In this article, security analyst Samuel Bocetta discusses how spam filters work and how to ensure to get your opt-in email marketing campaigns past them.
Despite what you may have heard, email marketing is not dead. In fact, 93 percent of B2B marketers still rely on email to distribute content, and 59 percent state that email marketing provides their biggest ROI.
What has changed is how email service filters evaluate and segment incoming messages.
Have you carefully refined and crafted your email marketing campaign only to land in spam folders again and again? It’s not your message, it’s your approach.
It’s not enough to craft a targeted message or send bulk mailings hoping to increase your reach. In fact, sending too many emails could get you blocked.
Two of the biggest problems, which are among those that lead recipients to mistrust email marketers, are spam and phishing. Even if spam filtering is improving, they are still existing, and they are intentional.
But, you could be considered guilty of them by simple lack of awareness and knowledge.
What are Spam and Phishing?
Most people associate spam with high-volumes of junk mail or irrelevant posts.
However, email doesn’t have to clog someone’s inbox to be considered spam. It’s defined more generally as any unsolicited mail sent for the purposes of sales or marketing.
Actually, up to 85 percent of all emails received fit the definition of spam !
Problems with spam mail are the reason so many email services have added filtering software to sort junk.
It’s also the reason that white hat practices include opt-in forms and unsubscribe options for subscriptions and newsletters, and why there are new, stricter laws regarding data collection and retention.
Phishing, on the other hand, is a form of social engineering. It’s not limited to email, but it’s very common.
Through various means, phishing attacks are designed to manipulate, trick, or charm someone into revealing personal or sensitive information for the purposes of theft, fraud, or harassment.
The emails and URLs are often close to those of legitimate businesses, but the links included send recipients to a fake account or website, where the phisher can then get their passwords and other info.
They may even use a legitimate company’s logo as part of the email. In a report released by the Symantec corporation, it was revealed that 95 percent of all cyber attacks began with successful spear-phishing attempts.
Sendinblue, along with other top email marketing software services, strictly forbids users from engaging in spam or phishing of any kind. Not only is it against the terms of service, but it’s also illegal.
In short, spam is more annoying than malicious, but phishing is almost always done with criminal intent.
What are Spam Filters and How Do They Work?
Spam filters use software that scans and evaluates emails in an attempt to find characteristics that would label something as junk rather than legitimate correspondence.
It uses a list of criteria to determine an overall score; passing scores vary by email provider, so what’s okay to get your emails past one filter may not work on another.
The best route is to do everything you can to avoid landing in the spam folder to begin with. You can decrease the chance of that happening by understanding how spam filters work.
Spam filters evaluate:
Metadata: Does the address field contain only the recipient’s email address and not their name? Are you on their contact list? You can use the merge field to personalize email, make sure to tell recipients to add you to their contact list, and have your sending address authenticated.
Sender IP address: You may be using an IP address that had problems with spam or abuse in the past. You can avoid this by sending emails through a trusted service like MailChimp, which would go through the IP address on their servers.
Content and how it’s formatted: There are no set rules about what kind of content is considered suspicious to the client. Try to make sure that you emails are balanced and short, and avoid sending media, images, and attachments whenever possible. Include links to such content instead, and only to those who request them. You should also conduct A/B testing before each campaign to find problems before they affect your entire campaign.
Coding: Avoid sloppy or incomplete coding, too many tags, and coding pulled from word processing programs like MS Word.
What Are Phishing Filters and How Do They Work?
Phishing filters and anti-phishing toolbars are software that’s used to scan emails and websites for potentially malicious links and content.
Internet security vendors and internet browsers, such as Microsoft Internet 7.0, Opera, and Firefox, have built-in spam blockers and phishing filters.
These programs look for known phishing patterns, content, and IP addresses associated with past abuse, flagging those that meet the criteria or fit a certain pattern.
Blacklists are compiled by investigated websites or emails that are reported by recipients as phishing attempts, and by investigating suspicious websites.
Any mail originating from a suspect IP or email client is blocked by email client phishing filters before it lands in someone’s inbox.
You should also ask anyone who subscribes to your newsletter or fills out an opt-in form to verify their email before adding them to your mailing list.
Did You Land on the Blacklist? How to Get Yourself Removed
Even innocent people can be blacklisted.
But, your IP address is more likely to end up on a blacklist if you send email through a spam trap account or rack up a high number of complaints.
Spam traps are abandoned or registered but unused email accounts that are picked up and used by someone who is not the legitimate registrar.
Once you’ve determined that your IP address is blocked or on a blacklist at a DNSBL website, follow the instruction provided by that website to remove it.
Each website has their own procedure, but being proactive and reaching out first will help your case.
You can avoid ending up on these lists by following white hat emailing practices and using an online reputation management service to monitor your brand.
Can a VPN Solve the Spam Problem? Not really…
Privacy is one of the biggest issues facing consumers and business owners.
New regulations regarding data collection and retention have made traditional practices like list building and customer outreach harder for marketers.
Normally, using a virtual private network (VPN) is the go-to for protecting privacy. But, having a VPN may actually increase the chances that your emails are flagged and sent into the spam folder.
The list of IP addresses used by VPNs is only so long, and large ESPs like Gmail, as well as content providers like Netflix and HBO, maintain and track a database of IPs used by popular VPNs.
A VPN might also raise a flag when sending email via the Send Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which is assigned to email accounts by many providers. It’s a common issue with those who use email clients like Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and others.
There are a variety of reasons that your outgoing mail might be blocked by a VPN. One is the increase in mobile computing. Many hotels use VPNs to protect their own networks and those of their guests by using virtual services on guest WiFi networks.
VPN networks often use servers that are out of the area, and hotels block these by default. Another reason is that high-quality VPN service providers have a strict no-log policy. This forces them to block outgoing emails that could be considered spam.
You can get around these issues by using a reputable webmail service to handle your email campaigns. These aren’t blocked by most major VPN services. They also have their own built-in security and anti-spam features, which will bolster your security.
Reach Your Target Market by Avoiding Spam Filters
Smart business owners and marketers will continue to incorporate email marketing as a prominent plank in their overall marketing platform.
To stay out of filters and make sure that your email hits its mark, only use white hat tactics for constructing your emails and choose a reputable email marketing software.
Security analyst and freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cybersecurity, and cryptography.