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Email campaign spam filter testing 

There's nothing worse than spending a ton of time on a newsletter or email campaign only to send it out and find it gets blocked, redirected or tagged by over-zealous spam filters. Here's some tips for easily testing your campaigns against spam filters

1. Check for testing features

If you're using one of the more popular mailing list services or software, chances are there's a spam test feature built in that may have been introduced since you first purchased the software or started subscribing to the service. Check your help documentation for further details. Bear in mind that some of these testing mechanisms can be very bare-bones and at times outdated; but they will help act as somewhat of a guide. 

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You should also use the following strategies to help minimize the risk of your email being filtered.

2. Test send to popular mail services

Set up a free email account at Gmail, Yahoo, AIM and MSN. Between these 4 services, you're likely covering a decent percentage of your subscriber list. Before sending out to your live list, send to your test accounts and see if your campaign gets through, and if it does - where does it end up? Getting your campaign routed to a bulk mail folder is only marginally better than having it filtered out completely.

3. Test against your own ISP's filter

In my opinion, this is one of the best testing methods as you can get more feedback and a better idea of just how high your email or newsletter campaign scores - and what's triggering the score.

Most ISP's have server side spam filtering software in place to help protect their clients. When email hits their servers, it's examined and a spam score assigned. In the header of the emails this score is quite often recorded and detailed. So, by sending a copy of your newsletter/campaign from either your domain or *from* one of the free email accounts you established to your ISP assigned email address, you can get some really valuable information. Note that it needs to be sent from an outside source rather than just sending it to yourself via your own ISP's mail servers.

How to view email headers

In Outlook/Outlook Express, simply highlight the message, right mouse button click and select "Options" or "Message Options"

In Thunderbird, open the email and select "view" from the menu bar, then "headers" and then choose "all"

Spam scoring details

This is the type of thing to look for in the email header:

X-SpamDetect: **: 2.830000 
Targeted Traffic / Email Addresses=1.7, 
Free Trial=0.1, From5consonants=1.0

or

X-Spam-Status: No, score=2.5 required=5.0 
tests=BAYES_00,FU_LONG_QUERY3,HTML_IMAGE_ONLY_20,HTML_MESSAGE etc.

In most default setups, a score of 5 or more can have your message tagged as spam or filtered out altogether. Depending on the type of filter used by your ISP, it can also provide identifying information as to what is contributing to the score and by how much. 

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In the first example, you can see that the mention of targeted traffic added 1.7 to the score; which is substantial. The second example isn't so detailed, but you can still get an idea of what's contributing to the score - in this case a really long URL in one of the links and the fact that the message was mostly made up of a single image.

With this information, you can then reword and make adjustments to your campaign, then retest. Aim for a spam score of 2 or below bearing in mind that not all filters work the same way and other applications may score the same email higher.

You can pick up some further tips and strategies on helping ensure your communication reaches it's destination in my guide to email delivery issues.


Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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