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Can Spammy Keywords HELP Your Spam Score?

Thm_thumbnails_2Do you think that removing spammy keywords like "click here" and "free shipping!" will help you get past the spam filters?

Not necessarily.

GourmetStation.com recently used our Inbox Inspector add-on to check how their campaigns render in all the major email programs, and to test their work in spam filters.

Running their campaign through real, live spam filters gave us some valuable insight into how they work, and how sometimes, slashing those "spammy" keywords that we've all learned to avoid from your copy can actually hurt your spam score!

When we launched our Inbox Inspector Add-on, GourmetStation had already sent their Easter Campaign. Still, they wanted to go back and look at how that campaign looked in the major email programs, so they ran some reports on it.

(click to zoom in)

Email_preview_thumbnails

If we click on the thumbnail for Microsoft Outlook 2003, which would be used by a lot of their "at work" recipients, we can see exactly where the email scrolls on a 1024x768 resolution screen (look for the red dotted line):

Easter_outlook2003

Not too bad! They even got their call to action button above the scroll.

But they wanted better. Gourmet Station went back and modified their design for their upcoming Mothers Day campaign, and here's what it looks like in Outlook 2003:

Mothersday_outlook2003

You'll notice their logo and "view this in your browser" stuff at the top of the email take up less room, so now their call to action button is way above the scroll, and even allows their "$79.99 Plus Free Shipping -- Click for details" text to peek out above the scroll. It's nice that they made this text (instead of images), too. Just in case people have their images turned off.

Here's a close up of their new, space-saving header graphic:

Headers_2

Some of you might be thinking, "Wouldn't the "$79.99 Plus Free Shipping" and "Click for details" text in their content set off all the spam filters?" That's what we've all been taught, right?

Not necessarily. In general, it's true that you should avoid too many spammy keywords like "FREE" in your campaign, but spam filters are a lot more sophisticated than that. That's why you've got to check your campaigns in real, live spam filters if you want to know the truth.

When we check the Spam Filter report (screenshot below), the campaign actually passes all the spam filters. Spam Assassin gave it a score of "1.7" (the default threshold for Spam Assassin is 5, so there's plenty of breathing room here).

But the email didn't get past the Postini firewall (check out the red "failed" icon):

Spamfilter_check

Clicking the "Reasons" link reveals that Postini thinks it's some kind of "special offer" and that's apparently spammy to them (nevermind the fact that our recipients have opted-in specifically to receive "special offers").

At this point, we can try to tweak our copy until we get a 100% perfect score, but then again, that could hurt our conversion rates. I mean, getting past Postini would be nice, but "Free shipping" is an extremely powerful offer for retailers. I'm not sure I'd sacrifice that phrase just for a perfect score here.

Just out of curiosity, I removed the words "Free" and "Click" from the message. For example, instead of "Free Shipping" I used "Shipping's on us." That resulted in a lower Spam Assassin score (it plummeted from 1.7 to 0.2!) but it still wouldn't get past Postini.

Hmm. I then removed any remotely spammy keywords from the message: Free, Click, Shipping, $, Gift, etc. Heck, I even took out the word "brunch."

Not only did it still fail Postini, but my Spam Assassin score shot back up to 1.1!

The reason they gave me? "BODY: HTML has a low ratio of text to image area (0.9 pts)"  In plain English, that means I have too many pretty pictures, and not enough text to balance things out. All fluff, no substance.

Those "spammy" words that I removed actually would have helped my spam score!

By the way, this "low ratio of text to image area" is why you should never send an "image only" html email campaign.

As you can see, simply removing spammy keywords doesn't always help. In rare cases, it can actually hurt! The only way to tell is to actually test your campaign in real, live spam filters.

A big thanks to Donna and Jon at GourmetStation for letting us see these reports. 

April 26, 2007 in MailChimp News | Permalink

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Comments

It was a bit shocking to read that removing spammy words could hurt a spam score. But then I realized by reading the article that it isn't the removal of the spammy words per se, but reduced ratio of text to image that does it. Reducing spammy words is good, as long as you bulk the text back up so that the text-to-image ratio is equal.

Posted by: Seth | May 2, 2007 5:27:58 PM

I think you should re-write this article tbh. As said in the first comment, it wasn't the removal of spammy words, it was the text-image ratio. Also, you never gave a reason as to what were the exact reasons it failed in Postini and any suggested solutions. I just felt more confused after reading this article.

Posted by: Mark | May 10, 2007 8:21:20 PM

Thanks for the feedback. Honestly though, I don't think very many people would click to read an article entitled, "Image-weight to text ratio affects deliverability." The title would be true, but who cares if nobody reads the article.

In terms of not providing a definitive answer about getting through Postini, that bugged the hell outta me too. Felt like we left things unfinished.

So in a later post, I give a few examples of users' campaigns that actually *did* get through:

http://mailchimp.blogs.com/blog/2007/05/postini_a_very_.html

Posted by: Ben | May 10, 2007 10:19:50 PM

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