Spam has been the scourge of email for decades. There have been dire warnings that the prevalence of junk messages could kill off electronic mail altogether, with Kaspersky Lab reporting spam made up almost 60 per cent of global messages sent in 2016. This is well down on levels recorded in the Noughties, but it’s still unacceptably high.
The generally accepted definition of spam is an unsolicited or irrelevant message. It can involve product marketing, the distribution of malware or attempts at raising public awareness, and these unsavory associations pose a problem for companies trying to use email marketing for legitimate purposes. How do you ensure your carefully honed campaigns aren’t treated as electronic junk mail, potentially earning your domain name or IP address a place on a blocklist?
Organizations like Spamhaus monitor web traffic and add suspicious content to a DNSBL (or blocklist) that approves or bars individual IP addresses. Falling foul of a blocklist will see networks and service providers around the world refusing to accept future correspondence from these addresses. The process of re-establishing legitimacy can be fiddly and frustrating, so it’s advisable to avoid this scenario altogether.
The best way to ensure an email marketing campaign doesn’t become a spam bomb is perhaps the most obvious (yet challenging) one: don’t send messages to anyone unwilling to receive them. This means ignoring purchased or rented lists used repeatedly by other companies, or which contain loads of dead addresses that’ll be flagged as suspicious by recipient servers. It means asking existing customers to opt into future email marketing campaigns, rather than automatically subscribing them. It must also provide an easy way to unsubscribe from future mailings with a prominent click-through, not a tiny “unsubscribe here” link in a 3pt font designed to blend into the message’s background color.
Having tried to ensure every recipient might be interested, prepare content that won’t trigger alarm bells along the way. Amateurish attempts to circumvent spam filters for words like Viagra have resulted in terms like V1@gra, so the use of multiple symbols is a red flag. Price-specific words like “free” and “cheap” will also get snared in many spam folders, so avoid anything to do with cost in the Subject line of an email. Never use FW or RE in the Subject box if this is the start of a new conversation.
The algorithms used to test for junk mail are becoming adept at identifying mangled syntax, so ensure message subjects and body copy are well written. The resulting air of professionalism reassures spam filters that this is genuine email marketing material. The opposite effect can be achieved by using multiple exclamation marks, capital letters, multicolored text or strange paragraph formatting. Professionalism even relates to the outgoing email address – firstname.lastname@example.org will be viewed more favorably than email@example.com, for instance. Common address prefixes like “support” or “info” will be regarded as trustworthy, both by spam algorithms and by the recipients themselves.
Junk messages are often sent out en masse, so drip-feed distribution at the rate of a thousand per hour. Emails can be automatically sent in batches through the night, breaking a mailing list into bite-size chunks and preventing mass rejections at once. Similarly, always avoid distribution lists scraped from other sites, or internal databases that haven’t been revised in over a year. It might be useful to send a handful of emails out in advance, testing the major service providers like Hotmail and Gmail to ensure the content isn’t being red flagged. Returned messages should indicate the reason for their rejection, enabling corrective action to be taken before any mass mailing begins. It’s far better to get one email rejected than a thousand.
Finally, the non-verbal parts of an email also play a role. Ensure HTML coding is slick and professional, but don’t include attachments in obscure file formats. Try to keep file sizes below 30kb, and never use large images within the body of the message. These have unfavorable connotations, since text can be concealed in an image without being visible to the filters. As a result, anything comprising large graphics with little or no accompanying text will usually be deleted long before it reaches its intended recipients…