Sunday I ran into a colleague at a social event. She was still waiting for an email I had sent the week before. Monday morning I checked her email address and resent it. Tuesday she emailed me saying she still hadn’t received my message. I checked the address on her email – yes, it was the same one I’d been using. This time I replied to her email and the message finally went through.
This isn’t the first time it’s happened to me – on both the receiving and the sending ends. But what exactly is happening? I suspect that the problem is my colleague’s spam filter is set too high and is catching legitimate emails.
Too Much Spam
This is not a problem we hear much about. Usually it’s the other way around – people getting too much spam.
My poor father is a prime example. He rarely uses email: mainly for notices and minutes of meetings for the board of his condo. He gets maybe one or two legitimate emails a day.
The rest is spam. Dozens of spam. You know the type: discount pharmacies, special offers for a certain little blue pill for men, financial offers. Thankfully, the amount of porn spam he gets is minimal.
A Spam Filter Can Help
I’m lucky. My ISP (internet service provider) includes a great spam filter with my service. A spam filter is exactly what it sounds like; it filters out unwanted mail, preventing it from landing in your in-box.
I can set the sensitivity of my IPS’s spam filter in a number of categories: sexual content, language, racial comments, business offers. Since I started using it, I rarely get any spam at all. One piece of spam in my inbox is unusual.
My Spam Filter Goes Awry
However, about a year ago I started having problems. I was waiting for an important email. I called and discovered it had already been send. It was resent. Still no email.
At that point I looked in my spam filter. It was a horrendous job. There were hundreds of emails. But worse, I found dozens of legitimate emails mixed in with the garbage. Thankfully none were urgent, or from potential customers.
I had narrowly escaped disaster. What’s the point of careful and consistent marketing, creating a web presence and working hard to build a name for myself if I was going to miss important email messages from potential clients?
Training Your Spam Filter
At this point I realized I couldn’t just set my spam filter and forget it. I needed to work with it to ensure it let legitimate email in while catching the stuff I didn’t want. First thing I did was decrease the sensitivity of the business filter portion. After all, I didn’t want to miss an email from a potential customer.
For a while I started getting more spam. I raised the sensitivity a little and checked my spam filter daily for a few weeks. Whenever an email I wanted appeared in the spam filter, I made sure to “whitelist” or approve this email. Whenever a piece of spam made it to my inbox, I logged into the spam filter and “blacklisted” that address.
Gradually I was able to train my spam filter to let in most of my real mail while catching most of the spam. I still occasionally log into my ISP’s spam filter and double check that there isn’t some mail I do want trapped with all the crap. Thankfully, at this point the only things getting trapped are the odd ezine I’d subscribed to.
What You Can Do
The problem for many Baby Boomer entrepreneurs however, particularly if they’re solo-preneurs, is they don’t have the technical knowhow or the technical support to guide them through. Many don’t know how to train their spam filter, check it for false positives. Some don’t even know they have a spam filter.
If you are having trouble with spam – either getting too much or missing real email – contact your ISP and ask them about their spam filter. If they don’t have one, ask why not. In this day and age where approximately one in every three emails sent is spam, every ISP should be offering this service. If they do, find out how to use it. How do you log in, search for legitimate messages, train it?
If your ISP doesn’t offer a spam filter, you’ll need to get one. Because my ISP has such a good one, I’m afraid I can’t recommend one here. However, ask around. What do your colleagues use? Try the local computer store – if there’s an independent store, they’ll likely have better information for you. The big box stores will have spam filters but they won’t necessarily have the experience to tell you which one will work best for you.
How to Avoid Getting Your Messages Caught In Spam Filters
If you are sending email, how do you avoid getting caught in the receiver’s spam filter? There are a number of ways you can avoid getting labeled as spam:
- If you are sending email to someone you don’t know, don’t include graphics in your email, even just a company logo. Since many porn and travel spam contain photos, it might get you caught.
- Be cautious of sending attachments. Many spam filters and virus software are suspicious of attachments. Also watch the size of the attachment. Many companies have a size limit on attachments they will accept. If you have a large file consider ways you can reduce the size. Not only will it increase the likelihood of being delivered, it will decrease download time.
- Include a clear subject line. Many spammers use some variation of “hi” so don’t ever use that as a subject if you don’t want your email to be flagged as spam.
- Avoid words that spam filters look for: free, guaranteed, offer are some of the most common.
- Avoid dollar signs, question marks or exclamation marks in the subject line.
- Don’t have long blocks of ALL CAPS IN THE BODY of your email.
- Never leave the Message Reply To field is empty
- Don’t claim not to be spam in the body of your email. That’s a guarantee to trigger the spam filter. Remember what Shakespeare wrote: “I think he doth protest too much.”
Andrea J. Stenberg
If you have a good spam filter you can recommend, please tell us by adding a comment.