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Beat the Spam Filter - Things to Bear in Mind

Last week we talked about trigger words and phrases and how the wrong subject line can see your carefully constructed emails idling in their recipients’ Spam folders, never to be seen. Knowing which words and phrases are likely to earn you the proverbial red card is the easiest way to avoid this. However, Spam filters are becoming more and more sophisticated and there are a number of
reasons, besides the inclusion of key offending phrases, that this unfortunate fate may befall your emails.

Not to worry however, as DEC will be running a series of articles on Spam filters and how to get past them. This is the second of the series, and I'd like to talk a little about why spam filters are important, as well as giving you some examples of behaviour that may cause you to end up on the wrong side of them. 

Remember Who the Enemy Is

As a marketer, it’s easy to see spam filters as the enemy and an obstacle to our own ends. Before you get too annoyed with them however, here are some things to bear in mind:  In 2011, the estimated figure for spam messages was around seven trillion, and conservative estimates suggest that spam comprises 80-85% of all the email in the world. Spamming remains economically viable because advertisers have no operating costs beyond the management of their mailing lists, and the costs, such as lost productivity and fraud, are borne by the public and by Internet service providers, which have been forced to add extra capacity to cope with the deluge.

Moreover, spamming really lowers the bar in advertising and trivialises your efforts to deliver quality, useful content that your audience will want to read. We have a responsibility as marketers to keep our standards high and tackle this problem rather than contribute to it. The rewards of striving to always deliver valuable content are two-fold; we raise the bar for legitimate advertising and we build a great reputation with our customers so that they actually read and engage with our emails in future.

“But *my* content is always valuable!”

I'm not saying that one or two faux pas in your mail-out puts it into the same category as those dodgy “Meet Singles in Your Area!” emails we all get from time to time. But even if I'm to judge solely from the spam folder of my own personal email account, it would appear that an awful lot of legitimate marketers don’t realise how “spammy” their emails actually are. The key, really, is to avoid jumping the gun and shouting at your audience. It sounds like a no-brainer, but we are all guilty of
jockeying for notice from time to time- we know that our recipients likely receive hundreds of marketing emails every week and are desperate to have ours noticed in the chaos. Understandable, but it’s precisely this whiff of desperation which tips off the spam filter and lands us in trouble.

Here are a few classic mistakes marketers make which inadvertently “spammify” their emails:


Inside voices, people! Nobody likes to be shouted at. Using all caps in your subject line might get people’s attention, but this looks spammy and can really rub people the wrong way. In fact, a study by
the Radicati Group found that more than 85% of respondents prefer an all-lowercase subject line to one in all caps. This might sound like a no-brainer, but when you consider that 69% of email recipients report email as spam based solely on the subject line, you'll want to stay away from triggers like this as much as you can.

2.       Exclamation marks!!!!! 

These are another seemingly obvious thing that can make your subject line or email look unprofessional. It’s a faux pas of writing as well as marketing to try to make punctuation do the job
that words are supposed to do. If your words are not enough to get readers excited about our content, it’s time to get back to the drawing board.

3.       Using video or Flash in emails

Most email providers automatically disable rich media like Flash or video embeds anyway, so it’s not worth trying. Instead, use an image of your video player (with a play button) that links to the rich media on a website page.

4.       Including attachments

If you want to send your recipients something like a PDF or a Word document, don't attach the file to the email -- otherwise your email could get blocked by spam filters. Instead, upload the attachment to your website and link to the file location in your email using an effective call-to-action button. This will minimize the chance of it being blocked by spam filters and decrease the load time of your email.

      5.       Spelling and grammatical errors

That Radicati Group study I mentioned earlier also found that for 80% of respondents, spelling and grammatical errors are the worst offence possible. But in addition to being unprofessional, these errors are also a spam trigger. Everyone slips up from time to time, so always run a spell-check as well as proof-reading your emails yourself.

      6.       Too many images

Emails jam-packed with images, or which contain excessively large images, tend to end up in the spam folder as filters can’t read images. This happens especially if the email is heavy on images but contains little text.

7.       A few other things worth mentioning:
·         URL shorteners are often used within emails to hide malware so are a big red flag to spam filters.
·         Designing a HTML email in Microsoft Word is another mistake; the code is sloppy and scores highly within spam filters.
·         Sending tests multiple times to recipients within a company can also get you into trouble because of firewall issues.

8.       …And of course, avoid trigger words and phrases.

See last week’s article for information on how trigger words work and our list of top offenders.

Adapted from this Hubspot article.

Beat the Spam Filter! Trigger words to avoid

Writing a great marketing email can be a difficult feat at the best of times. Audiences are becoming ever more cynical, inundated with hundreds of emails a week from companies claiming to offer something that will improve their lives in some way. So when you have managed to draft the perfect email to share your message with your potential customers, the last thing you want is for it to end up sitting in their spam folder, never to be seen- let alone opened. Thankfully there is a wealth of information out there to help you come up with an engaging subject line that won’t doom your hard work to obscurity.
Spam filters are becoming more and more sophisticated but you can beat them if you know how they work and what to avoid. There are a lot of reasons an email will be redirected into a Spam folder on arrival but when it happens, it’s usually because the subject line contained a trigger word or phrase. Most spam filters work on a point-based system so that having just one offending phrase won’t trigger rejection- except for some phrases which the filter considers irredeemable. SpamAssassin 2.43 for example assigns default points for these top offenders: 
Reverses aging
Compare rates
‘Hidden’ assets
Compete for your business
Free investment
Promise you
Stock disclaimer statement
Free Preview
Multi-level marketing
Compare rates

The above phrases are almost certain to nab you a one-way ticket into the dreaded spam folder, but even if you avoid them, other suspect words and phrases can add up. Here are some of the top offenders for each category of business email. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

(Just for the record, avoid the word “Free” in your subject line at all costs!)

Commerce: “As seen on”, “Shopper”, “Clearance”
Employment: “Additional income”, “Be your own boss”, “Compete for business”
Financial General: “Affordable”, “Credit”, “Cheap”
Financial Business: “Credit cards”, “Hidden Costs”, “No investment”
Financial Personal: “Out of debt”, “Child support”, “Your income”
General: “Satisfaction”, “Freedom”, Lifetime"
Greetings: “Dear [name]”, “Friend”, “Hello”
Marketing: “Increase your sales”, “Marketing solutions”, “Member”
Medical: “Hair loss”, “Diagnostics” “Snoring”
Numbers: “Join millions”, “Guaranteed”, “100%”
Offers: “”Deal”, “Per day” “Trial”
Calls-to-Action: “Compare”, “Sign up”, “Apply Now”
Descriptions/Adjectives: “Congratulations”, “Amazing”, “Certified”

We’ll be running a series of articles on Spam filters over the coming weeks so watch this space for more tips on how to make sure your emails reach their intended target!
Adapted from Hubspot's great article here 
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