Do I Look Like Spam? How To Get Your Email Past The Filter

Nobody wants to be called a spammer, or for that matter, a drunk driver or a shoplifter. But not all accusations are the same — you can avoid the latter two by simply not doing those things.

Spam is another matter. The most legitimate email marketing campaign can end up in a spam filter if it fails to observe best practices.

That’s the central idea behind an advisory put out Thursday by digital marketing company Lounge Lizard. ISPs and ESPs work hard to prevent spam from being delivered, but your innocent emails can end up in that category if you’re not careful. Here’s what to watch out for.

Email size — Don’t send files larger than 110 KB — they are more likely to be flagged as spam. The perfect size for marketing emails is between 15 and 100 KB to ensure maximum deliverability.

Spelling and grammar errors — Even the best copywriters can make mistakes But you’d better clean them up. Bad, typo-ridden copy often lands an email in the spam filter. And if the email somehow escapes, it’s likely to be classified as spam by an alert consumer. Typos and poor syntax are hallmarks of criminal spammers, many of whom operate offshore. But there’s another reason marketing messages shouldn’t contain gaffes — it’s just not professional.



Excessive symbols  Get rid of multiple !!!! and $$$$ symbols. When used more than once, they are viewed a spammy.

Trigger keywords — There are AI programs that, like bomb-sniffing dogs, work with great deliberation. They look for certain words — use them and you’re likely to be seen as spam: dear friend, lottery, for only ($), check or money order, cancel at any time, click here, risk free, order now, this is not spam, promise you, increase sales, money back guarantee, prize, great offer, free or toll-free, and special promotion. 

(How sad: Dear friend was once the universal salutation in direct mail. Those days are over).

Not using Alt Text with image — Many email programs will not display the image if the business is not using alt text. That default can lead you into the spam folder, especially if you use more than a few images.

Using a URL-shortening service like or — Spammers often utilize these to hider their URLs.

Not having an Unsubscribe link or address in the email footer—Don’t be a fool — this is actually the law. It needs to be a clear opt-out. And if you’re inviting them to opt in, you have to include the physical address in the footer.

Missing Key fields — Spam alerts will be set off if there’s nothing in the "From" Name, subject line or email body. Who would be so amateurish as to do that, anyway?

Suspicious links — Put in a link that doesn’t appear quite right, and you’re headed for the spam trap. Lounge Lizard warns that some email marketing software will rewrite links for tracking that can make you look like spam.

Broken HTML — Copying content from Word or Excel into an email can add extra characters to the message, and render the HTML unreadable.

Using JavaScript in an HTML email — Scripting language of any kind can send an email right to the spam box. Why? Spam filters "err on the side of caution," Lounge Lizard notes.

Using flash in an email — This is considered unsafe by the main email clients and they will block emails containing flash. But you can use GIFs

Matching HTML and plain text — You should be sending both: Some spam filter like plain text versions.

Domain reputation — Develop a bad reputation, and your domain will be flagged by ISPs and placed on a blacklist. Of course, you’d probably have to be an actual spammer to achieve this — just keep using bad domain impersonation tricks or engaging in negative behavior like phishing. 

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