How to get on top of your content and understand what triggers a spam report.
Conventional wisdom says that a good sender reputation beats content as the best way to boost your deliverability. It also holds that the "report spam" button found in so many e-mail clients is the chief reputation-tarnisher.
While these ideas are true, content does still matter. What's different now: the "report spam" button also influences content filters.
So when your subscriber clicks the "report spam" button, not only does it launch a spam complaint that counts against your reputation, it also tells content filters what to do with your email message.
Where Reputation and Content Collide
Here's how it works, using Cloudmark and Comcast as an example. Cloudmark is a content filter that individual users install as a plug-in into their e-mail clients. ISPs can also use it along with their other filtering techniques. Comcast is an ISP that works with Cloudmark this way.
When a Cloudmark user or Comcast customer marks a message as spam, that information goes back to Cloudmark's software, which scans the e-mail looking for "fingerprints," or common spam indicators.
As with the spam-complaint button, one report by itself generally won't doom your messages to permanent blocking. However, the individual's report gets aggregated with all other Cloudmark users. If enough of them mark your message as spam and the software finds enough common fingerprints, the content filter will adjust its rules.
The result? Very soon your messages no longer get delivered because of both content and reputation.
That's why the real content problem doesn't boil down to whether you use "free" in all capitals and 18-point bold red typeface and what a content filter thinks about it.
The problem with tactics like this is what your readers decide that looks like and how they react.
Users Wary of Being Scammed
Add to this situation several eye-popping findings in Habeas' second annual consumer e-mail survey:
This means that if your message makes it through to your subscribers, they might still decide that it looks like spam, even if the content filters didn't catch any major spam signatures the first time or when you tested the copy yourself before sending.
When enough people make the same decision, the content filters update, and pretty soon your messages no longer reach your audience.
What Content Filters Search For
These are some of the most common spam signatures that can trigger a block or filter:
Pass the Mind Filter and the Content Filter
Even though a content filter might not punish your message as possible spam, the reader's "mind filter" might. That in turn will affect how content filters treat your messages in the future.
So it remains important to get on top of your content and understand what triggers a spam report, even if you e-mail only to a permission-based mailing list. Use this short list to help reduce the chances that your next message will be marked as spam:
Until next time, keep on deliverin'!
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Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.
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