhere now!

  7. xbalesx
    September 28, 2012 at 2:28 am

    any idea if this works on G apps with a non-@gmail.com email address? For example, can I use myname+customers@rdsapps.com?

    • Joel Lee
      September 28, 2012 at 5:27 am

      It depends if the email address is configured through Gmail's services or not. I have a non-gmail.com email address that still requires logging in through Gmail's servers--with that email account, the alias feature does work.

      If you want to test if aliasing works for you, just take your email (e.g., email@email.com) and send a test email message to yourself at email+test@email.com. If you receive it, then it works.

    • Scott
      September 28, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      I don't know the answer to xbalesx's specific question, but -- correct me if I'm wrong -- couldn't s/he just create a 'nickname'/alias in Apps ? Each Apps user account includes the option to create 'nicknames' which are more like true aliases than Gmail's "plus-addressing" that is described in this article.

      While plus-addressing is very useful for organization, it doesn't do much to hide the true address (which is what a lot of alias users want an alias to do), since the true address is right there in plain sight.

      With GApps one can create a 'nickname' (like: customers (at) rdsapps (dot) com) without having to be concerned about including one's 'real' address (*if* that's a concern for someone). And it's as easy to set-up a corresponding filter for organization purposes as with the plus-addressing filter.

      My (uneducated) guess would be that Gmail's plus-addressing, as useful as it is, is in part an attempt to provide to its users something as close to the true alias feature that it provides to it GApps users as possible. ???

    • Mark O'Neill
      September 28, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      I agree. A nickname is much easier to set up in Google Apps and pretty much does the same thing, except reveal your actual email address. You can hide behind a nickname.

  8. Ravi Meena
    September 28, 2012 at 2:19 am

    this is completely new for me, thank you

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