Cardinal Path’s response to COVID-19 Cardinal Path is sharing all we know to help marketers during COVID-19.  Learn more.

No problems with permission this week, I’m afraid I just haven’t been getting that much spam. However, this is a good time to explain something that we tend to gloss over when talking about email marketing and problems with permission:

You may be an “Accidental Spammer”

What’s an accidental spammer? You ask.

You don’t have to be one of those devious “80% OFF of Pfizer” senders to be a spammer. In fact, devious problems are less of a problem than you might think. Over the years spam filtering engines have gotten really good at both filtering those before they go out, and catching them before they reach the inbox (in fact 95% of email gets caught as spam). The problem lies in legitimate email senders, small businesses and the like, who in good faith decide to send an “email blast” or overload their viewers with marketing messages. These seem like legitimate marketing, but are seen negatively by users all too willing to hit the mark-as-spam button.

We’ve covered a few times why being considered spam is bad. In a nutshell, spam complaints adversely affect your ability to send mail, as well as your ESP (Email Service Provider). Because of this you don’t want it, but your ESP really doesn’t want it (just a few bad email campaigns can ruin an IP). Lots of stuff counts as spam complaints, from weighty complaints and domain blocks by IT admins to too many viewers hitting the report-as-spam button.

All that needs to happen for you to be considered spam is that you send an email to some one who doesn’t want it or for a filter to mark you as spam.

That’s it. So how you can prevent that?

How do you make sure you’re not an “accidental spammer”?

1. Permission (and list management)

Make sure that you’re only sending to people who want to receive your email. Get permission via an opt-in, or even better a double opt-in (send them an email after they’ve signed up thanking them for signing up and informing them that to complete the process they need to confirm their subscription, this is also a great time to segment your list by having them cite preferences and interests).

A less obvious side of permission is making sure that your list is well managed. For example, hard bounces, that is emails that don’t make it to an address, aren’t going to hurt you persay, but continually sending to these addresses is a sign of spam.

2. Obey (the law)

Local laws on spam often follow best practices in preventing oneself from being considered spam. CAN-SPAM actually lays some really great ground work (though perhaps not going far enough) for maintaining a quality email campaign. These include:

  • Be honest!

    Don’t lie to your viewers. This includes misrepresenting your “from address”, or mucking with email headers.

  • Provide an easy unsubscribe

    If some one doesn’t want to receive your email don’t force it on them! You aren’t going to win them over by invading their mailbox.

    Much like I point out in “problems with permission”, just providing an unsubscribe isn’t enough. A user should never have to enter more information than their email address to unsubscribe. Making a user log-in or

  • Identify yourself

    Let people know who you are in the real world, including an address!

3. Accurately describe your from addresses and domains

An SEO client who has does his own email newsletter recently asked us if we had any idea why his single opt-in’s were getting higher, but his double opt-ins weren’t. On investigating I noticed that his double opt-in was being marked as spam. Not sure why, I checked his headers and noticed that the sending address of his opt-in was a constant contacts address.

This is more than a deliverability issue. If your email is coming from an address other than the domain that users signed up for it on it has the potential to confuse them, and possibly even make them think it’s spam.

4. Beware who you work with

Much like in the SEO world, associating with spammers can get you marked as spam. This includes advertising with known spammers, or carrying the ads of those who spam.

5. Avoid Invisible Graphics

This includes invisible tracking images. Invisible content is often considered a sign of spam, and thus get picked up by spam catchers.

6. Beware your subject

Descriptive subjects are much more likely to get clicked on. While stuff like “10 ways to avoid being an accidental spammer” might be a popular kind of headline, remember that the emails that have the highest open rates tend to be “[company name] monthly newsletter”.

Also make sure that when writing headlines you avoid spammy language or ALLCAPS.

7. Keep your email regular

Bad jokes aside, a regular email campaign will always do better than a sporadic one. Sending a bunch of emails at once can drive away users who find the overload of email too much. Just as bad, not sending any email for a long period of time and then starting again can cause users to forget about you, then consider your sporadic messages spam. Make a schedule, perhaps once a month, and stick to it.

Finally, most ESP’s use some variation of—or alternative to—SpamAssassin. They offer a whole boatload of tips for making sure that your email doesn’t get caught by their software, and you should make sure to pay attention to what they say.