Funny SpamAssassin Scoring Criteria
SpamAssassin is an open source solution that lots of server admins use to filter incoming email. It looks at the content of email, then assigns scores based on certain criteria. Once the email goes past a certain threshold (set by the server admin), the email is blocked as spam.
Ever wonder what SpamAssassin actually looks for? Below is a link to their criteria, and their corresponding scores. Keep in mind you have no idea what your recipients' email servers' thresholds are set to, but it's neat seeing what 'spammy scores' certain items get. Some of our favs:
- Talks about Oprah with exclamation!
- Something is emphatically guaranteed
- Domain name has a .Biz in it
- Contains "Prestigious, non-accredited universities"
- Coded with FrontPage
Interesting stuff, because we've seen legitimate emails get a good deal of "spamassassin points" for containing some of their criteria.
2004 Spam Stats - Year in Review
MessageLabs, a managed email security provider, has published their Spam and Virus stats for 2004. Their anti-spam system scanned over 12.6 billion emails, of which 9.2 billion (73.2%) were identified as spam. Their anti-virus system scanned 147 billion emails in 2004, and 901 million (6.1%) contained viruses.
They've got another spam report worth reading, with lots of great quotes from various studies on the "damage that spam does to profitability". They estimate that in 2003, spam cost businesses in the US $10billion.
Email Deliverability Tips
From the folks at EmailLabs comes "13 tactics and approaches that increase the likelihood your recipients
will get, and consider opening, your e-mail messages"
The one thing we'd emphasize here is consistency. Select a sender name and subject line that are instantly recognizable as coming from you---but keep it consistent across campaigns. We've seen spam reports spike when campaigns we manage change their subject lines or delivery dates and times. People like consistency.
Spam Filters don't like Microsoft
A user recently informed us that his campaigns were getting blocked by a certain enterprise spam-filter appliance. We recommended some changes to his content, then it got through fine. Here's what we changed:
- Microsoft tags: if you export from Microsoft applications (such as Word), be sure to view your HTML and remove all the extraneous junk that MS likes to throw in.
- IP Addresses: Don't refer to IP addresses when you code your links and images.
- Removing TBODY, THEAD, and TFOOT tags seemed to help (they appear when you use some WYSIWYGs, or export from MS Word)
- Slimmed down on the use of <STRONG> tags.
It seemed like his problems stemmed from the fact that his email was exported to HTML from MS Word---something we don't recommend (keep your code lean and mean by using a text editor). We've even seen Spam Assassin assign "spam points" to messages for being "apparently generated from Microsoft Front Page".
FTC Starts Enforcing CAN-SPAM
The FTC has started its battle against spammers, attacking some porn networks first. Particularly interesting is the fact that the spammers were working on behalf of someone else (affiliates). The FTC is going after the affiliates and the companies they were driving traffic to.
The action specifically targeted so-called affiliate marketing practices, said Eileen Harrington, director of the FTC's Marketing Practices Division. Companies that use unwanted e-mails to market their firms frequently distance themselves from the practice by sub-contracting the work, often many times over. But Harrington said the CAN-SPAM Act, which took force last January, makes all firms that engage in affiliate marketing liable for the actions of their sub-contractors.
If you're an affiliate sending email marketing, make sure your client is up to speed and compliant w/CAN-SPAM. Link to article on MSN...
MailChimp Case Study in Sherpa
MarketingSherpa just published their "Marketing Wisdom 2005", which is chock full of useful little nuggets of wisdom and advice marketers learned last year. I've been reading it for the last couple of hours, and it's great. Mostly, I've been reading my own quote (on page 10) over and over, but the other stuff is good too. Seriously, take a look---great advice on things like:
- typical open rates (around 50% is pretty good)
- good/bad days to send (doesn't hurt to be contrarian sometimes)
- landing page effectiveness (reducing acquisition costs 1000%)
- pay-per-click tactics (peppered throughout the pdf)
- working with 'difficult' clients
Revive old leads
Case Study of how a company had tons of old leads that they didn't know what to do with. Instead of throwing them away, they put together a 3-step email campaign to slowly gather more information about each lead.
They got something like 4 percent response, but here's the really interesting part of the article:
"For each message, nonresponders were automatically sent a follow-up version, which increased results by 75 percent. In fact, follow-up mailings often do better than the original mailings, according to Prugh Roeser, president of The Devereux Group. Nonresponders who didn't unsubscribe were sent subsequent mailings in the series, increasing results another 80 percent."
Interesting concept. Oh, and they posted examples of the emails.
Text vs. HTML email
Used to be, "Is HTML or Plain-Text email better?" was a pretty important topic. Back then, there were tons of plain-text die-hards. Nowadays, you don't hear so much from them anymore. Did they all die off? Did email apps start rendering HTML better? Did they just get tired of complaining? Anyway, ClickZ recently raised the topic again, and everyone seems to agree---who cares? Send Multipart/mime and let the recipient choose. Oh yeah, which is what MailChimp does. Some people don't know this about the chimp, tho: you can send only plain-text. Or, you can send only HTML. We recommend you send both, of course.
Here's the link: http://www.clickz.com/experts/em_mkt/em_mkt/article.php/3448841
Spam Filters and Email Content
We've noticed some of our users' campaigns setting off content-based spam filters lately, so thought it would be good to recap on what seems to set those off.
Content based spam filters generally assign points to certain "violations" in your email. Once your email's "spam score" exceeds a certain threshold, your email is tagged as spam.
- Avoid words and phrases like, "FREE!", "LIMITED TIME ONLY", or "ACT NOW"
- Talking about large sums of money ("We met our sales goal of $2,500,000 this year"), might score you some spam points.
- Avoid using colors in your fonts too much. Red text and red links seem to make the spam filters angry, especially if you also make them large.
- DON'T USE ALL CAPS---yelling looks like spam
- Always have a good balance of HTML and Plain-text. Just having one or the other seems to look spammy to some filters
- Try not to link to IP addresses---instead, point to domain names
- Be short and sweet with your opt-out instructions. Going on and on about the legality of your email, or how to "be removed from future mailings by clicking reply and typing remove in the subject line" looks spammy. If possible, use a one-click opt-out method, or link to an online form.
Over the last few months, we've observed some of our users accidentally getting "false-positives" from the spam filters. Here are some interesting ones...
- One user sells industrial equipment to B2B clients, with pretty high price tags. All of the "$1,500,000" values in the content set off the filters
- Similar situation with another user that sells private jets---large money numbers apparently look like financial scams
- One user sent an HTML only email to his customers, with no plain-text alternative. It was a holiday e-greeting, and the message had no copy in it---just a big animated graphic.
- Another user apparently used Microsoft FrontPage (yes, he was penalized for that) to build his HTML email e-vite, which consisted of nothing but gigantic text, with every sentence in a different color.
- A pharmaceutical corporation sent an internal campaign to its employees that got flagged as spam, because they mentioned pending approval of their new impotence drug (Cialis, Vioxx, Viagra spam, anyone?)
- A non-profit that helps students in foreign countries come to school in America, put the words "young" and "adult" and "teen" a few too many times in their content.
Just be careful with your content---some of the most innocent words can result in your email getting tagged as spam. Here's an example of what Spam Assassin, one of the most popular open-source anti-spam systems, reports when it tags something as spam...
Sherpa's What's Working in Email Stats
Neat little 17-page PDF from Marketing Sherpa. It's a teaser for their big 200+ page e-Book, which we own, and have found very useful. This quick PDF has a few of the interesting charts from the book, like:
- Open rates by industry
- What are marketers planning for 2005?
- What email variables do B-2-B marketers test?
- Days of week impact on response rates