Many legitimate emails are getting trashed by spam filters. If you send out email newsletters,
they may not all reach your subscribers. Here's how to avoid the spam filters.

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How to avoid your email newsletter being blocked by spam filters

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by Ian Traynor

Many legitimate emails are getting trashed by spam filters. If you send out email newsletters, they may not all reach your subscribers. Here's how to avoid the spam filters.

What are "Spam Filters"? How do they work?
With the rising tide of unsolicited commercial email - "spam" - many people and organisations are trying to weed out spam by junking them before they are read. Spam filters look for certain words or phrases in an email's subject line or text body (known as "trigger words") and then take action.

On a simple level, the most popular email programs allow you to set up your own trigger words, and then consign them to the trash can as they arrive. So you never see them unless you look in your "deleted" folder.

Here's a typical list of trigger words found in Outlook's default filter:

But spam filters can work at a much higher level, blocking emails before they are even downloaded by the intended recipient. One of the most popular filter programs, Spam Assassin, works at the server level, scanning your incoming mail and filtering it. It's free software, and it works on all Unix-type servers. Have a look at their long list of rules to see how much can get filtered out. And here is how one person's innocent email newsletter got treated by Spam Assassin. There's many other spam filter programs, but they all work in a similar way - looking for trigger words.

Some of them also check email blacklists, such as Spamcop, ORDB and Visi. But, if you have been a non-spammer, your emails will probably not get picked up by blacklist filters. I say "probably" because it's possible that your service provider, through whom you send emails, has been put on such a list because of abuse by another of their customers.

There's not much you can do about this, except urge your service provider to take action to get themselves off the blacklist.

So, let's focus on trigger words, and what you can do about them.

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Will your newsletter get through the filters?
The first thing you need to do is to check that your own newsletter, as you've currently written it, isn't going to get blocked. This can be a rather tedious task, and could involve ploughing through endless lists of trigger words. So I've made it easy for you. You need do only two things:

  • Open up your newsletter in a simple text editor, and copy all of your text to your clipboard (Windows users: [CONTROL A] then [CONTROL C]
  • Go to Marketing Magic's Spam Filter Checker (a new window will open up so you can easily return here), paste [CONTROL V] your newsletter into the box provided, enter your email address and press SEND

Within a few minutes, you'll get a full report, showing you the "score" of your newsletter, and what words / phrases register on the filters. I hope that you find this free service helpful.

Changing your newsletter
Talking of "free", that's one of the many words that you'll possibly need to avoid. Apart from "free", other trigger words that might be included in legitimate emails are:

  • "unsubscribe" (yes, crazy, isn't it!)
  • "click here"
  • "we respect all removal requests"
  • Contains a toll-free number (US, presumably)
  • "We strongly oppose the use of spam email"
  • "Toner Cartridge" (well, you might have a legitimate opt-in list and may you do sell these!)
  • ... etc etc.

OK, these are not completely taboo. What the spam filters do is to assign a score to each of the trigger words that appears in your newsletter. If your score reaches a certain figure, then bam! - your newsletter is trashed. What that figure is can vary; Spam Assassin users can set their own threshold figure. Our Spam Filter Check report recommends action if you exceed a score of 5.0.

So you don't necessarily need to avoid all the trigger words. I know that some newsletter publishers have gone to extremes and put "FR^E" for "FREE" and so on. But you shouldn't have to resort to tricks like that. Just look at the Spam Filter Check report and make small changes to your newsletter.

Some good news is that I believe that you can actually get your spam score lowered if you include certain elements, such as:

  • Sending from known mailing-list software: -5
  • Subject includes "news," "newsletter," "list," or indicates daily, weekly or monthly: -4
  • Subject lists a frequency or names a month: -3.5
  • Date in subject: -4
  • Includes a copyright notice: -1.3
  • Is personally addressed "Dear {name}: -0.7

So, now that you know what is wrong in your newsletter, and what you can do to put itright, there's a much better chance of your newsletter (or any other email, for that matter) reaching all its intended recipients.

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