Why Your Content Could Be Spammier Than You Think

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Email marketers often ask: “Why did my email end up in spam?” Deliverability remains a mysterious and difficult subject to tackle. Three key factors influence your deliverability: identification/authentication (your infrastructure), reputation (a receiver’s rating of your sending domain and IP addresses), and content. What’s the easiest to control when dealing with the spam filter? Your content.

Your email may look phishy

One tactic spammers use to extract sensitive information from you is called phishing. This is when you’re sent an email that looks legit, but is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If you receive an email claiming to be from Paypal or Bank of America, for example, that asks for information like your credit card, social security number, or address, it’s a very clever phishing scheme.

Protecting customers by identifying these malicious emails is a constantly evolving process for ISPs as these bad actors continue to refine their tactics. Ensuring your emails do not include content similar to more commonly used phishing tactics will help to prevent you from being caught up in primary level filtering.

Here’s how you might accidentally look like a phishing email:

  • Copy such as “Verify your identity now!” or other triggers that imply you’re providing sensitive information.
  • Using known URL shorteners like bit.ly and ow.ly are often abused for spam because they can hide the true nature of the sender, according to this blog from AWeber.
  • Sending from a domain that is not under your control. Attempting to send an email that appears to be from your free webmail account will most likely result in failed authentication checks.

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Stay away from excessive formatting

When you create your email, pay attention to your HTML content, too. It can indicate hidden spam if you’re not careful. Spammy emails tend to have additional formatting to more easily hide the bad things and make them readable and easy for humans to click on something they shouldn’t.

Excessive use of characters in the layout or excessive use of inline markup tags should be avoided.

In addition, it’s important to double check your HTML. Poorly written HTML means the spam filter can’t read it. If the spam filter can’t read it, it may send you to spam just to be safe.

Looking for a great, pre-tested template to use for your campaigns? Check out our template gallery.

Why language matters

Some spam filters automatically check unexpected language such as misspellings and nonsensical words. That means if your brand name isn’t in the dictionary, you might have more trouble sending your email. To combat this, try to avoid lots of custom names in your email, even if those are your product names. Make it clear what you’re talking about.

If you have an international mailing list, you need to be careful, too. According to the logic of most spam filters, if you’ve never received an email in that language from a contact, it’s probably of no use to the you—and more likely to be spam. For example, if you’re an English speaker, non-Latin characters can trip your filter.

Be careful with foreign languages to your recipient. While there are plenty of times when using non-Latin character sets can be appropriate, if your users are not used to that, neither are their spam filters.

Focus on helpful & engaging content, not sales

Constantly pushing your subscribers to “buy, buy, buy,” may not trip a spam filter, but it can encourage negative subscriber engagement that may land you in the spam folder. It’s engagement, more than the content itself, that really matters when it comes to deliverability.

When you’re constantly selling, rather than providing helpful and informative content, you end up encouraging more than an unsubscribe: they’ll mark you as spam. (We’ve busted the ‘unsubscribes are bad’ myth before.)

Poor content has less to do with the specific words or phrases you use and is rather about how you use them, and how your subscribers engage with your content (or don’t.) Focusing on great content means:

  • Knowing your audience: What do your subscribers care about? Why did they subscribe? What issues are they facing? Use the answers to these questions to guide your email’s content.
  • Content > Sales: Provide your subscribers with content that is of interest to them, rather than just hammering them with sales messages. Show your subscribers that you care about them and their needs and wants, rather than your own motives. This helps build brand trust (and funnily enough, more sales!).
  • Thinking about the subscriber journey from start to finish: Build your emails and email campaigns thinking not just about that email, but how it fits into the context of your subscribers’ interaction with your brand. Where are they as they open the email, both emotionally (I wish X problem was solved) and physically (mobile vs. desktop). From that email, where do they go next? What’s the ultimate goal or action you’re driving?

Building the best content you can helps you boost engagement and positive subscriber behavior like clicks, opens, and our favorite, TINS (when subscribers rescue you from the spam folder by saying, “This is not spam.”) Keeping your content helpful, rather than salesy, is the best way to keep your content from being spammy.

As much as we’d love to say these are definitive tips, but with spam testing, nothing is set in stone. What lands one person in the spam filter may not get you in one. These tips should help guide you in the right direction so you can provide a great experience and reach your audience every time.

Reach your audience every time

Identify issues that might keep you from the inbox and get actionable help for how to fix them with Litmus Spam Testing.

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