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Here’s a very basic thing to remember: one of the main reasons that people (or ISPs) may mistake your email for spam is because, in fact, the content of your email makes it look like spam. Remember that old saw, that “content is king”? Well, content can also be the joker, where the joke is on you. Because if your content is garish or gaudy, then instead of getting the royal treatment, it will go straight to the junk folder.

Some people just don’t believe it – others believe it, but don’t really get it.

So let’s go through a little exercise.

I want you to think about the number of spam emails you get every day. Or every week.

Now, when you look at those emails – how do you know that they are spam? I mean, besides your spam filter telling you that they are – think about the ones that make it into your inbox. Or, when you are checking what’s in your spam folder, confirming that your spam filter got it right.

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How many of you can tell a piece of spam just by the subject, without ever opening the email? How do you tell? Does the subject say “This is Spam!”? Does it say “Do not open unless you want to read spam”?

No, of course not.

What is it that tips you off?

It’s the wording, isn’t it?

What about that email that you can’t really tell by the subject – you know, the ones that you actually have to open before you realize that they are spam?

How many of you have opened an email and known instantly that it was spam, without actually reading the words?

How did you do that?

With visual cues, right? Maybe there were lots of links or lots of graphics, or both, with relatively little text. Maybe it was the very layout of the links. But something gave you that cue.

Now, what about for the email that you actually have to start reading before you can tell that it’s spam? Do you really need to read the entire thing, or can you usually tell within the first sentence or two?

Hopefully by now you get the point, and the point is that people judge whether or not your email is spam based on the content in a number of different ways, at a number of different points.

And if they look at the subject and deduce that it is spam, they will click on the “this is spam” button.

If they look at the graphics and deduce that it is spam, they will click on the “this is spam” button.

If they look at the links and deduce that it is spam, they will click on the “this is spam” button.

And if they look at some of the text and deduce that it is spam, they will click on the “this is spam” button.

And, by the way, many spam filters operate in much the same way.

And where does that leave you and your email?

In the junk folder.

There are many, many words that can change your content from royal, to royal pain. Far too many to list here, but examples include:

  • Secrets
  • Learn the Secret
  • Money-Back Guarantee
  • Click Here
  • Response Required
  • Risk Free
  • Be Amazed
  • Here is your new account information

    And generally:

  • Using the name of the recipient in the subject
  • Offers of a full refund
  • Claims of compliance with anti-spam laws
  • Instructions on how to stop receiving your offers

    This is only a tiny, tiny fraction of the list – the tip of the iceberg, really.

    And don’t, for goodness sake, rely on your users to recognize your email as coming from you faster than they “recognize” it as spam and hit the “this is spam” button. Because the odds are good that they won’t. I’m sure that each of you has a story that you could tell about a user accidentally marking something you’d sent as spam, only to red-facedly apologize later. Unfortunately, that’s rare. It’s much more common that they hit “this is spam” and never look back.

    So, a good rule of thumb is to read the email you are about to send with a very critical eye. Imagine that very email landing in your inbox from someone you don’t recognize – is there a chance that you would think that it was spam? If so, figure out why. And then change it.

    We also have an entire section in our Email Deliverability Handbook (a handy downloadable eBook) dedicated to these sorts of content issues and how to avoid them. You can read more about our Email Deliverability Handbook, and download it, here.

    Prefer to listen to the podcast? Listen on Apple, Google, Amazon, Audible, Spotify, or Anchor or say "Alexa play the Everything Email Marketing podcast"


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