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How to Create Spam-Free Commercial Email

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Contrary to popular belief, creating spam-free commercial email does not begin with your message but rather your list. Avoiding spam accusations has more to do with how and where you compile your list of email addresses than it does with the types of words and graphics you use in your message.

Over the past few years most Internet service providers (ISPs) have mitigated their use of content filtering in favor of reputation-based scoring systems. This means the likelihood of your commercial email making it to the inbox is determined by your previous sending patterns and the number of complaints lodged against your domain and IP address rather than whether your message contains profanity or objectionable content. This doesn't mean that avoiding content filters isn't important; it's just not as important as it used to be.

ISPs have put the power of complaining into consumers' hands by allowing them to easily report your email as spam. This is accomplished when consumers use the "Report as Spam" or "Mark as Spam" button conveniently found in their email clients. Therefore, consumer perception of your email is tantamount to ensuring it is considered spam-free.

So what's a legitimate marketer to do? Influencing consumer perception of your email starts with your relationship with intended recipients. Do the recipients view your organization as credible? Is your brand recognizable and compelling? Do they even know who you are?

I always find the last question most amusing when I speak with marketers who have purchased so-called opt-in lists. They claim the people on the lists have opted in. "Opted into what?" I always ask.

If you purchase a list, no matter where it's from or how it was compiled, you run a huge risk of being labeled a spammer. There's no easy way around building a solid list and establishing a good relationship. You have to earn it. This means creating opt-in forms on your website and convincing visitors to complete them by offering them access to compelling content via email.

Once you have permission and have built a solid opt-in list, the second step is keeping permission by providing relevant content in your email messages. Relevancy is an important concept in email marketing because it is often synonymous with value. For instance, if you
sell shoes online and simply send advertisements for running shoes to your entire list when half the list purchased dress shoes, your message will contain some relevancy; however, its value will be perceived as low. In contrast, if you segment your list by types of shoes purchased and send advertisements with content geared to recipients' respective purchases coupled with information about a frequent-buyer program, your message's perceived relevancy will increase along with its value.

Gone are the days of the pure opt-in play for email marketing; spam is now in the eyes of the beholder. The term "spam-free" not only refers to your list-gathering practices but also what you do once you receive permission. In a risk-free world email marketing is a paradox where relevancy can trump permission, but since it's not practiced in a vacuum, finding the perfect balance of the two is the spam-free challenge.
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