Email Filters Catch Dolphins Along With Sharks
What's the point in spending hours preparing a newsletter, message or report if it's automatically filtered into the junk folder before the recipient even sees it?
Spam threatens to choke the communication channels promising global freedom of expression.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs), corporate server administrators and end users are increasingly using new anti-spam technology to try to stem the relentless tide of junk email flooding the Net.
The problem is: how can we prevent the dolphins from being caught along with the sharks?
The origin of 'spam'
SPAM is a pink canned luncheon meat immortalised in Monty Python's spam-loving Vikings sketch.
In an Internet context, lowercase spam refers to unsolicited commercial or bulk email (such as get-rich-quick schemes, miracle cures, weight loss, Viagra, lotteries, loans, pornography and Nigerian sob stories) and allegedly originated in a MUD/MUSH community.
Of more practical use is the origin of the actual spam mail itself.
Where does all the junk come from?
In the mid-90s, Usenet newsgroups (also called "discussion groups" or "bulletin boards") were the number one source of email addresses for spammers.
Today, the most common origin is web pages, especially if they're listed in a search engine or directory.
Some people have tried foiling address-seeking spambots by inserting the word "UNSPAM" in capitals in the middle of all email addresses on their sites. This stops auto spammers working but enables human beings to work out what to do.
Spammers also harvest addresses from headers of messages you send to friends who forward them to their friends (a good reason for using BCC -- blind carbon copy rather than simple CC which displays all recipients ? although some people filter out mail sent using BCC as many spammers also use it).
Other sources include open e-mail discussion lists and web pages that invite you to "insert your address here to be on a 'do not mail' list".
Spammers can simply guess addresses by generating lists of popular names and random words attached to common domains (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com).
Once on a spam list, the only way to get off is to change addresses.
If you reply or respond to instructions to "remove", your message will simply confirm your address is valid and you'll get even more junk.
Depending on your email client, you can try tracing junk back to its owner by contacting the server listed in the full message header information (the From address is generally fake - check your Help files to find out how to "reveal full headers").
How to stop spam
Despite legislation against unsolicited commercial email, the volume of junk is increasing alarmingly.
The simplistic oft-cited fix -- "just hit delete" -- is only a bandaid solution and fails to discourage the junk merchants.
Self-regulation and industry codes are difficult to enforce. ISPs face problems if they disconnect service to spammers under some countries' telecommunications laws.
Technical solutions have centred on filtering technology.
Types of filters
Many corporations and ISPs filter incoming mail on or after delivery.
Server-side filtering software typically looks at the headers, subject line and/or contents of the message.
Some filters -- and their users -- are smarter than others.
SpamAssassin is an open-source, collaborative, community anti-spam effort based on filtering rules to analyse email content.
The software gives each message a score based on how many rules it breaks.
Any programmer can suggest rules for new releases of the software which spots, not blocks, spam.
ISPs and server administrators then decide whether to send suspect mail to junk folders, automatically delete mail tagged as spam, or bounce it back to sender.
Unfortunately for email publishers, some of the filter rules are too broad or the threshold is set too low.
Many innocent messages are being lumped in with the guilty.
One of my newsletter readers notified me that his ISP had tagged a recent issue as spam -
SPAM: -------------------- Start SpamAssassin results ----------------------
Best practice in e-newsletter publishing -- and now law in many countries -- is to enable your readers to unsubscribe easily yet the word "unsubscribe" or similar would lead to your newsletter being blocked by filters such as SpamAssassin.
Just look at the seemingly innocuous words on the constantly changing list of tests SpamAssassin performs on mail messages to determine whether they're spam.
Some desktop applications, such as MailShield and MailWasher, pre-set the rules and tag or delete mail without the user having to do anything.
To ensure they receive wanted mail, email users can add favourite mailing lists to a "white" or "green" list so the mail ends up in a specific folder.
Arbitrary and unpredictable email filtering, as with web content filtering, can backfire and cost time, money and frustration -- the very things filters were designed to save.
Tracking down problems and dealing with aggravated users or administrators wastes resources that could be spent creating content, marketing and improving customer service.
Many filters can be imposed only after you have received unsolicited email from each source, meaning you have to respond manually to every single spammer.
Spammers regularly change their email addresses to bypass filters.
"Qualitative" filters can try to detect junk mail from unknown sources but legitimate mail can be inadvertently trashed in the process ("false positives") while some junk mail still gets through ("false negatives").
Filters are becoming a serious problem with many legitimate opt-in publishers being mistaken for spammers and blacklisted.
Once on a black list, the only way to be unblocked is to contact the ISP and ask to be placed on a white list.
