Do You Look Like A Spammer? Seeing It From The Filter’s Perspective

The war on spam. Like the battle against junk mail coming through the letterbox, it is a topic that never goes away, and for every innovation that comes out, the spammers find new ways to circumvent and fool the filters.

Using the most up to date filters is well and good, but it only looks at one side of the coin.

A typical spam botnet looks something like this :

a spam botnet

[ Image courtesy :  Wikimedia ]

Just like an over-officious police force or military can endanger civil liberties, an over zealous spam filter can lead to a surge in false positives. This is when a legitimate message is incorrectly flagged as spam. For the receiver it is an inconvenience, but for the sender it can be little short of a disaster.

Don’t be branded a spammer

Tell someone the sky is green and the grass is blue enough times and they will start to believe it. Spam filters, particularly the ones associated with free email platforms like Yahoo and Gmail, work along similar lines. If you get flagged as spam once, it might not be a big deal. If it happens five times, you are starting to get a reputation. Suddenly, the world’s most powerful internet company thinks you are a spammer. And who are you to argue?

Fortunately, there are some ways you can defend yourself and your business against being branded a spammer. Here are some simple tips and tricks as recommended by, one of the leading researchers in spam filtering and in telling the difference between spam and genuine messages.

Mind your language

Is it what you say or how you say it that makes you look like a spammer? The answer is both. Various sites have tried coming up with lists of spammy words that you should avoid, and while they are certainly worth reading, you need to take a pragmatic approach or you will end up saying nothing.

Perhaps the how is more interesting that the what. Upper case, exclamation marks and question marks all spell spam. Pay particular attention to the subject box, and try to keep it concise, business like and not too generic. For example, if it contains the recipient’s company name, it is less likely to be a mass mailing going out to thousands of email addresses.

Cultivate your contacts

In the good old days, companies built relationships by getting to know people. Here’s the surprising bit – in the modern era, exactly the same applies. You might not physically meet them, but personal outreach where you engage with real people is by far the most effective way of building a contact list. Don’t be tempted to go down the road of purchased or scraped lists. The returns are just not worth it, and your efforts are twice as likely to end up in the spam folder.

Good ESP

While the ability to read minds would be ideal, in this case ESP stands for email service provider. Some have a better reputation than others, and if you are using a provider that typically serves poor quality or spammy clients and domains, you are more likely to be tarred with the same brush, so do your homework.

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