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Avoiding the Spam Trap

By Alexandria K. Brown
Contributing Writer
Article Date: 12.23.02




Spam has not only become troublesome because we all receive too much of it, but it's now a problem for legitimate e-zine publishers such as you and me. This is because the spam overload has driven many companies and individuals to use "anti-spam" software to help screen out the junk. Unfortunately many of these programs filter out our opt-in publications as well.

Let's first look at what common filtering tools are out there:

1) Volume Filters

These screen you out if your sending mail server exceeds certain volume limits, which are measured in bandwidth (the amount of data sent in a given period of time), messages per second, or number of simultaneous connections from a listserver.

If you're using a credible list service or software, you shouldn't have to worry about this one, because they regulate how fast the data goes out and in what amounts.

2) Blacklists

These are lists of IP addresses that are associated with spammers. Unfortunately the definition of "spammer" differs by each blacklisting organization. In one recent study by Assurance Systems (http://www.assurancesys.com/), 100 percent of all permission-based e-mail marketers surveyed were on at least one blacklist. And on many of these lists, you are "guilty until proven innocent."

Last year, I discovered that someone wrongfully reported MY e-zine to one of these blacklists! (I'll tell that story in part 3 of this article.)

3) Content Filters

These search your e-mail's message header, subject line, and body for keywords and other indicators that identify the message as potential spam.

These content filters are software programs developed by ISPs (Internet service providers) and other companies. One example is SpamAssassin (http://www.spamassassin.org/), which is used by many corporations whose computers run on UNIX operating systems.

Then there are also individuals who set simple "rules" in their e-mail programs. I do this myself. For example, last month I was getting so many junk e-mails with mortgage offers, that I set a rule in my Outlook Express program to delete any e-mail with "mortgage" in the subject line. What a relief!

<< SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS? >>

CONTENT is the one area we have the most control over, so that's what we're going to focus on today.

Because my goal is to keep things SIMPLE for you, I've narrowed my research results to 10 steps that will help ensure your e-zine actually reaches your readers.

<< 10 STEPS TO HELP ENSURE YOUR E-ZINE REACHES YOUR READERS >>

1. Avoid using the word "fr^e" in your e-mail subject line.

2. Avoid using lots of CAPITAL LETTERS in your e-mail subject line.

3. Avoid using exclamation points (!) your e-mail subject line.

4. Avoid using the phrases "to unsubscribe" and "to be removed" in your message body.

Unfortunately, many spammers give a fake unsubscribe option in their e-mails, so some sp^m filters now flag e-mails that feature these phrases word. To get around this, use phrases like:
  • "To leave our list..."

  • "To take yourself off this list..."

  • "To cancel your subscription..."
5. Avoid excessive use of "click here."

Again, many filtering programs see this as common in sp^m e-mails.

6. Don't say "This is not spam" in your e-zine.

Why? Because oddly enough, you'll find this phrase in a lot of sp^m.

7. Avoid excessive use of sensational language like "order now" and "free."

Of course once or twice won't hurt, but if you pepper your copy with these words often, you could tip the scales against you.

8. Disguise trigger-words from filters using carats(^) and other symbols.

There are some words you just can't avoid using often if you need to, like "free," so you can disguise these words by substituting a symbol for one of the letters. For example, "fr<e, sp^m, cl1ck." Just be sure to add a note at the beginning of your e-zine that explains why you're doing this, so your readers don't think you've lost your mind!

9. Address each reader personally in your message header.

Many sp^m filters screen out any e-mail that does NOT have the user's name in the TO field. This means your list service or software needs to show the *subscriber's name* in the TO field.

Unfortunately, the list service I've been using for the past three years sends out my e-zine showing this in the e-mail's TO field: "Ezine-Queen List." This is one reason I'll be switching to a different service by the new year.

(Psst - this rule is another good reason NOT to send out your e-zine yourself using your everyday e-mail program, because your only option is to put your subscriber names in the BCC field. Bad, bad, bad!)

10. Keep your list clean!

Repeatedly sending your e-zine to undeliverable e-mail addresses can also tag you as a sp^mmer. Undeliverable e-mail addresses are also called "bounces" or "bounce-backs."

Find out how your list service or software handles bounce-backs. Make sure these problematic addresses are automatically removed from your list on a regular basis.

<< WANT MORE INFO? >>

If you're craving more information on this hot topic, you'll love this brief report from Assurance Systems called "Avoid the Sp^m Filter Trap." I learned a lot from it, and it's written in non-technical language that's easy to understand. You can download it for fr^e at:
http://www.assurancesys.com/f/avoid-spam-filter-trap.pdf

Another great article I just came across lists all the trigger words set by McAfee Spam Filter. When I saw all the phrases listed, including "visit our Web site," my stomach churned. I'm not sure of this product's popularity, but this is simply getting ridiculous. http://www.iprofitsystems.com/articles/spamfilters.html

About the Author:
Alexandria K. Brown, 'The E-zine Queen,' is author of the award-winning manual, 'Boost Business With Your Own E-zine.' To learn more about her book and sign up for more FREE tips like these, visit her site at http://www.ezinequeen.com/

In This Article:

Avoiding the Spam Trap
  1. Volume Filters
  2. What can we do?

  3. Want more info?
  4. About The Author
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