While some e-newsletter publishing tools let you monitor how many messages are opened or bounced, you might never know which readers are being filtered unless you know which email program they're using.
Even then, the recipient might just be busy, uninterested, on leave or not receiving your message.
Some filter programs don't even notify you that your message was blocked while others bounce back mail with "sensitive" content without specifying the rejected words.
On another occasion my own free weekly e-newsletter was blocked on its way to at least two subscribers thanks to Trend SMEX Content Filter detecting "sensitive content" yet the "naughtiest" word I could find was "teenage".
Pity the poor medical publishers who often use "controversial" words such as "breast" or "penis" in their newsletters.
You might be able to track down the reason you were blocked by examining the full header information (ask your subscribers to forward the entire copy of your junked message).
The header should list filter rules that the message violated, if the ISP uses software such as SpamAssassin.
If not filtering, then what?
Some online publishers advocate web services where you submit your newsletters for screening of content or technical problems that might trigger spam filters before mailing.
Of course, spammers could also abuse such a service to get their own mail past the filters.
Others back the idea of an Internet-wide white list along the lines of web site privacy site TRUSTe.
Spam-busting campaigners believe the only effective method of addressing the problem is through simple, direct legislation to:
Meanwhile, ashile the world waits for more countries to introduce tough anti-spam legislation, online publishers must continue to be vigilant.
How to avoid the junk folder
Choose the subject line and words in your emails carefully if you don't want to end up in the junk file.
More people are setting up their email programs to filter incoming mail automatically for classic junk mail keywords and symbols (eg "advertisement", "free", "rich", "porn", "lover,", "opt-in," "e-mail", "money-back guarantee", "teen", "sex", ! # or $, removal instructions, all capitals).
Drop all hype and advertising-speak from your subject lines and messages.
Apart from saving you from the filters, honest concise text is preferred by the impatient, overloaded online reader.
Online publishers wishing to avoid being trashed should send a welcome message to new subscribers or correspondents telling them how your messages will appear (eg "the newsletter will appear from firstname.lastname@example.org") and suggesting they add the address to the white or green list of their email program.
Set up test accounts with popular email providers such as AOL, Yahoo and HotMail to see if your messages are getting through.
Beware Microsoft Outlook's "junk e-mail filters" which, when turned on, colour or delete messages considered spam based on a filters.txt file.
I searched for the filters.txt file on my PC to see which words were no-gos and was surprised to see so many seemingly harmless words.
Use a professional list hosting service unless you can afford an experienced in-house support staff.
E-newsletter publishing is becoming a highly specialised and complex field ? don't risk your reputation to amateurs.
Ensure your list host monitors other clients to ensure they're publishing to only opt-in recipients -- if opt-out mailers, rental lists and spammers are blacklisted, you might be guilty by association.
Insist on detailed bounce reports for every issue you send out.
You should be able to see which names bounced and the exact reasons (eg "mailbox full", "address does not exist" or the frustrating "unknown").
Just because your bounce report says your mail was delivered, doesn't mean it did.
Many filters stop email after the "not-bounced" signal has been sent.
Monitor your open and clickthrough reports for unusual patterns.
Read all reader feedback, particularly if readers are having trouble subscribing or getting your mail.
Chances are they might have to ask (or scream at) their ISP or techies to add you to a white list.
(Of course, you need to publish quality content if you want your readers to jump up and down when they don't get it.)
Many permission-based publishers include their newsletter or trademark in square brackets in the subject line to avoid being filtered.
Other ethical publishers, including me, have resorted to disguising known filter trigger words by inserting unusual characters or deliberate typos -- for instance, using f^ee instead of free or sp*m instead of spam.
It's just a matter of time before the spammers work around these "tricks".
Bastardising or censoring our language to suit new communications technology would seem an extreme solution -- not to mention bitterly ironic -- but what's the alternative?
Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email
The Net Abuse FAQ
How to show full header details for your email program -
Put junk mail in its place (tips on using Outlook) -
Tips on writing hype-free online content
Yvette pioneered web writing training in Australia in 1998 and has inspired thousands of people through her workshops and presentations from London to LA, Sydney to Seoul.
She has reviewed web sites professionally for print, online and radio for since 1997. Her own e-newsletter and site - www.brizcomm.com.au - won the Smart Communities category in the 2002 Asia Pacific ICT Awards.
Ezines, Ezines Everywhere!
There are literally thousands of ezines being published online these days. Sometimes it is hard to know which ones are best for advertising in, reading, subscribing to and so on.
Formatting your text newsletter correctly can make a failure into a success! Learn how to do it, and why.
