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Four email marketing mistakes that make you look like a spammer, and what you can do about it


Forgive me for sounding anti-social, but I really don’t like being asked what I do for a living. You see, I work in the email marketing industry and for most people, this is synonymous with spam.

So whenever I tell people that I work for an email marketing software company the response is usually, “Oh so you’re responsible for all the spam I receive then.”

That’s when I take a deep breath and spend the next five minutes explaining that I work with the good guys, who in fact help businesses follow the correct email marketing practices. So no, I’m not behind all the spam. I’m behind the emails that you’ve asked for and want to receive.

Although the association with spam is incorrect, I can understand why people feel this way. Even though spam is on the decline, it still represents a whopping 85% of email sent worldwide, according to the Cisco IronPort Threat Operatons Centre.

Furthermore, personal emails now account for only 14% of inbox email. Half of what’s left is made up of opt-in newsletters and deals. So, that’s a lot of marketing emails!

Unfortunately, this creates a huge problem for legitimate email marketers. Even though people opt-in to receive marketing emails, they quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer volume. They then look for ways to reduce the clutter in their inbox. Once upon a time they would simply unsubscribe but, there is now an even easier option to put a stop to unwanted email. I’m referring to the “report spam” and “junk” buttons that are available in email clients like Hotmail and Gmail.

These are so popular that according to ReturnPath’s latest Global Email Deliverability Report, up to 75% of people click the “report junk” button to unsubscribe from emails. Whilst this is great for the email user, it’s dangerous for the sender as it reportedly only takes 0.1% of recipients to mark an email as spam before the ISP takes notice and starts analysing how it will handle the delivery of your future emails.

As email marketers, this forces us all to step up our games if we want to keep getting delivered, and noticed, in the inbox. This begins with clearly setting ourselves apart from real spammers and leaving no ambiguity over the legitimacy of our email campaigns.

So, what are the mistakes that may be making you look like a spammer?

1. Using a From Name that nobody knows

The From Name is the first thing people see when viewing your email in their inbox. If they don’t recognise and trust the sender, they’re hardly going to open it and will be more likely to mark the email as spam.

So, avoid using generic words like “Sales” in your From Name. Often, your best option is to send emails from your company or brand name, as these generate the highest level of brand recognition with recipients. If the email is of a personal nature, or is being sent to a customer that you have an established relationship with, you might consider using your own name as the From Name.

2. Trying too hard in your subject line

Take a look at the email in your spam folder and pay close attention to the subject lines. What do you see? ALL CAPITALS. Overuse of exclamations!!! And sales pitches that would make a used car salesperson jealous.

These subject line techniques try too hard to capture the reader’s attention and they just don’t work. Quite simply, they make the email look like spam before it is even opened.

So, avoid these techniques when crafting your subject lines. Instead, write subject lines that inform the reader of the value inside the email. Where appropriate, create a sense of urgency to entice the reader to open the email. And remember to always be truthful. Any attempt to mislead the reader will increase the chances of your email being marked as spam.

3. Sending content that is boring

Take another look at the emails in your spam folder. I’m willing to bet money that the content is not relevant to the things you really care about, unless you happen to be related to a Nigerian prince or are in need of pharmaceutical stimulants. Spammers don’t care about your interests. For them it’s just a numbers game.

For legitimate email marketers though, sending content that is boring and repetitive is one of the most cited reasons why people unsubscribe. So, make sure you focus on sending valuable, interesting content to subscribers that retains their ongoing interest. If you’re not sure what sorts of things your audience cares about, ask them. Conduct a survey where you ask existing subscribers to share their preferences and interests. You could even ask for this sort of information when people first sign up to receive your emails.

4. Making it difficult to unsubscribe

To be spam compliant in Australia, you need to provide an option for people to unsubscribe from your marketing emails. The mistake too many email marketers make is to hide the unsubscribe option, making it hard for people to find. The logic being, that this will result in fewer people unsubscribing.

The reality is that if people want to stop receiving your emails, they’ll find a way. Hiding the unsubscribe option will only serve to frustrate people. It will force them to use other methods such as clicking the “report spam” and “junk” buttons in their inboxes.

You work hard to grow your list and get noticed by your recipients. So, do yourself a favour and check that you’re not doing anything that could cause your recipients to mistake you for a spammer.

Matthew Johnson is the EDM Specialist at Australian software company Vision6 where he educates marketers and business owners on how to use email, SMS and social media marketing.