We’ve previously discussed the difference between legitimate email marketing and spam. Unfortunately, there are a lot of disreputable (or simply ignorant) folks out there who still think that bombarding total strangers with a virtual ton of unsolicited email is a viable marketing strategy. According to Kaspersky Lab’s annual security bulletin, spam accounted for two-thirds of all email in 2014.
What makes this particularly frustrating is how easy it is for legitimate marketers to end up on the naughty list. Even if you do everything right, you may still find your email being flagged as spam by an overzealous filter or a frustrated subscriber.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to avoid being summarily lumped in with all the “EARN CA$H FAST” and “YOUR A WINNER!!!!” emails.
Dealing with Spam Filters
Back in the olden days, when Clinton was president and ‘N Sync ruled the airwaves, spam filters were pretty primitive. Simply including the word “FREE” or too many exclamation points in your subject line would be enough to get your email banished to the cornfield. However, filters have become way more sophisticated over the past couple of decades. Now, it’s less about individual words and more about overall context.
The algorithms may vary from filter to filter, but the process is generally the same. The filter looks for certain criteria in an email (Does it include invalid HTML tags or hidden text? Is it talking about making a bunch of money quickly? Is it from an industry with a bad reputation?) and assigns points for infractions. If the total score reaches a predetermined threshold, then the email ends up in the junk folder.
As you might imagine, the algorithms used by most spam filters are closely-guarded secrets because they don’t want disreputable marketers figuring out ways to game the system. Also, many filters are customised, with individual administrators determining just what constitutes “spam” on their servers. So this means there are no tricks and no hard, fast rules for slipping through the spam filters. That said, here are some simple guidelines that will help you keep the accidental filtering to a minimum:
Dodging the Dreaded “Block Sender” Button
In addition to automated spam filters, email marketers also have to contend with recipients who manually flag their messages as spam. A few isolated instances are nothing to worry about, but widespread behavior of this kind will quickly damage your email sender reputation.
The best way to minimize this Tags problem is to avoid sending out unsolicited emails in the first place. A legitimate email marketing campaign should be one in which the recipients have opted in and added themselves to your mailing list. Do not ever buy or rent email lists. It may be legal, but it’s a horrible marketing strategy. The vast majority of folks on a purchased list will have no interest in your message. Most will ignore you, but many will mark you as spam.
You should also take the time to familiarize yourself with the requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act, which regulates commercial email messages in the U.S. CAN-SPAM makes it illegal to use deceptive or misleading language in your marketing messages, and requires you to provide a clear (and functional) opt-out process for recipients who no longer want to receive your emails.
Even with a bonafide subscriber list and CAN-SPAM-compliant content, your emails may still get flagged by absent-minded recipients who forget they signed up, or by disinterested readers who would rather not go through the trouble of unsubscribing. You can mitigate this kind of behavior by taking the following steps: