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Who’s in your spam bin?

Just out of curiosity, during a coffee break today, I had a look in my spam bin, and I was shocked by what I found there. Don’t get me wrong - it was not prurient content, but the fact that a significant percentage of the items in that spam bin were from businesses whose content I’d asked to receive.

So is my spam filter too sensitive?

I checked - no, it’s not. I use a common filter, it’s called Google Mail, or Google Apps in the context of my own use. I can teach it what’s spam and what’s not easily - and I’d thought it did a good job. I haven’t had to teach it much really. But today was a real eye-opener.

A close look at the headlines, content and structure of those messages in my spam folder told me a simple truth: these businesses are simply not screening their content properly to make sure it can be delivered.

Here are some of the words and phrases that appear in some of the subjects of the emails:

  1. [Free Trial] Save Time Managing Your Social Media Updates
  2. The Future of Content Marketing: Joe Pulizzi from #cmworld [Video]
  3. Create Content that Effectively Crosses Cultural and Linguistic Borders
  4. IQ by Intel: What Content Marketers Can Learn from This New Digital Magazine
  5. 5 Top Tips to Successfully Align Sales and Marketing
  6. Attend Live Today: McAfee Inc's Nurturing Strategies
  7. Air Passenger Duty - A message from Keith Williams, Chief Executive - British Airways

Now, I think the first two headlines with [Free] and [Video] in brackets are falling into an obvious trap, but three, four and five are all from organisations that purport to be expert in managing content. Ouch! I recognise that the word ‘New’ is risky in an email subject, as is ‘Successful’, and we’ve probably all grown tired of the word ‘Effective’ to some degree. But what’s the problem with headline number five or six? Apart from the unnecessary Capitalisation of Almost Every Word in those and a few others, it beats me too. And the BA message? Google coldly advises me “It contains content that's typically used in spam messages”.

Is it what’s inside the message?

Looking at the content within the messages, there are slightly suspect phrases and constructs occasionally - for example, call-to-action phrases such as ‘Call now - places are limited’ and ‘Register for the Complimentary Webinar’, but these don’t scream SPAM to me. However, they are enough to condemn the message to never be seen by me, and with every repeat failed send, to gradually have more bias added towards that sender’s content being classed as spam.

So are Google’s spam algorithms wildly off? No.

The harsh reality is this - there is now just enough similarity between the language and structure of serious, legitimate businesses and that of spammers to toss away the good with the bad. And the spammers are continually improving and are always testing new techniques. That’s not good for business.

However, what really concerns me is this: are these organisations not analysing and testing their deliverability BEFORE they send out mailings? And if they are, why is it telling them it’s safe to send, when it goes straight to spam for a person who’s opted in to receive their content, and who uses an absolute standard in spam filters?

Time to wake up, and smell the coffee. What are you going to do to ensure that your next email does not go straight to your prospect’s spam bin?