While e-mail is an extremely important tool that helps friends, family members, and coworkers communicate, the rampant spread of unsolicited commercial e-mail has made this communication medium less useful. Depending on which security researcher you believe, spam now accounts for 85-95% of all e-mail traffic on the Internet.
Due to so much junk clogging our inboxes, more users, e-mail software programmers, and Internet and e-mail providers have become extremely aggressive in using filters to help trap spam. While good filters can prevent a large chunk of spam from entering e-mailboxes, they may also trap legitimate commercial and non-commercial e-mail as well.
Especially if you perform valid business via e-mail, but even if you just send a few jokes to coworkers, it has become increasingly important to work harder to help ensure your valid messages do not get caught in spam filters. Below are seven tactics you can use to help keep this from happening.
1. Use a subject line. It sounds so simple but I’m surprised how often this gets ignored. If I see an e-mail with no subject in my Inbox and I don’t immediately (and I mean IMMEDIATELY) recognize the sender, more than likely it gets trashed. Some filters will do the same automatically.
2. Describe Your Subject. Don’t just send an e-mail with the word “hi” or “read me” as the subject line. Think of a newspaper – if you don’t see catchy headlines, more than likely you won’t read the stories. The more descriptive the subject line, the more likely someone (or some filter) won’t immediately pass the e-mail off as spam. Just don’t get too carried away and post multi-line subjects, either, as this also may steer people away from your e-mails.
3. DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS! Neither in the subject line (yes, I’m harping on the subject line a lot!) or in the body of the e-mail message. Some consider it rude, others amateurish. You probably don’t want to type in all lower-case either, but at least that looks slightly better. Please learn how to use the SHIFT key.
Not only will many spam filters mark such e-mails as questionable, many people may refuse to read them even if they pass through filters.
4. Avoid certain topics in the subject line that spammers often use. Many spam filters target e-mail with subjects such as:
* and more
* dear friend
5. Stop sending file attachments in every e-mail. There are three good reasons:
* Some office-based e-mail filters will trap ALL attachments or just attachments of several questionable file types. Depending on the filter, only the attachments may be removed, or entire e-mails may get squashed. If you send e-mails containing attachments, potential recipients may not only miss your attachments but the text inside the e-mails as well.
* Due to problematic exploits in many types of software including those that process archives, documents, graphics, and music, some people are becoming paranoid when it comes to seeing e-mail with attached files. If you want to send an attached file, ask the recipient first so they will be expecting it.
* Even though you may have a cable, DSL, satellite, T1, or other high-speed connection to the Internet, many people are getting along just fine with a dial-up connection. At least they are until you send them a 2 megabyte photo of a family picnic that they weren’t expecting.
6. Stop sending chain letters, chocolate cookie recipes, some crazy story you heard that sounds too good to be true about Microsoft giving away cash and prizes to random people who forward e-mails, etc. If people get used to seeing those kinds of e-mail from you, expect to get ignored. Even if you’re sure that crazy story you heard or read in an e-mail must be sent to all your friends, first make sure it isn’t an urban legend. The Snopes website is a good place to help find this out.
7. Don’t spam. Period. If you become known as a spammer and your server gets placed on a spam blacklist (several such services exist), many people will stop reading your e-mails – because they will never see them.
With the rise of spam e-mail filters comes the increased chance that your legitimate e-mails may get blocked. Help prevent this from happening by using smart, descriptive subject lines, avoiding ‘gotcha’ words such as ‘free’ or ‘pharmacy’. DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS. Avoid file attachments unless your recipients know they are coming. Don’t be ‘that person’ who always sends out urban legends. And never, never, never spam. While nothing guarantees your e-mail will get read, even if it arrives at its destination, following this advice at least increases the chance your messages will not get routed to the “spam” folder.
Copyright 2009 Andrew Malek.
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