3 Phrases That Could Trigger a Spam Filter

3 Phrases That Could Trigger a Spam Filter

I’ve had the good fortune to work with some reasonably large email databases in my time (well, large for New Zealand perhaps). I’ve been involved with various online email marketing services and have done the hard yards in terms of cleaning huge spreadsheets of email addresses before uploading and even entering email address after email address manually.

If you’re involved with emailing a list of subscribers on behalf of a business, you’ve no doubt had your own hurdles to deal with. Many of the hurdles boil down to one thing – making sure your email doesn’t portray a bag impression of your business. Poor impressions can come down to emails with problems like faulty imagery or layout, typos or incorrect dates in the text (please tell me we’ve all done that), incorrect merge-tag details (wrong name or location for example) but perhaps one of the biggest difficulties is ensuring your recipent doesn’t think your email is spam.

Actually, you can take that back a step. There’s a chance that your recipient won’t even get a chance to decide whether your email is spam or not as that decision may have been made for them by their email client – i.e. whatever email service they use to receive emails, be it an internal office set up or online services like Gmail, Hotmail, Xtra and Yahoo!

What is Spam?

This may seem obvious but before considering how to make sure your email gets through a spam filter, it’s important to understand what spam actually is. You could get stuck into suggesting things like “emails that contain pills for sexual organ enhancement” or “emails that inform you your great uncle Bilbo has died in Nigeria and you need to provide your account details so that you can claim your inheritance” but effectively spam is any email that your recipient doesn’t believe they should have received.


You may have spent thousands of dollars setting up a huge promotion on your website and even more money designing a fantastic email that looks so good you want to link it, and then spent hours putting together a list of people that you feel are best placed to enter the promo and become your next greatest customer, but the fact of the matter is that while you make think your email is worth a read, if your recipients don’t understand why they’re receiving your email, all that money could have gone to waste.

What’s the Risk?

Other than effectively closing a door to market your business to someone (many email providers don’t allow you to manually re-add a subscriber if that subscriber has unsubscribed or marked your email as spam), your whole email sending account could be at risk. That ‘Report Spam‘ button in Gmail or that innocent looking ‘Junk’ link in Hotmail has far more connotations than simply moving your email into the recipient’s bin. When those buttons are hit, a report is sent to The Internet and your email service provider receives a warning. If enough warnings are received, your provider may take no hesitation in suspending your account.

Worse again, New Zealand actually has even stricter email marketing rules than some other countries. You can check out our Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 which details the requirements when it comes to sending emails in New Zealand.

Two key intentions of the act are to encourage ethical email communications by:

  • Requiring electronic messages to contain a functioning unsubscribe facility
  • Ensuring electronic messages are sent only to customers who have consented to receiving it

The first is easy enough for an email marketing service to indentify. The second is trickier and can only really be determined after the fact, through looking at the abuse and even the bounce rates of your email campaign.

Don’t forget that this is all part of actual legislation – ignore the rules and you could put your business at risk of legal prosecution!

How to avoid being a spammer

So before your email even makes it to the recipient (who, of course, is someone who has specifically requested to receive your email or someone who you have a genuine reason to believe would be interested in the content that the email contains) you need to make it through the email client’s spam filter.

Spam filters are generally set up to recognise spam in a similar way to how a human might decide something is spam. So good ‘common-sense’ design and text content is the way forward.

MailChimp, a popular email marketing provider, has put together some events that can trigger a spam filter. Avoid these and you greatly improve your chances of a successful email marketing campaign.

3 Spam Triggers

MailChimp used a service called ‘spam assassin’ to award points for content that triggered a spam filter. The more points, the worse the crime.

Some of those triggers were:

    1. Using the phrase ‘extra inches’ (3.1 points). Hmm … quite an obvious one this. While it could easily be used elsewhere, spam filters believe that including this phrase in an email gives the email client a heads-up that your email is probably about penises. Ok it could also be about weight-loss – another common spam theme.


    1. Using the phrase ‘stop further distribution’ as part of or alongside your unsubscribe link (3.1 points). Apparently this is just as spammy as ‘extra inches’. I guess if you’re going to provide people with an unsubscribe link, just straight out tell them it’s an unsubscribe link and forget the formal talk.


    1. Starting with ‘Dear’ (2.7 points). Starting an email with Dear Steve or Dear Jane could be quite innocent and your intention could be to present a formal style, but the truth is that this is a phrase that kinda should stick to letters. Apparently enough spammy emails that have started with ‘Dear’ have been flagged by users to mean that this innocent introduction has been eternally blacklisted. Instead, just use ‘Hi Steve,’ or similar.


So it might be worth avoiding the above phrases in your content.

Above all, make sure you’re only sending permission-based emails. Adding someone as a recipent of your email should come naturally and the question “am I allowed to email this person?” shouldn’t even cross your mind.

Flickr photo credit: bunchofpants (charming)