The Sixth Commandment of Ezines: No spam allowed

Last month, we talked about just how much self-promotion you can do in your ezines (and how much is too much). Now, we’re going to talk about more annoying behavior you should avoid if you want your ezine to be a success.

Commandment #6: Thou shalt avoid spam-like behavior.

Man, I hate spam.

No, I haven’t changed my mind about the power and usefulness of opt-in email marketing. I still think it’s a great way to get the word out about your products and services, particularly if you’re a small business with a marketing budget to match.

But a recent change-up in my email configuration accidentally opened the spam floodgates on my email server. (I forgot to turn the spam blocker back on when I was done configuring. Oops.)  Messages that had formerly been blocked started appearing in my inbox by the bucketful. I saw the same subject lines and the same offensive content over and over (and over and over …) again.

And I got a real-life object lesson on just how annoying certain email behaviors really can be … and how engaging in those same behaviors can earn you, a legitimate email marketer, a permanent place on someone’s spam blocker blacklist.

If you want your ezine to be welcomed, time after time, compare your outgoing mails to this checklist:

Is your subject line clear? One day, when I was clearing out an unusually large number of spam emails, I accidentally added the sender of one of my favorite newsletters to my blacklist.

Why? The subject line sounded suspiciously like one of those vague “Hi!” intros that the more notorious spammers use to trick people into opening their mail.

Always make your subject lines both clear and businesslike so your recipients know exactly what they’re getting. (Arguably, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2004 requires it.)

Does your unsubscribe mechanism work? Two local businesses that send out regular emails about their offerings just got their entire domains blacklisted on my server – as a last resort. I can’t tell you how many times I attempted to unsubscribe using the mechanism they provided. I even called one of the businesses to try to get off their list that way.

Finally, I had no choice but to block their content any way I could.

So what’s the big deal? Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Earthlink and Yahoo! cast a very suspicious eye on blacklisted domains. The more they see a particularly domain being blocked by individual subscribers, the more likely it is the ISPs will block all incoming mail from those servers as a precaution against complaints.

That means your broken unsubscribe not only annoys potential customers or referral sources, it could eventually prevent any of your email – promotional or not – from reaching certain destinations.

Test your unsubscribe link periodically (using a temporary email address) and make sure it works!

Did you watch your language? No, no, I’m not talking about “do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” language. I’m talking about innocent, everyday words that may prompt someone’s spam blocker software to tag your email as spam – or worse, delete it before it reaches the inbox.

Many ezine hosting providers throw in an online tool to check your word usage and tell you how likely it is your email will be blocked. You can also check your content manually against lists like this one (warning: this list contains content that some readers may find offensive).

Notice that mixed in with all the words referring to, ahem, less than polite content are words that many businesses use in promotional activities every day!

If your message absolutely requires that you use one of the common “spam words,” you may try substituting a non-alphabetic character for one of the letters. (Be warned, though – anti-spam software often is hip to this, too. Researchers reportedly have identified 5.6 billion different obfuscations of one particularly popular six-letter word.)

So the lesson is this: watch your content for anything that may get your legitimate emails deleted before being read!

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