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What, Me Worry About Spam Filters?

December 18th, 2006 by Bob Bly

In the 1960s, Mad Magazine spokesperson Alfred E. Neumann made famous the saying: “What, me worry?”

In the 21st century, one of the things e-marketers worry about is e-mail deliverability.

Some e-mail marketers devote large amounts of time, attention, and money to making sure there e-mail marketing messages are not blocked by spam filters and other mechanisms interfering with deliverability.

Their reasoning is that if an e-mail isn’t delivered, it doesn’t get opened, read, or responded to.

But some of the e-mails they product are so sterile … and look so odd (e.g., “f-r-e-e instead of “free”) … they have (to me) little impact.

On the other hand, some e-mail marketers just write the strongest copy possible — as if they are saying “spam filters be damned!”

Which school are you in?

Do you worry about spam filters and content filters when composing e-mail marketing messages?

Or do you ignore all the “rules” of e-mail deliverability and still get great click through rates and sales?


This entry was posted on Monday, December 18th, 2006 at 8:44 am and is filed under Online Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

30 responses about “What, Me Worry About Spam Filters?”

  1. Sean Woodruff said:

    I focus on writing communications for the people who read the e-mail. Some of it doesn’t get delivered but the messages that do are more effective that way.

    The funny thing is that even the people that write for deliverability get filtered. They may end up with less filtering but a less effective message delivered to the reader.

    I write to communicate.

  2. Dianna Huff said:

    I am working with a spam filtering company. It’s not only words that trigger filters, it’s the IP address, images, use of caps, and all sorts of other things.

    I write copy that doesn’t use obvious filter triggers ie: “free.” But it’s weird what does trip them up. Two newsletters ago I wrote about telemarketing scripts. I thought for sure I would have to remove all instances of “telemarketing.” Instead, I ended up changing “phone” to “telephone” and “script” to “call guide.” Script and phone were filter triggers!

  3. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    I just wrote a comment… and it got blocked as spam! Oh what a world….

  4. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:

    Caught by a spam filter

    I just wrote a comment to a post on Bob Bly’s blog: What, Me Worry About Spam Filters? Bob asked about what copywriters are doing to deal with spam filters. My answer is below. You won’t see it on Bob’s blog, though…. It got stopped….

  5. Michael Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    First, write a great message / newsletter.

    THEN, run it through a filter to see if it has objectionable material.

    I DO change the word free to some other word.


    Because I want people to get my message.

    If there were a bouncer at the door and he hated red hats, you can bet I would take off my hat to get in the door.


  6. Bob Bly said:

    Mike: If you are giving away a free white paper, how do you say “send for our free white paper”? BTW, I’ve seen tests of free vs. no mention of free where free increased response 25%. Think about it this way: if the spam filter depresses response 25%, but the use of “free” lifts it 50%, the net result is a 25% lift.

  7. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    Hey Bob;

    Here is my trick.

    I use images. YEP.

    You can say anything in a graphic and it gets past the filters.

    To see a sample, check out one of my newsletters here:

    FYI, I never say “free white paper” because they are all free.


  8. Jonathan Kantor said:


    I think the answer lies in the mistaken use of email as the primary medium for marketing. I think we have become too dependent on its use. For example, my Outlook client will sometimes send messages to the spam or junk mail folder that I have previously designated as approved.

    Instead, the use of both conventional approaches (such as direct mail) and online sources (email, blogs, SEO) will provide a hedge against those instances where a critical message gets mistakenly sent to a spam folder.

  9. Sean Woodruff said:

    Mike, if you are trying to sell a red hat, how would you do that if you took off the hat to make the bouncer happy? Wouldn’t that be the same as an offer that is free and you omit the word free?

  10. Bob Bly said:

    Jonathan: Most direct marketers who are making a lot of money online use email as their primary medium. They build a large opt-in e-mail subscriber list, then constantly send e-mail marketing messages with offers to that list. Example:

  11. Jim Logan said:

    I tend to break the rules and write for humans. And I suffer from it. A short story…

    I tried to giveaway a gift to a random subscriber of my list – an appreciation for subscribing. Since the person I randomly selected was on my list, I sent an email congratulating the subscriber on having been randomly selected, thanked her for her loyalty, and offered my gift as thanks. I asked her to send me a mailing address to deliver my gift…five attempts later, I still had no response. Come to find out, my email messages were all sent straight to the dreaded Bulk Mail folder.

    It’s near impossible to offer something for free.

  12. Sean Woodruff said:

    The irony of the trackback in spot #12 is laugh-out-loud funny.

  13. Michael A. Stelzner said:

    Sean – Come on. Think about it.

    The goal is to get in the club, not sell the hat.

    You never sell the word free, you use it to get in the door.


  14. Bob Bly said:

    Mike: good idea for HTML, but of course it won’t work for those of us who use text-only emails. And text emails are blocked less than html.

  15. Jim Logan said:

    Bob: good point on the text versus HTML email. Do you (or anyone else reading this) know of any stats on 1) the ability of text email to get past SPAM filers as opposed to HTML – and – 2) the difference in reader response of text versus HTML email?

  16. Michael Stelzner said:


    Here is your research on which is better:

    Also, check this pros and cons article out:


  17. Bob Bly said:

    If you have a text e-zine, send text e-mail marketing messages only. Your list will reject HTML as spam.

  18. Mary Schmidt said:

    Bob & Co,

    Some believe that email as a marketing method is rapidly becoming obsolete, replaced by RSS feeds. Of course, it depends on the target and their preference and technical sophistication (Hard to believe for many, but I still get questions about how RSS works.)

    Oh, and Bob – you should check your spam filter on your blog – you’ve got spam comments on several of your posts.

  19. Bob Bly said:

    Mary: the spam filters simply do not catch all the spam. Which one do you use? Also, did you know that only 2% of Internet users subscribe to RSS feeds?

  20. Andrew Cavanagh said:

    I get some of the highest click through rates from email in the industry (sometimes over 70%).

    There’s no simple answer to this question.

    I would say that you’re far less likely to trip off spam filters if you concentrate on relatively short emails that send your prospects to a site with your full message.

    Having said that when you presell your clients in your emails you can have astonishing sales conversions on your online sales page. (20%+ with a good list)

    But you risk a much lower click through rate and a much higher percentage of your emails getting eaten by spam filters.

    Smart marketers realize that there’s benefits both ways so they send out two different kinds of emails…one that won’t trigger spam filters and one that might but is more likely to make sales.

    Either way you need to be familiar with the words and phrases that spam filters look for and use other alternatives if possible.

    Getting too many of your emails labeled as spam can get you blacklisted with Internet Service Providers and then the emails you get delivered will drop drastically.

    Kindest regards,
    Andrew Cavanagh

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