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Sick of spam? So are we. But what is it?

Security_Nov21_BWho likes Spam? There’s Spam and eggs (a classic), Spam and bacon and eggs, eggs bacon and Spam, or even Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam and Spam. Sound like a bit too much Spam? Monty Python thought so in their 1970 comedy sketch which highlighted how Spam seemed to be everywhere. Spam was so popular that the term was applied to email messages that no one wants. We all know and hate email spam, but, do you know how to spot spam?

There are about a million different kinds of spam messages, here’s nine of the most popular (in no particular order) and how to identify that they are spam:

  • Emergency messages – These often come from family, or people on your contact list, usually asking you for money because they are stranded. While you may have relatives traveling, it’s a good idea to reach out to them using other means of communication when you get an email like this. Be wary, especially if they don’t want to give a phone number or exact location.
  • Requests to update your account – These usually come in after a website has had a security breach. They almost always ask you to update contact information, and usually provide a link. Clicking this link will take you to a site that looks almost exactly the same as the real one, only this one usually has viruses or other malicious intent. If you ever get an email like this: Read the email and sender’s email address carefully – they usually have spelling mistakes – and don’t click any links. Instead, close and log out of your email, go to the website and log in.
  • Requests for your password – Sometimes spammers don’t even bother to set up elaborate websites, they’ll just grab the company logo, make a fancy letterhead and send you an email, or message asking you for your password. This type of spam usually comes from scammers posing as representatives of a bank or credit card company. Never, ever reply with your password. Organizations do not ask for passwords over email.
  • Obvious misspellings – Unless you work with people or companies with employees who aren’t native English speakers, obvious misspellings in messages e.g., ‘Here iS som3 FREE Stuffz’, usually indicate the message is spam. If you’re not sure, and know the sender, contact them. If you don’t know the sender, or the sender has an email address like: pradaoutletonlinestore4u.comGliemATgmail.com, it’s spam.
  • Pleas for help – This is a tough one, we all want to help people, but when we receive pleas to help the poor starving hipsters of Manhattan, you have to be skeptical. Charities don’t email you unless you put your name on a mailing list, or gave them your email when you last donated.
  • Contest winner – The main rule here is: If you didn’t enter the contest, you’re not a winner, no matter how sweet the prize. The same goes for those spam pop-ups on some of the more adult oriented websites. You’re not the 1,000,000th viewer and clicking on the link, or shooting the three ducks won’t get you a free iPad. You will get more spam however, or a virus if you’re a really good shot.
  • Chain emails – These have been circling the globe more or less since the beginning of the Internet and have now made their way onto Facebook and other social networks. The vast majority of them are harmless, but, they are annoying. Think about it, you get one telling you to forward to 10 people or a cute, fluffy kitten will be shaved. If you forward it to 10 people, you’re now the spammer. If you get emails like these, they are spam, just delete them.
  • Messages in attachments – Be extra cautious with this one. If you get an email from any contact that says something along the line of, “Please see my message in this attachment,” or has nothing at all in the body, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be spam. That attachment is likely some malicious software. No organizations or companies will send you messages in an attachment, so when you get one, just delete it.
  • Awesome deals – Contacted out of the blue by someone offering you an all inclusive ski trip to Steamboat Springs Colorado for just a dollar? Or how about an LV Handbag for just USD$10? These deals seem too good to be true, and what’s the rule with things that seem too good to be true? They are. Just because it’s in an email, or chat message doesn’t mean it’s real. If you get these, don’t click on any links or even reply to the sender, just delete or ignore them.

There’s one thing in common with nearly all forms of spam, messages usually contain links. If you’re ever unsure about the link, hover your mouse over it for a few seconds, and your browser should tell you where the link will take you i.e., Chrome will display the address at the bottom of the window. If the link looks unfamiliar, or seems wrong, don’t click it.

BusinessValue_Dec09_BTips on ensuring your email isn’t spam

One of the more important, and indeed popular, marketing tools for small to medium businesses is email marketing. When employed correctly, the email can be a great way to not only grow your business connections but to also connect with your customers. One of the main downsides of this type of email blast marketing is that there is a good chance your emails will be blocked by spam filters.

If you are developing a new email marketing campaign, you need to first know a bit about spam filters. Because there are no set rules that all spam filter developers adhere to, you will notice that filters vary in how effectively they can block emails. Some filter nearly all spam while others filter only the most obvious spam messages. Getting past these filters takes trial and error but there are tips you can employ to succeed.

1. Take a look at your content

It is worthwhile looking at the coding of your email. Because some email scammers include hidden HTML or other coding that the recipient won’t see in an email, many filters are now set up to scan the code of an email as well. You should get someone who is proficient to either develop a cleanly coded email template you can use, or to audit the code to ensure there are no problems.

Beyond this, take a look at the actual content you are including in your email message. If you are including special offers, sales, and content that isn’t overly useful, there is a high chance that recipients will flag the email as spam, causing future communication that comes from you to be blocked.

The most successful emails tend to provide useful information like how the product or service can be used, updates from the company, and even industry-related articles. Basically, anything that drives interest and the desire in the recipient to contact you about the service you provide.

2. Know the common spam trigger words

In an effort to cut down on spam, many email providers scan the subject line of emails for potential spam words. If these keywords are found, the email will likely be blocked. The challenging part about this, is actually figuring out which words will get through filters and which will cause an email to be blocked.

One of the best resources we have found is this article on Hubspot. In general, good advice is to avoid cliche, and words that have come to be associated with sales oriented talk or jargon e.g., price, cheap, and no fees. Avoid special characters, like ‘$’ and ‘!’ in the subject line, as many spammers use these to try to grab the attention of the reader.

3. Audit your subscriber lists

In order to maximize the percentage of users who open your emails, clean out your subscriber list on a regular basis. Take a look for email addresses that have been deleted, or users who no longer work at the business. By auditing your subscriber list, you raise the chance that your emails will be opened and read by more recipients.

You should also look into the email addresses themselves. If you are sending an email to a general account i.e., sales@company.com, you may not be actually reaching a real person, but an account that automates tasks instead. Try to send your email to individuals instead of general accounts.

4. Test before you send

Testing your email before sending it out to your audience will help in ensuring that your email makes it through spam filters. The best way to test is to look for a spam testing solution. These solutions allow you to essentially send the email to a number of different services and clients, before presenting you with a report on whether your email managed to get through to the main services.

You can test the email itself in different browsers. While many Internet browsers can render or show most emails, they will often render them slightly differently e.g., text will be bigger, or content may not expand to fit screen size. If the content looks weird to the viewer, there is a high chance that it will not be read and may be flagged as spam instead.

5. Ensure you follow established verification procedures

As you may or may not know, there are actually verification procedures that users who send bulk emails must pass. These various procedures essentially let the different email services know that you, as the sender, are a legitimate business and not a spammer.

Many of the bigger email service providers have set guidelines on their websites for bulk senders, so try looking on the Internet for the different guidelines. Some of the more general requirements include:

  • The email be sent from the same IP and email address.
  • The same name, address and information is in the From: header of every bulk email you send.
  • Ensuring that the DNS (Domain Name System) records and address you use points to your company and are correct.

Of course, this can take time and some knowledge of how the Internet and email works, so one option is to work with an email expert who can help you set up your server or third-party platform so that emails from you will be verified. If you are looking for a way to make your email marketing efforts more successful, or to ensure that they make it through spam filters, please contact us today to see how we can help.