Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spam Filters and the "art" of good Email Design & Content

AddressTwo's campaign manager follows all the best practices and industry standards to ensure a positive relationship with Email Service Providers (ESP's) like Gmail, AOL, GoDaddy, et. al.  This prevents the blacklisting of our IP Addresses and permits us to send emails "from you" (as explained here).  Nevertheless, some users occasionally experience the dreaded junk-box relegation.  Why does this happen and how can we prevent it?

First of all, please let me say that it is not a "setting" we can turn off.  We've received a hand full of inquiries over the years that read: "can you please change my account so that my emails go to inboxes and not the junk mail box?"  If this were a setting, we'd LOVE to toggle it.  The fact is, the decision to put your email in the junk box is not ours, but is up to each individual recipient's ESP.  In fact, the same message could reach one recipient's inbox while it gets put into another's junk box.  This inconsistency is evidence of the reality that junk mail designations are case-by-case and, therefore, tricky to avoid.

That said, there are some things that you can do to keep your email out of the junk box.  It's a simple matter of controlling the content so that your email does not look like "spam."  Imagine this: when you do receive unwanted spam in your email, what are the common characteristics of it?  If you avoid those, you can avoid the junk box.  Simply put, junk mail filters were programmed to look at these characteristics. 

Here is what a junk mail filter is asking about each message it receives:
  • Does this email have a lot of exclamation points, all caps, and bold text?  People don't typically write letters like that.  People write ads like that.  If your email is filled with exclamatory statements, it's likely to get flagged as spam.  
  • Does this email have a lot of red-flag words like "free" or "exclusive offer?"  Once again, people don't write ordinary messages chock-full of these terms.  If the density of such words (the number of times the appear as compared to the overall length of the message) is too high, it can get flagged as spam.
  • Does this email have a large amount of embedded images and colors?  Are you noticing a trend: people don't compose simple letters this way, people compose ads this way.  When a spam filter sees HTML with pretty images and ornately designed color schemes, it knows that it's likely a promotional email (and they'd be right).
  • Does this email have a lot of hyperlinks?  I'm beginning to sound like a broken record.  People don't write emails to people like this. They write ads like this.  
So, write like a human. Keep images, color, and other style-points to a minimum.  Avoid exclamatory language and attention grabbers like bold or all caps.

Don't believe me?  Try this.  Open an email account from some free ESP like yahoo or gmail.  Write an email to yourself and break all of the above rules.  Subject: "Great FREE Offers!" and in the body, abuse all these rules.  See if your own Outlook doesn't filter it as spam even though the message never hit a bulk-email server like AddressTwo.

1 comment:

  1. It truly requires much effort in crafting emails that aren't spam. The mantra the marketer should take in when creating this is - "what I write should benefit who I writing for" not "buy this and get our services now".

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