Review of Ezine Announcer
The most critical piece of software in my article submission arsenal is EzineAnnouncer. I've been using EzineAnnouncer, developed by Jason Potash, for ten months with a great deal of success and just a little aggravation.
American OverDrive - LCDs in LDCs
OverDrive - an e-commerce, software conversion and e-publishing applications leader - has just expanded an e-book technology centre by adding 200 e-book editors. This happened in Montego Bay, Jamaica - one of the less privileged spots on earth. The centre now provides a vertical e-publishing service - from manuscript editing to conversion to Quark (for POD), Adobe, and MS Reader ebook formats. Thus, it is not confined to the classic sweatshop cum production centre so common in Less Developed Countries (LDC's). It is a full fledged operation with access to cutting edge technology.
Write an Ezine? But I Dont Know HOW!
If you've been promoting your business on the internet you've probably heard how important it is to have a list. And that it's also important to publish an ezine.
Are We Dating or Married?
You've convinced me that I want to sign up for your newsletter. Now that I'm ready, what do I do? I go to thesignup box on the current web page and complete the form.But wait... what are you asking for? If you're asking formore than my name and email address, I will hesitate.
Writing Effective Newsletters
It's obvious but true that your newsletter can only be effective if people bother to read it. Nowadays we are all drowning in an excess of information that comes at us in all directions and in all forms so this really is the biggest obstacle you have to overcome. To persuade your audience to read what you have to say, you should follow some basic rules:
10 Critical Things To Do Before You Spend A Dime In Advertising
Your First Newsletter: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Annoy People
I read a lot of newsletters. Some are great and some are not so great. I put together this article to highlight the five mistakes I see most often in people's first newsletter.
How to Get E-zine Subscribers From In-Person Events
While I run my business completely online, I really enjoy attending in-person events and seminars here in Los Angeles and around the country. I'm sure you find these events valuable too. The problem most of us have with networking, however, is following up with the people we meet.
Publish Articles Online: Start With Your Own ezine
So, you want to publish articles online? It's really quite simple, and it's a great way to promote yourself or your product. But where do you begin? This is actually quite simple too. I started in the online publishing business about a year and a half ago. I read about how a person could make pretty good money by selling information on the Internet, and I had some good information to share.
The Quick Ways To Increase Your E-zines Subscriber Base
1. Give Incentives Give people an incentive to subscribe to your e-zine. Offer them a freebie if they subscribe. It could be a free e-book, free report, free advertising, etc. Make sure the freebie will attract your target audience. 2. Joint Venture Joint venture with a similar e-zine. Combine your subscriber bases together and publish one e-zine. Edit and publish each issue together. You both will be promoting the e-zine which means more subscribers. 3. Allow Archiving Allow your subscribers to archive back issues of your e-zine on their web site. They may need content for their web site. If people visit their web site and like your e-zine, they will subscribe.
Writing, Publishing, Self Publishing, Website Promotion, Blogging, Internet Marketing
Are You Ready For The Publishing Revolution?
6 Important Tips For Choosing Ezine To Advertise In
Did you ever wonder why some business owners seem to be able to pull in all the business they want, while others ? perhaps you ?can't seem to get any momentum? More often than not, it is because the successful ones have learned from marketing experts what works and what doesn't work in their marketing and promotional materials. Some marketing secrets seem to be secrets simply because they're widely known or understood. Only from trial and error and ad tracking ? combined with research on natural psychologycal predispositions ? do marketing experts know what really triggers a sale.
How To Make Your Subscribers Stick To You Like Super Glue
One of the biggest obstacles to building a good sized opt in list is the drop out rate. Sometimes it seems subscribers are leaving as fast as they are joining. This slows down the overall growth rate.
How to Choose a Good Newsletter Name
Good newsletter names are usually 2-4 words. If shorter, they can't explain what your newsletter is about, and if longer, they will be hard to remember.
Location, Location, Location
The first thing you should consider in advertising is the firstthing you should consider when buying real estate: Location,Location, Location. You want to focus all of your efforts on yourintended audience. Once you know who they are, determine whichpublications they are most likely to read.
Plagiarism on the High Seas
More and more companies are finding the value in informational advertising. Giving away information to the world. This has worked well as it tends to develop confidence in potential clients in your companies expert status. Positioning your company or in the case of a consultant in this way is truly a valuable strategy to enhance brand.
The Plain Truth About Branding for Newsletter Publishers and Web Designers
Some Things I Have Learned About the Exciting World of Ezines
1. Don't ever stop advertising for new subscribers.
|© Athifea Distribution LLC - 2013|