Oops — can’t say THAT in an email! (stupid SPAM filters)

I’m working on our weekly e-newsletter (always different content than here at the blog — gotta keep it fresh!) and I’m writing about email marketing mistakes.

One of the mistakes I’m talking about is using phrases or words that trigger spam filters.

I’m in the middle of making the list and realize…”duh, Drew, you’re going to email this out to the subscriber list and basically, by demonstrating all the criteria that trigger spam filters…you are going to trigger spam filters!

Sooooo, I am going to list them here and then invite the email subscribers to come check out the list in this safe environment. You, my blog readers, are the lucky recipients of this little technology work around, because now you too can see the list of stuff you shouldn’t include in your emails if you want them to actually reach the recipient.

Start reading here…newsletter subscribers:

As I was saying….every email software has built in spam filters and most companies add another one of top of that. Every email that is sent through their server – on it’s way to your target audience – gets screened by the spam filters. If your email matches one or more of the criteria they set as likely to be spam – your email will never get delivered.

What are some of those common filters?

  • Excessive use of exclamation points or other punctuation!!!
  • Using ALL CAPS (especially in the subject line)
  • Bad code (copying a word document directly into your email software will often do this)
  • Colored fonts
  • An email that is just an image and very little actual text
  • The phrase “you registered with a partner” (in other words…we got your name from someone else)
  • The salutation “Dear” before the recipient’s name
  • Attachments

(Newsletter subscribers…you can head back to the newsletter to read the rest of the email marketing mistakes or you can hang out here..but don’t miss the rest of those tips!)

To you, my blog readers — thanks for letting me bring the newsletter readers into your space. If you have an interest in checking out the newsletter content — you are welcome to sign up by clicking here.


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24 comments on “Oops — can’t say THAT in an email! (stupid SPAM filters)

  1. Eugene Mayevski says:

    What’s wrong with “The salutation “Dear” before the recipient’s name”?

    1. Hey Eugene,

      Apparently it triggers the SPAM filters because so many of the spam type emails use that salutation.


      1. Eugene Mayevski says:

        I am wondering if there’s an appropriate replacement for the salutation (rather than neutral Hello).

        1. Eugene,

          Well, Dear was the only one that made the list, so apparently the rest are okay.


          1. Using “dear” in an otherwise great email is not a problem. In fact, email personalization is recommended. Ross is right, SPAM filters have a sort of point system. Violating one or two of the criteria on this list won’t hurt you. But multiple red flags gets you blocked. VerticalResponse actually tackled the “dear” myth (and many others) just the other day: http://blog.verticalresponse.com/verticalresponse_blog/2012/06/myth-busters-do-old-wives-email-marketing-tales-hold-true.html

          2. Jordan,

            Correct — thanks for the clarification. Any of the items on the list can trigger “a point” on the scale. One or two of them is fine but a plethora of them gets you into hot water.


  2. Lisa,

    I think it is excessive punctuation. So one ! is fine. But !!! is not.


  3. Marielle says:

    Thanks Drew. I started following your blog a couple of weeks ago and find them extremely helpful. Very personal, honest advice. Thanks and keep going!

    1. Marielle,

      Glad to have you with us and thank you. Let me know if I ever start being less valuable!


  4. Ross Lasley says:

    Nice post, thanks very muhc.

    Thought I’d add that everything you send is graded on a (usually secret) point system – each “bad” thing adds points and when you have enough your message gets junked. Here is a list of common ‘tests’ and the number of points you might get for each: http://spamassassin.apache.org/tests_3_3_x.html

    1. Ross,

      Great addition to the discussion — thank you. I appreciate you sharing the link as well!


  5. Matthew says:

    Hi Drew,

    Really useful – I wasn’t aware of the salutation issue – or the coloured font.

    Thanks for sharing


    1. Matthew,

      Keep in mind that any one of those items on the list isn’t going to automatically turn your email into SPAM. But, a combination of them will.


