We’ve all been there: waiting on that important email only to discover it in the spam folder days later. Reaching out to someone and missing an opportunity because your email went to spam. Wrestling with an automatic email response for your users’ form submissions that just doesn’t seem to send, then discovering that your host has filtered them all as spam. It can be maddening.
So why do emails get caught in spam? Short answer: spam filters. There, problem solved. No? Alright then, let’s dive into this and open it up a bit. Read on and we’ll take a look at spam, spam filters and how they work, and then wrap up with tips on how to avoid them. Over the next few minutes you may not become the anti-spam filter, but you’ll sure be a lot more knowledgeable on how not to have your emails processed and canned like a chunky mixture of leftover meat byproduct. Yum.
What is Spam?
I may receive one relevant piece of mail in my streetside mailbox every six months, but I swear my mail lady stuffs ten pounds of paper mail in there every week. The non-relevant stuff is all a spiel for this or that credit card, terrible life insurance “offers”, Oh, I’ve Won a New Car and here’s the little plastic key that says so, just send us some personal info! Junk mail.
Spam is the email equivalent of that stuff. Probably irrelevant, often shady, always risky garbage sent from someone trying to sell you something, swindle you outright, or fool you into installing malware. Often lists of email addresses are compiled and sold to marketers just for this purpose.
Different state laws govern spam and its legal definition in the United States, and there is also the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. To combat spam, many online entities use spam filters that target and remove emails that, at the very least, meet those legal criteria.
What is a Spam Filter and How Do They Work?
A spam filter is a software program that scans emails as they flow by. It’s programmed with a specific set of criteria for what spam looks like, and pulls email that meet enough of those criteria out of the flow. Any decent internet mail server is equipped with a spam filter, and they can also be installed on network servers and individual pcs.
Typically, each identified quality of the email that is spam-like earns that email points. When a certain threshold or point value is reached during the scan, the email is identified as spam and flagged, deleted, or quarantined.
Precisely how these values are calculated are highly proprietary and depend on the individual filter. There are general features in common, however. Each spam filter is going to be scanning the same basic components of an email.
- Subject Line, looking for common words and phrases associated with spam.
- Content, looking for suspicious links, low text to image ratios, and other spammy hallmarks.
- Metadata, looking at the To/From/CC fields, the sender’s domain, and embedded code.
- IP address, looking for IPs that have been flagged frequently as spam by both filters and recipients in the past.
It’s worth noting that that point value threshold is determined by the administrator configuring the spam filter, so what does get flagged as spam will vary by the leniency of the filter settings from server to server.
How to Keep From Getting Canned?
The answer to this question can get pretty detailed, so keep your eyes peeled for future ninjaforms.com articles that go into greater depth. We can definitely get you started with some basic suggestions that will greatly increase the reliability of your email, though.
Our Happiness Ninjas here at The Dojo field user queries fairly consistently about issues with email action responses not making it to the intended recipient. More often than not the email action is firing correctly and the email is being sent, but it is being filtered out as spam by either the web host or the recipient’s email service (gmail, yahoo, hotmail, etc) due to a very simple problem.
Under Settings in your WordPress dashboard or the ‘from’ line of your Ninja Forms email action, you can set the email address that the email will be marked as sent from. Your email will also be seen as originating from whoever hosts your website (unless you are using a plugin like Mandrill that expressly overrides this). Let’s say you set gmail as your ‘from’ address and use Bluehost web hosting. If Bluehost allows this email to move past them at all, then it will appear to your recipient’s spam filter as being sent from gmail but originating from Bluehost. It’s like a FedEx package showing up at your doorstep via UPS. It raises questions (and high spam point values)!
Your host has likely provided you with an email address. Use that address as your ‘from’ address, and you dodge the most common problem our users have with getting caught in spam filters altogether.
What else can you do to keep from getting marked as spam? Every time an email you send is marked as spam by a recipient, more scrutiny is placed on your future emails by filters. Use the following tips!
- DON’T SHOUT IN ALL CAPS IN YOUR SUBJECT LINE!
- D o n t p u t g a p s b e t w e e n l e t t e r s a n y w h e r e !
- One exclamation marks works fine, don’t go crazy!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!!
- Stay away from words and phrases that sound gimmicky: Buy Now, Click Here, Free, As Seen On, Double Your X, Money Making, Get Paid, Make Cash, Pre-Approved, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Low Price, Save Big, etc.
- Encourage subscribers to whitelist/add you as a contact, and personalize your ‘To’ field with the recipient’s name.
- Be sure your ‘From’ name is relevant to your business/site to prevent confusion.
- Keep images minimal. Having more space in the body of an email taken up by images than by text raises lots of red flags. Aim for a high text to image area ratio.
- Be very careful about the quality and quantity of links in the content. Keep the number of links minimized and don’t use url shorteners.
- Give a clear and obvious opt-out feature from future emails and follow through promptly.
- Reach out to inactive subscribers and keep your contact lists whittled down to those who want to hear from you. This can reduce the likelihood that folks that have lost interest will just mark you as spam to stop the emails because it’s faster than unsubscribing.
While we don’t really think about it, there’s a whole world of journeying in store for an email after we hit click the send button. It’s easy to lose sight of that because we don’t have an active role in anything that happens to the email after we click send. What we do with the email before we click send can make all the difference in it reaching its destination, though. Get it into shape to be well prepared for the journey and chances are it’ll make it there just fine.