How to use Gmail aliases to stop spam and organise email

In this guide

Have trouble managing multitudes of emails? Would you like to be able to automatically prioritise your email? Want to filter out the worst of the spam that hits your inbox? Gmail aliases can help.

Most of us have at least one Gmail account. With Google being everywhere and most of their services being free of financial cost, it is easy to recommend getting one if you don’t already. Add to that the change Google made recently where they no longer scan emails to advertise to you, and there’s a compelling case for using Gmail. 

And if you do have Gmail, it’s well worth taking advantage of the alias feature.

What are Gmail aliases?

While the term alias may conjure up visions of being a super spy or undercover agent, they are actually simple modifications which allow you to create infinite variations of your email address. Gmail can detect these modifications and use them in filters to organise your inbox.

Aliases are a powerful but little known feature of Gmail that can make organising your inbox about as simple as it gets. They can:

  1. Automatically sort emails into subjects
  2. Divide work and personal emails
  3. Help you avoid spam

How do I create Gmail aliases?

It is not necessary to change any settings on your Gmail account to create aliases. You can simply make them up on the spot using these simple rules: a period divides your email address but cannot add words. The plus sign allows you to add words.

For example, say you have [email protected]. You could modify it to [email protected] or [email protected]. The period can be placed anywhere in the email address.

Add words with the plus sign, such as [email protected].

So long as you stick to this format all variations of the address would arrive into the main [email protected] email inbox where they can then be sorted using filters to organise your email.

How to use Gmail aliases to organise your inbox

Using Gmail aliases for automatic email housekeeping is very straightforward. First you configure a filter to manage the email in a way that works for you. Then use the email address wherever you like.

A filter is simply an instruction that tells Gmail to place an email containing a particular word in a particular place.

In the above example, it would be logical to have all messages to [email protected] filtered into a folder called Shopping

By grouping incoming mail in this way we can automatically sort and organise a busy inbox to reduce clutter and make sure we don’t miss anything.

To set up a Gmail filter:

  1. Log into Gmail.
  2. Click the down arrow next to the search box at the top of the main inbox screen.
  3. Add an alias email address in the To field. For example, we would type [email protected].
  4. Select Create filter with this search at the bottom of the window.
  5. Check the box next to Apply the label and select Choose label beside it.
  6. Select New label and give it a descriptive name. In the example, our label would be 'Shopping’.
  7. Select Create filter.
  8. Repeat the entire process for each filter you want to create.

That’s it for setting up the filter. Now any email sent to [email protected] is automatically tagged and sorted.

Automatically sort emails into subjects

One key advantage of using Gmail aliases is the ability to sort emails into subjects or priorities. If you use Gmail for business, you can add either a ‘.’ period or ‘+’ plus sign to your email address and have it automatically categorised into corresponding folders.

You can do this for personal use too. For example, you could use emailaddress+games to send all your game login information, guild or clan notifications, subscription notifications and any other game-related emails into a specific games folder. You could then use emailaddress+social to order your social network notifications, forum notices and anything else you might like.

Divide work and personal emails

You could use the same principle to sort work from personal within Gmail. This can be very useful when travelling or working on the road. You can have work email forwarded to your Gmail address with a ‘+work’ modifier and then have it filtered into a Work folder. This ensures you can quickly see just what is awaiting your attention without getting lost in your inbox.

If you have a cluttered inbox, this could be a lifesaver!

Using Gmail aliases to avoid spam

Perhaps the main reason to use Gmail aliases is reducing spam. Gmail’s default spam filter is very good already but we can enhance it using aliases.

If you shop online, compare insurance and utilities, sign up for free offers, or use just about any web service you will require an email address. But often this can lead to a bombardment of junk. Worst case, unscrupulous companies will pass your details to other organisation. Or your address may be included in a data leak which spammers will mine to hock their wares.

But by providing an alias for each site you can help keep your main address clear of spam.

When you’re asked to enter an email address, use an alias. For example, if you’re shopping for home insurance use emailaddress+insurance. Set up an insurance filter using the instructions above and then all the spam and notifications that often come with insurance quotes will be sent directly to the insurance folder, where you can review or delete them entirely at your leisure. Any subsequent messages will also be sent directly to that folder and won’t clutter your inbox any further.

Remember, aliases are unlimited so you could create general filters for categories of sites and services, or addresses specific to each site (such as emailaddress+amazon). It is entirely up to you how you manage it. As long as you create a filter for every email address, the system just works.

When unrelated junk messages are sent to an address that has only been given to one organisation it can indicate a data leak containing your email address, or a company which has sold your details. If you find that an alias has become inundated with junk and you’re certain it is no longer receiving anything useful, modify the filter to delete all incoming messages instead of sorting them.