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Keeping your spam ‘score’ low

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By Karen J. Bannan

You may not know it, but every time you send an e-mail marketing message, someone or something is critiquing it.

Recipient companies and ISPs alike employ content and spam filters that give your e-mail message a score. These filters assess both content and delivery behavior, assigning values to specific message components and e-mail practices. The higher your score, the more likely that your message will be deemed spam and trashed, never reaching its intended target.

Kirill Popov, director of deliverability for Menlo Park, Calif.-based EmailLabs, offers these tips to help you keep your score low and your deliverability rate high:

  • Watch your image-to-text ratio. Spammers, hoping to avoid filters, converted their messages to a single image, Popov said. Eventually the filters caught on to this tactic, assigning multiple points for a message that contains a single image. Spam Assassin, a popular spam filter, will assign four points to such a message. (A score of five is enough to label something spam.) Keep image size low and make sure any image-heavy message has plenty of text to balance it out.
  • Be compliant. If you’re like most marketers, you may be using a WYSIWYG HTML editor to design your message. The problem is that this type of HTML editor can leave in comment tags that would be fine on a Web page but raise a flag for a spam filter. "Run your message through an HTML validation tool—there are plenty of them out there—to avoid problems," Popov said.
  • Avoid jargon. It might seem to go without saying, but messages that are heavy with marketing phrases—"limited-time offer," "no risk," "sale" and "deal"—set off warning bells for filters, adding to your spam score. Make sure you use fresh, attractive language and avoid sales-pitch language, he said.
  • Keep your list clean. If you are sending out 20 messages to the same company and 10 bounce, a spam filter may think your messages are part of a dictionary attack (spammers often send out messages to different made-up e-mail addresses hoping one or two stick). Make sure you clean your list regularly, culling out bounces immediately.
  • Consider accreditation or reputation-based services. Many of the most popular spam filter developers are working with companies such as Habeas and Bonded Sender, building in instant acceptance for the companies that use those services. Habeas support, for example, is built into Spam Assassin, said Popov. "If you are working with Habeas, and your message goes through Spam Assassin, you automatically get a minus-8 score assigned to your messages," he explained. "This is really useful, especially for those marketers who rely on aggressive message copy."
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