Spam is a crime with silent victims. While e-mail users are the obvious victims — plagued by phishing scams and lewd Viagra offers — there are legitimate e-mail messages that get caught in spam filters, hurting both the senders and the recipients.
One way to find out if your e-mail has been blocked is to keep an eye on your open rate and your hard bounce rate. While e-mail marketing service MailChimp calculated average open rates of 15 percent to 35 percent among its mostly small-business customers, it’s more important for you to know what your average open rate is and to notice if it falls precipitously.
The second clue is an increase in your hard bounce rate. A soft bounce rate usually means someone’s inbox is full, they’re using an auto-responder because they’re on vacation, or their server was temporarily down. A hard bounce rate, on the other hand, means the e-mail address is no longer valid or, more ominously, your message has been sucked up into a spam filter.
Avoiding The Filter
Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to avoid such a fate.
First, it helps to use a respected e-mail marketing service provider like MailChimp, iContact, or Constant Contact. These companies have established relationships with the big ISPs and free e-mail providers like Hotmail and Yahoo!, which helps you both avoid their spam filters and receive information when someone does report your message as spam. MailChimp, for example, provides a report on such activity and automatically removes the user from your list.
Second, you need to run a clean list. Your service provider can help you with this as well, but the key steps to follow are:
- Create a double opt-in procedure where an individual doesn’t just fill out a form on your site to receive e-mails, but also has to click on a link in a message you immediately send to them to “double opt-in.”
- Make it extremely easy for list recipients to opt-out of your e-mails. Every message you send out to your list should have clear instructions for list removal and you must respond to these requests ASAP.
- While you can legally send e-mail to people you already have a business relationship with, don’t just add them to your list of weekly newsletters. Send them a separate message inviting them to opt-in to those messages.
Watch Your Mouth
The content of your e-mail is also highly important. Spam filters work by assigning points to phrases that sound like spam, like “money back guarantee.” The more suspect phrases an e-mail contains, the more likely it is to land in the spam folder. But there are several other mistakes that can make you appear as a spammer: using all caps (i.e., SHOUTING); using an abundance of exclamation points; poor HTML code (especially if you copy an MS Word document into an HTML editor without cleaning up the code); colored fonts; and sending just one big image (whether as an attached file or using HTML) with no text. Spam filters can’t scan images so they’ll just assume you’re one of the bad guys.
You can also add in content that will help you avoid spam filters. Remind your e-mail message recipients, especially those using free e-mail services, to add your address to their “safe” lists so you can be sure your e-mail will land in their inboxes.
Writing better subject lines can also help you avoid spam filters, as well as improve your open rates. You want your subject lines to be boring and explanatory, rather than exciting. What is thrilling for print (50% off! Save big!), just sounds like spam on the Internet because there’s no context (i.e., images) surrounding the subject line. Instead, you should always include your company name and let readers know exactly what they’re going to get when they open your message, like a monthly newsletter or weekend sales flier.
Don’t Go It Alone
While many entrepreneurs want to completely do it themselves, if you have even a few hundred people on your e-mail list, it’s best to work with an e-mail marketing company. Not only can one help you keep your activities legal through list management and help you analyze your results through reporting tools, but its relationships with ISPs and e-mail providers are truly your first defense in the fight against spam filters.