Don’t Invite Spam Filters to Block Your Email Campaign

Email Marketing

You have compiled an email list of current and potential customers, colleagues or people who in some way have expressed an interest in your business or your organization, and you want to send them regular emails. Yet you don't want your emails to be labeled spam.

Even if your intentions are good, how do you avoid recipients and filters blocking your email as spam anyway? You can always write in the subject line. "Trust me, this isn't spam," but that won't work. In fact, that's likely to get your email bounced even before your email has a chance to reach a recipient's email in box.

What you need to do is follow the best practices for sending legitimate email campaigns to a list of contacts. The details in those practices can change as spammers try to fool the auto filters. But if you follow these guidelines and your heart is true, your email campaign has a better chance to hit its mark.

Use an Email Service

How do you start? First off, don't just dump a hundred or so email addresses in your email program and send off your email newsletter to all of them at once. That just screams you are a spammer, and not very good at it either. If you wish to send a regular email to your contacts with news about your business or special offers, your best option is to go with an Email Service Provider. There are a number of ESPs out there, such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp and others, each offering a variety of features to make sending emails easy and pricing that can be very reasonable for a small business, or even free.

What they all have in common is self interest in making sure you don't send out spam because it hurts their business. These ESPs offer tools, advice, opt-out buttons for recipients who don't want to receive your emails any more, and double opt-in options to make sure your contacts really do want to hear from you. Because of their efforts to prevent any of their emails from being labeled as spam, ESPs are more readily accepted by email servers as legit.

Using an ESP, however, doesn't relieve you of the responsibility of following good practices. Filters used by your contacts' email programs are still likely to block your emails if you don't.

Don't Buy Email Lists

ESPs typically do not allow you to use a bought email list as your contacts. You may get away with using a bought list for a time, but you are likely to find a number of those contacts using the opt-out link that by the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 must be included in all commercial emails. Many of the rest on that list will never bother to open your email or could just mark it as junk email. When your ESP sees too many recipients opting out or marking your emails as spam, it could suspend your service.

If you buy an email list, you're wasting money and damaging your reputation.

Double Opt-In

Does the fish bowl you have on the counter or at a trade show booth collecting business cards count as establishing a business relationship as defined by law? It may, but that's not enough for ESPs and spam filters. It's certainly not enough if you were just offering a free lunch. If you label the bowl as specifically asking for business cards to add to your mailing list, you're in better standing. Your best option in either case, however, is to send one email to the collected card contacts, asking them to opt-in to being put on the mailing list. A double opt-in includes a second email to confirm the action

These response emails can be automated by some ESPs so it doesn't require extensive work on your part. More importantly, the email addresses you add in this way are more likely to respond positively to your digital newsletters and offerings.

But If someone doesn't respond to your first email, don't put that person on your mailing list.

Use a Private Domain for Your Email

ESPs send an email on your behalf, but the return address is yours. If you use a Yahoo! or AOL account, however, those services may refuse to send your bulk emailing. Companies that offer free email accounts using the company domains rather than an individual domain you own do not want to be labeled as a source of spam, and work very aggressively to prevent it. Because of that, your email may never reach the recipients' mail servers.

You're better off giving your ESP a return email addressed based on a unique domain you own. Unique, private domains are cheap, and they look more professional anyway.

Optimize Your Subject Line

Subject lines should be limited to no more than 5-8 words or 40 characters. Don't use phrases or characteristics commonly used by spammers that create a false sense of urgency. You probably already know these phrases, such as: "be amazed," "your income," "Earn (dollar amount) per week," "Act Now." If you do use one of these phrases, you'll be amazed at what happens next. Your email blast ends up in the junk folder.

Don't use excessive exclamation points or questions marks. One is all you need at the end of a sentence. Don't write in ALL CAPS. Spammers can't seem to resist all caps and excessive punctuation marks, but you should. Don't use symbols in the subject line, like a dollar sign. They're often used by spammers to disguise common words in their lexicon.

Review Your Content for "Spamminess"

It's not just specific works that will get your email bounced as spam. After all, if you are offering a free lunch, you should be able to say it's free. Just don't say it's "FREE! FREE! FREE!"

Spam filters, however, are sophisticated enough to go beyond the obvious. They'll find some spam marker phrases like "Click Here" and "Buy Now" and assign points for how often they turn up. An article on Mail Chimp lists a sample criteria from Spam Assassin on how it rates suspect content.

  • Talks about lots of money (.193 points)
  • Describes some sort of breakthrough (.232 points)
  • Looks like a mortgage pitch (.297 points)
  • Contains urgent matter (.288 points)
  • Money back guarantee (2.051 points)

Reach a certain number of points, and your email gets bounced or locked into a spam quarantine.

Use Your Own Common-Sense Filter

You know those really obnoxious ads you see on TV? You know the ones, wanting to buy your old coins and jewelry, or a used a car, or buy anything that you don't need or want and just can't stand listening to their pitch trying to convince you otherwise. Now compare your email to to those pitches. Can you hear the same spokesmen and spokeswomen reading your email? If your words fit their spiel, don't send it.

When people see or just hear an obnoxious TV ad, they can just hit the mute button. When people receive an email they think is obnoxious or is just something they don't want to read, they hit the unsubscribe button. If too many of your recipients hit that unsubscribe button, your email is likely loosing its effectiveness for those still receiving it, and your open rate will drop.

If your email doesn't sound like an obnoxious TV ad, then you have a chance to engage your potential customers.

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