  6. DJ Waldow says:

    Hey Drew:

    Curious where you came up with your list. I actually just wrote a book that dispels many of the points you made. As it turns out, many of them are just no longer true.

    For example …

    1. Excessive use of exclamation points or other punctuation!!!
    2. Using ALL CAPS (especially in the subject line)
    3. An email that is just an image and very little actual text
    4. The salutation “Dear” before the recipient’s name

    I have examples of many companies who do one (or more) of the 4 points above and avoid spam filters. I know you mention in a comments that “hat any one of those items on the list isn’t going to automatically turn your email into SPAM. But, a combination of them will.” Good clarification.

    Again, just wondering where this data comes from.

    1. DJ,

      Actually it was gleaned from best practice docs from several of the email software companies (Mail Chimp, Ask Emma, Constant Contact etc.)

      As we’ve both said — none of them are the kiss of death but a combination of them can cause trouble so good to be aware and at least make a conscious decision when you want to use one or more of them.


      1. DJ Waldow says:

        Thanks for the reply, Drew. I hope you didn’t think I was coming across as too argumentative. I just cringe when I see recommendations such as these as many folks take ’em and run.

        I’d love to see some of those best practices docs from MailChimp, Emma, CC, etc.. My bet is that they are either out of date (pre-2006) or just … well … wrong.

        Mind sharing?

        1. DJ,

          Sorry — did the research and didn’t have a need for the docs anymore. So you’d have to go hunt them down. But, I wouldn’t have used outdated counsel, so they would have been dated 2011 or later. I know how quickly things change so I wouldn’t begin to share something that was more an 18 months old.


          1. DJ Waldow says:

            Fair enough. I wonder what those ESPs you mention would agree with this list of things that triggers spam filters.

          2. DJ,

            As you teach — it’s a moving target. If people want to use email effectively, they should be sending emails to people who have given them permission to do so, right? Then, it’s a non-issue for the most part. Fortunately, no single transgression will negate someone’s efforts, in most cases, even if they’re not just emailing those they know.

            I’d love for you to consider doing a guest post on what you consider email marketing best practices!


            P.S. Looking forward to meeting you in Iowa this October.

  7. DJ Waldow says:

    Well said. Well said.

    I’d love to do a guest post. However, it would be less about best practices and more about breaking “the rules” of email marketing … to be consistent with the book I just wrote. Ha! Mind emailing me the specs/req’s for guest blogs? djwaldow gmail.

    You’ll be in Iowa, huh? Nice! Should be a great event.

    1. Great — I’ll email details to you. As for being in Iowa…unless I’m traveling for clients, I’m always there! (I’ve owned an agency in Des Moines since 1995.)


  8. Ross Lasley says:

    The exchange above is interesting, glad to be emailed the updates.

    Here is perhaps a better summary: Anyone who takes “best practices” and applies them without the benefit of experience or well seasoned advice is a moron.

    Same as the folks that blindly jump on every new diet fad that comes down the pike and often conclude the “only” thing that “matters” is eating lemons (or whatever they are doing now).

    Web success = balance, patience, and hard work (mostly that last one).

    As talking heads it is easy to have a best practices debate, but at the end of the day anyone who walks away from such an article thinking they really know what to do now is sorely mistaken.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic/realistic but you aren’t going to lose 87 pounds int he next month and there is no best practices type “trick” for web success.

    all the best,


    PS – one final bit on filtration…anyone who says they “know” what causes triggering is full of it. We make educated guesses based on practical experiments but exactly what causes triggering is a proprietary secret on every system (insert Google comparison here).

    1. Ross,

      Amen! It’s about consistency, experimentation, listening, reacting and a little dumb luck along the way!


  9. DJ Waldow says:

    Great comment, Ross.

    “Web success = balance, patience, and hard work (mostly that last one).”

    I’d argue that is the “secret” for business and life success too…

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