Although it takes its name from a Monty Python skit, spam is no laughing matter.

In fact, 27 states have already put anti-spam laws in place and the Direct Marketing Association supports federal legislation that penalizes violators. In an effort to help improve the situation, ISPs are now offering filters to help weed out unwanted solicitations. Unfortunately, many marketers are finding their messages are being filtered out unfairly, leaving their customers without the information they want.

How the filters work
While not all filters are created equal, they all work as an in-box watchdog, triggered by key words in the subject line or the number of recipients the e-mail is sent to. After a message is determined to be spam, it is either sent to a bulk mail folder or bounced back to the sender. While these measures help reduce the number of unwanted e-mails, they also filter out messages consumers have requested.

Getting through the gate
While the new technology makes it harder to reach in-boxes and easier to be labeled as spam, there are several ways to get your message past filters and onto your customers' computer screens. These tips adhere to responsible e-mail marketing practices:
  • Get permission — Don't acquire e-mail addresses without the customer's awareness and agreement. Make sure consumers want to receive your message. You'll not only reduce your chance of being labeled as a spammer, you'll also increase the chance of your e-mail being read.
  • State your company's identity — Be sure to clearly list your company's name and the physical address where you do business.
  • Pay attention to the subject line — While words such as FREE and SALE may work with other media, when sent through e-mail, they often trigger filters. Make sure your subject is clear, honest and familiar to the consumer. Naturally, you would not forge headers to make it seem as if your e-mail came from somewhere else.
  • Ask recipients to put your company's e-mail address on their "Safe List" — This will let their ISP know you're approved so that future messages can be delivered.
  • Avoid sending bulk messages — Filters can tell when e-mail has been sent out to a large number of recipients and will assume it's spam.
  • Include an option to unsubscribe — Sometimes people forget they signed up, or no longer wish to receive your information. It's important to give them an easy way to be taken off your list, even if they are your customers.
As spam becomes an increasing problem, companies must work harder than ever to get their messages across. Diversification remains the strongest way to reach consumers. Using several avenues together, such as direct mail, e-mail campaigns and advertising, you can be assured your message will hit home.

Reprinted from Strategies newsletter, 3rd Quarter © June 2003 by First Marketing, 3300 Gateway Drive, Pompano Beach, FL 33069.

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