Stop sending junk e-mail is good advice for anyone, but you may inadvertently be sending junk e-mail when you don’t intend to. If you find that surprising, read on because you’re in for some major surprises.
None of us likes junk e-mail, which is e-mail that we have not requested. If you wish you can add a spam filter to your e-mail service and weed out what you do not wish to receive. For example I use K-9, which learns as you teach it what you regard as spam and what you believe is acceptable. I find its performance excellent and it does a fine job in filtering out over 40% of my incoming e-mail, which is spam.
What you may not realize is that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has already filtered out some other spam e-mail that you never saw. Indeed any e-mail message passes across a number of ISPs in travelling from the sender to the receiver. That means that other ISPs on the route may also have cut out some spam e-mail by their definition of spam. They do this to help their clients but also to act as a deterrent to others who may wish to tie up their bandwidth with automatically generated floods of spam messages.
What exactly is their definition of spam? In fact the answer will always be complex and it is most unlikely that you can get a clear answer. What follows is based on some extensive work done over 6 months ago. In the interim, despite further analyses, the situation is no clearer.
Your IP Reputation
The first and probably most important factor in determining what constitutes spam is the Internet Protocol (IP) of the originator of the e-mail. There are a number of services that evaluate the reputation of the originating IP. One such is Senderbase.org. If you evaluate my own IP, 22.214.171.124, you will see it has a Poor reputation.
You can find out your own IP by using a service such as WhatIsMyIPAddress.com. The reputation of your own IP might be rated as either Good, Neutral or Poor. Even with a Good reputation, there is no guarantee that any given ISP will not reject your e-mail message as spam or junk e-mail but the odds are low that this would happen.
In the worst case, if you have indulged in deliberate e-mail spamming then it is possible that the IP address of your mail server is currently listed on the SpamCop blocklist. This is a sure-fire guarantee that your e-mail messages will likely not get through. In this case, you will need to read the SpamCop FAQ for more information on getting de-listed from this SpamCop blocklist.
There are two other tests you may wish to do on your IP to determine how reliable it may be as an originator of an e-mail message. The first is to do what is called a Ping test which determines how well your IP communicates with other IPs. You may find that even with a neutral reputation IP, no pings are reported, which is not a good sign.
The problem is compounded when the your e-mail message must pass across several ISPs. To get an indication of what is involved you can do what is called a TraceRT test. This will give you an indication of the places your e-mail message must pass through to get to its final destination. Remember that each ISP may possibly delete your message if it seems that it could be a potential junk e-mail.
Your own e-mail service will have a certain policy on what e-mail messages it defines as junk and what e-mail messages it allows to pass through to its e-mail clients. In some cases you may be able to modify the default policy and allow either more or less junk e-mail messages to get through to your Inbox. If you are aware of the IP of a source of messages that you wish to see then you may be able to whitelist the source with your e-mail service provider. However in practice this does not always work.
Is Your E-mail Message Spam?
The reason why the reputation of the IP is not an infallible indicator of junk e-mails is that the message itself is also analyzed. A simple text message will usually get through from a good reputation sender. Anything more than that may be questionable. Here are some of the reasons why e-mail messages are deemed to be spam:
- The same e-mail message is sent to a large group of people, particularly using the blind copy approach to hide their e-mail addresses
- He e-mail message is in HTML
- He e-mail message contains a large number of links to other websites
- The e-mail message contains images
- The e-mail message has attachments such as Word document files.
Whether any given message is deemed to be a junk e-mail message will depend on a combination of factors above and the reputation of the e-mail originator. Different e-mail services will be more or less stringent in approving these rules. For example the Google Gmail service is fairly strict in this regard.
Making sure your e-mail message gets through
There are a number of factors you may wish to consider to ensure your e-mail message gets through to as many as possible of your intended audience:
- Ensure your originating e-mail address has a good reputation.
- Limit the number of attachments to your e-mail messages and ideally avoid them altogether.
- Avoid too many images in your e-mail messages
- Avoid creating large numbers of URL links in your e-mail messages
- If your audience accepts this, use text messages rather than HTML messages
Monitor How Many E-Mail Messages Get Through
Given that no e-mail message is guaranteed to get through, it is useful to monitor whether all your messages get through or whether a certain proportion of your audience does not receive them. If this proportion is unexpectedly high, then you may need to change the content of your messages or the e-mail address you use to send them.
The more of these you can cover, the greater fraction of the audience that will see your message.. However there are never any guarantees and the ideal is that your recipients should also whitelist your originating e-mail address. Even that is not surefire so in critical situations, it is better to seek some confirmation that your readers have indeed received your e-mail message.
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