5 Design Tips That Will Lower Your Spam Scores

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  1. roundabout

    roundabout VIP

    Feb 17, 2011
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    5 Design Tips That Will Lower Your Spam Scores

    By Len Shneyder

    I’ve recently fielded a number of questions about email design. Some of them I thought were lost in time, like the formula for turning lead into gold. I know, I know, we’re all infinitely savvy digital marketers with ludicrous amounts of technical know-how, but sometimes the simple things get past us, so it never hurts to have a refresher. Design and deliverability are more closely related than you think. There are nuances to how you construct your HTML that directly impact your ability to deliver a given piece of email collateral to your consumers’ inboxes. Off the shelf products like Spam Assassin filter not only on source IPs, email authentication and content, but also examine, down to the code, how your email is architected and how you’ve formed your links and paths. So here are a few tips for those seeking to improve their design and deliverability…

    Avoid 2 letter folders in your links

    Links or image sources often point to deep pathways that contain nested folders. In order to keep the links as short as possible it’s common to abbreviate the name of the folder, e.g. http://www.widget.com/html/en/12/image.png. The problem is that there are common anti-spam filters that look for 2 letter folder names in link/image source paths and flag emails that contain such a construct. Will this single offense condemn you to the spam folder? Probably not, but remember, we’re well past the days of black/white anti-spam filtering. Everything is a possible data point and the idea is to differentiate yourself from spammers by following best practices and knowing how to properly form links and store assets for rendering in emails. Try and have your data live a level higher and use a few more letters in your folder/path names.

    Avoid consonant only domain names

    Spammers are constantly creating new domains or trying to spoof common domains through short hand by dropping vowels in order to fool the eye into thinking the spoofed email is real. If you have image server domains or links in your emails this could show up as a potential threat to an anti-spam filter trained to look for such malevolent sources of unwanted email.

    Please, don’t drop the text part in a multi-part mime

    A multi-part mime by definition has more than 1 part. It’s not uncommon for marketers to send only an HTML part when launching campaigns. The assumption is that no one is reading email on text only email clients. However much truth there may be to that assumption the fact is that there are still people out there who read text only email. They are definitely in the minority, but they’re still out there. The other thing to consider, and this is the more important point: by sending only an HTML part, and dropping the TXT portion, you’re essentially breaking the mime standard, and yes, there are anti-spam filters that look for this too. There are some methods using scripting to do this in an automated fashion; make friends with your neighborhood sys-admin.

    Under no circumstances should you use a form submission or java script in your email

    Forms have very limited support among email clients; they are considered a security threat. Using a form will result in a “broken” message, the form could be grayed out, the box for input may not render throwing off the whole layout. More importantly, forms and especially java script, in email, are often flagged by anti-spam filters and in some cases personal anti-virus filters on recipient’s email clients/PCs will block the delivery of messages that contain such code.

    Avoid copying and pasting subject lines, or any text for that matter into your email deployment engine

    Copying and pasting text from WORD or Power Point or Outlook 20XX is a sure fire way of copying underlying Microsoft encoding which when delivered will show up as a garbled subject lines and gibberish. In a simple subject line test I wrote “Can’t miss deals on this year’s best gear!”. The result looked like this after encoding and sending:


    The question marks are the result of a slanted apostrophe that word uses, sometimes called smart apostrophes, like small quotes slanted for open/close. If copied you may wind up with a subject line like the one above and an anti-spam filter may look at those strange characters as a potential malignancy. Avoid things that would raise the hackles of an ISPs anti-spam filters.

    Although today’s anti-spam filters are far more evolved than old style key word filters everything counts. Your overall mailing reputation is a combination of your email design, mailing practices, targeting, segmentation and mailing infrastructure. There are some definite steps you can take to improve your ability to deliver email and your customer’s experience.


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