There’s much information online on starting an email list and then growing it as one of the main parts of your online business.
This isn’t one of those articles.
The harsh truth is that no matter how good your marketing is, and your individual tactics are, a big portion of your email messages will still get filtered out into spam folders.
People won’t even see them in their inboxes.
“So I spend all this time trying to get subscribers and then my email tool fails to deliver? Really?!”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the case.
MailChimp actually reports that on average, 10-20 percent of email gets killed off by spam filters.
And this concerns legitimate businesses, not spammers. Heck, if you’re a genuine spammer then the numbers are probably more like 95 percent, but I digress.
So why after learning all those great list-growing-techniques we still end up defeated by a script that calls itself the spam filter?
You’re using the wrong words
There are two sides to writing proper email copy:
- Writing copy that converts and convinces your people to take action on what you’re saying. This is something guys like Derek Halpern and Neil Patel will teach you.
- Writing copy that doesn’t get flagged as spam by an automated piece of software – a spam filter. This is what I will be talking about here.
We can argue which of these aspects email copywriting is more important, but frankly you can’t have one without the other.
That being said, if your copy doesn’t check out with spam filters then the fact how good it is conversion-wise won’t even matter.
Let’s try to understand how spam filters work and how we can defeat them.
What’s a spam filter?
A spam filter is a small piece of software that’s installed on every email server.
The only task it has is to read (yes, read) all email coming in and decide whether it’s spam or not.
Spam filters use complex math to make that decision.
At the core of this math, there’s a database of phrases, expressions, and the relationships between them, along with specific point values for each entry.
Having this data, the spam filter calculates the individual message’s spam score and checks if it exceeds a given threshold. If it does, off to the spam folder the message goes.
The difficult part is that there’s no single internet-wide threshold. Every server has its own, so you can never know what’s a safe spam score.
How to defeat the spam filter?
Since we do know what’s the spam filter’s game, we can adjust our copy to get thee lowest score possible.
Now, spam filter algorithms are not secret (like Google’s). If you go to http://spamassassin.apache.org/tests_3_0_x.html you will get the complete list of factors with their exact spam values.
The list is long and complicated, though, so what I’ve done here is I’ve taken the most crucial expressions and put them on the following typography chart.
How to read this thing? Generally, the higher up the list the expression is, the more you should avoid using it.
Note. I’m excluding a big part of Viagra, porn, dating, and pharmacy -related stuff. Those are the biggest spam factors, but I figured no one here is in this business anyway. If you do want the full list, however, feel free to contact me through the contact form.
95 most spam-filter-visible things to avoid in your newsletter emails
[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”horizontal-curve-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#166399″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#166399″ ]
Tier 1 (spam factors of 2.5-2.0) “the high risk list”
Message body mentions many internet domains · Subject starts with dollar amount · Offers an alert about a stock · Contains a URL with an affiliate ID code · “University Diplomas” · “What are you waiting for” · Subject contains lots of white space · Contains a URL in the BIZ top-level domain · Tiny font size (HTML) · Talks about a million North American dollars · Claims to honor removal requests · “Money back guarantee” · Claims you registered with a partner[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”horizontal-curve-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#73C0F6″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#73C0F6″ ]
Tier 2 (spam factors of 1.9-1.6) “the avoid if possible list”
“Confidentiality on all orders” · HTML includes a form which sends mail · Claims you have provided permission · Stock Disclaimer Statement · Subject includes “life insurance” · Incorporates a tracking ID number · HTML font size is huge · Describes body fat loss · Subject contains “Your Bills” or similar · Subject “GUARANTEED” · HTML has a low ratio of text to image area · Contains a URL in the INFO top-level domain · Talks about quotes with an exclamation! · Message body has 70-80% blank lines · Subject contains “Your Family” · HTML link text says “push here” or similar · “No Claim Forms” · “Free Preview” · “Home refinancing” · “Compete for your business”[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”horizontal-curve-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#538AB1″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#538AB1″ ]
Tier 3 (spam factors of 1.5-1.1) “the better not do list”
Talks about millions of dollars · Send real mail to be unsubscribed · Claims compliance with spam regulations · Prestigious Non-Accredited Universities · “Be your own boss” · Domain name containing a “4u” variant · “Buy Direct” · Message body has 90-100% blank lines · They have selected you for something · Talks about exercise with an exclamation! · Claims you can be removed from the list · Claims you wanted this ad · Contains mail-in order form · Subject starts with “Hello” · “Get Paid” · HTML font size is large · “You can search for anyone” · “Freedom of a financial nature” · Subject: contains G.a.p.p.y-T.e.x.t · Contains “earn (dollar) something per week” · Weird repeated double-quotation marks · “Have you been turned down?” · “Home refinancing” · Talks about free mobile phones · Talks about “starting now” with capitals · “People just leave money laying around” · “Why Pay More?” · “Eliminate Bad Credit” · Claims you can be removed from the list · “Receive a special offer”[/dropshadowbox] [dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”horizontal-curve-both” width=”100%” height=”” background_color=”#45A7EC” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#45A7EC” ]
Tier 4 (spam factors of 1.0-0.3) “the quiet killers list”
Contains “Dear (something)” · HTML has a low ratio of text to image area · HTML font color similar to background · List removal information · Subject contains “As Seen” · Possible mention of bill 1618 (anti-spam bill) · “Amazing Stuff” · Information on mortgages · “Save big money” · “There is no obligation” · “Consolidate debt, credit, or bills” · “Lowest Price” · Mail guarantees satisfaction · Subject contains “Your Own” · “While you Sleep” · Offers a full refund · Subject is all capitals · Doing something with my income · Talks about Oprah with an exclamation! · Subject contains “For Only” · “One hundred percent guaranteed” · HTML is extremely short · Subject line starts with Buy or Buying · Describes weight loss · “See for yourself” · “Dear Friend?” That’s not very dear! · “Free Membership” · HTML has very strong “shouting” markup · “Requires Initial Investment” · “As seen on national TV!” · “Accepting credit cards” · Mentions millions of dollars[/dropshadowbox]
Okay, so the obvious path would be to not do any of the above, but that will rarely be possible. So here are some quick fixes that you should look into.
First of all, there’s one fix (to rule them all) that allows you to never worry about ending up in the spam folder ever again. That fix is convincing your subscribers to add you to their white lists.
The value of this fix, according to Spam Assassin, is -100 (negative 100). This basically makes you invisible to spam filters even if you’re selling Viagra.
Other things worth doing:
- If possible, mention only one URL in your message.
- If you can set up your email service provider to not say anything along the lines of “you’re receiving this message because you opted in yada yada” then do so.
- Don’t say anything about spam in the email.
- Don’t say anything about actions required for unsubscribing.
- Don’t start the subject line with “Hi”
- Don’t start your email with “Dear [someone]”
- Don’t claim compliance with any spam regulations.
Compiling this list gave me a lot of insight into what I should be doing with my own emails, so I hope you will get similar value as well.
For convenience, if you’d like a more printer-friendly version of this chart then it’s on the “thank you” page of my email newsletter signup (hint!).
Get the thing here: