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Writing Copy That Gets Through

By Anna Curnow, Internet Strategist

Recently, getting the copy right in your emails has become even more important. Not only will good creative copy communicate your message to your customers, but your copy is also responsible for getting your email through the minefield of filters, blacklists and blocks that are used to reduce unwanted email.

I’m going to leave the creativity up to you for now and focus on the technical part of good copy in this article.

The first thing you can do to identify yourself as genuine email marketing rather than SPAM is to look at the header. By this I mean the subject line, the recipient line and the sender line.

Sender Line:

This should ideally have a real name, no numbers and the email address should be a genuine email address. Another key thing to avoid is an email address that goes something like “offers@”. The “offers” word will get you in trouble!

Recipient Line:

Make sure there is a real email address in this line. An empty “to” line or a “to” address that contains spaces or any other invalid email address format will give you a high weighting for SPAM. Another “to” line that is generally understood to be SPAMmy is “undisclosed-recipients@”.

Subject Line:

Watch out for exclamation marks and question marks in your subject line. Some SPAM filters and blocks don’t like the look of these. You also want to avoid using all capitals in the subject line. Quite apart from the connotation that you could be ‘shouting’ at your customers, SPAM filters take this as an indication of less than ethical email marketing.

There are a host of other things to avoid in subject lines. Some of the main ones are as follows:
  • Domain names
  • Advertising tags
  • Numbers
  • Dollar signs
  • The words “as seen”
  • The words “free” or “double your”, “now only”
  • The words “guaranteed”, “life assurance”, “your family”
  • Any reference to losing weight, nigeria or enlarging anything!

So you’ve got a genuine sender address, your customers’ own email addresses are going to show in the “to” field and your subject line is relevant to your business (which hopefully isn’t about enlarging body parts) and doesn’t mention anything shown above.

Body Copy

You’re not off the hook yet. SPAM filters also take a good sniff around the body copy of the email. Let’s look at what gets them sneezing.

Ironically, personalizing the email can sometimes cause you problems, especially if your database isn’t complete. “Dear (blank)” gives you a seriously black mark. Far better to use the old “Good morning/afternoon” that way a missing first name won’t matter or offend your customer.

Watch out when talking about making money, doing business online or offering free consultations. We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. SPAM filters are particularly good at looking for anything that offers too much for too little.

Claims that your email isn’t SPAM could get you tagged as just that. So focus on having genuine, interesting content rather than making excuses.

Once again, watch your grammar. Excessive use of the exclamation mark can give you demerit points as can over use of capitals.

I recently found out if you don’t want to get flagged as a chain letter you need to find other ways to invite your subscribers to forward the email. The term “forward this email” gets the SPAM filters all excited and can get you blocked. Using a less direct term such as “send this message” should get you through.


The final irony is that as an ethical email marketer you will have an unsubscribe link in every email which will unfortunately also give you some SPAM points. Fortunately, you don’t earn very many points for this and the benefits of having this far outweigh the negative effects of not having an unsubscribe link. So, please don’t be tempted to remove this link!

In the meantime, to quote an article I read recently “be genuine, clear, brief and interesting” and your emails should continue to get through so that your message can be received.

You might like to take a look at this page for a reasonably up to date picture of what one spam filter is looking for and how they rank email.