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Think Like a Spammer

  |  May 14, 2003   |  Comments

Understand sleazy -- so your newsletter won’t be.

Spam is a nuisance because spammers make money. They found a successful way to promote their wares, trivial as the wares may seem. It works for them, so they keep doing it. Granted, their success rate is lower because we’re on to them. Anti-spam tools target the offenders.

But you and I are getting hurt in the crossfire, so it’s important to do everything you can to make your newsletter as un-spam like as possible. The simplest way to do that is think like a spammer.

"Spam-think" is the way to win the game of excessive email filtering and overflowing inboxes. Put yourself in the spammer’s shoes, and you’ll hold the key to successful email campaigns.

Start by taking a close look at the next spam message you get. Analyze each of its characteristics, and see if your communications are similar or share any traits. If they are similar or share traits, it’s time to make changes. Otherwise, you risk being labeled a spammer.

Learn What Not to Do

Examine everything spammers do, all the traits in that message you got, then do the exact opposite. By radically differentiating yourself from spammers, you’ll distinguish your communications from the bulk, impersonal messages that raise red flags for the email gatekeepers. Distinguish yourself and not only will your email communications get through more often, they’ll achieve a higher open rate and be read.

Examples of how to think like a spammer:

  • They use large, generic lists. Break yours into targeted segments. Spammers shovel massive amounts of email to whatever email addresses they can get their hands on. There’s little to no quality control over these lists. We’re finding statistics that say the larger the list, the lower the open rate. This holds true with all of our clients, across the board. The smaller the list and the better qualified, the more successful your efforts. You won’t over-saturate lists with email. Instead, you’ll send information they’re truly interested in. Break your lists into smaller increments you can segment into targeted groups with similar interests.

  • They’re impersonal. Be personal. Because spammers don’t have any idea who the heck is on their lists, they send very impersonal messages or try to personalize using an email address as a name. The bottom line is the broader your newsletter is (to accommodate larger audiences), the spammier it becomes, which increases the likelihood it will be judged as spam. A newsletter will get through email filters more often and stand out from others if it’s personalized and made relevant to the needs and interests of smaller subsets.

  • They have no relationship. You do. Spammers don’t know you from Adam. Like Adam, they have no relationship history. Your list, because it comprises customers or engaged prospects, is for building upon the existing relationship. Remind subscribers why they get your newsletter (they either use your product or asked for information). You have been expressly invited to communicate with them.

  • They use "too good to be true" generic language. Your words are real and meaningful. In subject lines and body copy, spammers’ obvious language gives them away. Subject lines scream of ways to become a millionaire overnight, the text says FREE this and FREE that. You can use language that enforces the topics addressed above, reminds readers about your relationship, is tailored to their needs and interests, and contains valuable content.

If you think like a spammer and change your newsletter’s characteristics to be as unspam-like as possible, open rates will increase and readership will rise. Think like a spammer, and break through the obstacles those spammers built for us.

Meet Kathleen at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in New York City on May 19 and 20.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathleen Goodwin

Kathleen Goodwin is the former CEO of IMN (formerly iMakeNews), specializing in customer acquisition and retention through permission-based e-newsletters. For nine years, she was vice president of marketing for Ziff-Davis' publishing division, where she oversaw the marketing of all print publications and their early online siblings. She also serves as an advisor to early-stage companies and has been responsible for several successful new-business launches.

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