Bad Spam! Bad!

Bad Spam! Bad!Is your spam email giving you problems? Whatever your spam’s behavioral problems, worry not, because the DMA has some sagely advice for you: hit it on the nose with a newspaper.

Okay, so that’s not really their advice, but in their recent white paper entitled Email Deliverability Review, the Direct Marketing Association (UK) Ltd. and Return Path do have some advice about how to tame that email message so that it doesn’t get flagged for bad behavior, explaining that

the document was written “…for the email marketing programme owner who has realised that their broadcasts are starting to experience delivery problems, and are trying to identify why this may be the case.”

In case you missed it, the preamble above can be boiled down to a simple statement: this guide will help you get around spam filters. If you doubt that statement, read this cleverly crafted sentence:

“With most major ISPs now implementing inbox placement prioritisation techniques, [read: spam filters] a new set of behavioural metrics [read: spam filter workarounds] are becoming increasingly important within the realm of email deliverability.”

Needless verbosity aside, one really cannot fault the DMA for trying to help direct marketers reach their target audience, but there are those who believe that spam is spam.

The white paper delivers several key messages:

“The factors that influence email deliverability are starting to change. Instead of focusing their efforts on punishing ‘bad’ email, ISPs are now considering how to reward ‘good’ emails.”

This is an interesting point. I’ve never thought of unwanted email as a puppy before. The document goes on to state that:

“over the past few years, the emphasis on email deliverability has changed substantially. Previously, the key question was a fairly simple one – “Why are my emails getting blocked, and what can I do to make sure that they don’t?”

I’d be pleased to answer the first question. The reason they’re being blocked it because they’re unwanted. As for the second, that is the million dollar question, isn’t it?

Now, just so we’re clear, the paper does state its focus to be on “permissioned email activity” and that in their attempts to block the bad, the good isn’t getting through.

“…there has been something of a sea change in the way that ISPs and spam filter vendors have been dealing with unsolicited commercial email. The primary reason for this change in emphasis has been because of the massive volumes of spam that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are attempting to deal with…The challenge for ISPs is to be able to identify (and eliminate) this volume without incurring collateral damage and preventing permissioned email activity.”

The problem becomes this: who’s to say what is permissioned and what isn’t? It may sound like a simple question with an even simpler answer, but anyone living in the realm of reality is well aware of how easy it is to find oneself on a mailing list. In fact, obtaining a copy of the DMA/Return Path report requires  exchanging an email address…it’s worth wondering if forking over an email address to the council that sees itself responsible for direct email marketing will get you a boat load of spam.

The report sees the challenge as being:

“far more concentrated on achieving email delivery to subscribers’ inboxes. Recent research by Return Path shows that average inbox placement rates currently stand at 76.5% globally, and at 84.5% for Europe. In broad terms, one out of every five emails is not being delivered to the inbox.”

The problem seems to be with sender reputation, spam filters and blacklists, to highlight a few of the things the white paper hopes to pinpoint. While there’s no doubt that those bad spammers (is that an oxymoron?) out there will try to misuse the information presented by this paper, the white paper is clearly trying to do some good by helping qualified mailers. Some of the advice it offers:

–          Strengthen the permission mechanisms using methods like double entry of e-mail addresses and validation e-mails

–          Authenticate the sender’s e-mail addresses through a variety of means, including registering a subdomain specific to the e-mail activity

–          Senders should monitor their online reputation

–          Senders should manage their IP addresses

–          Senders should monitor complaints and take measures to reduce complaints

Written by Malcolm James


  1. Eve Leigh · May 6, 2012

    Haha! In the eyes of the ‘good’ marketers who are trying to make a buck out of us, we look like the bad guys and gals who stop their money making efforts. I’ve never liked direct marketers (too pesky they are) but this report doesn’t make me sympathise with them and their problems. We are at war – if they win (i.e. they manage to sneak past email filters), we (admins AND users) lose, so I won’t cry for their troubles with spam filters.

  2. Gordon Keyes · May 7, 2012

    It’s hard not to read this white paper and wrinkle your nose at the idea of people exchanging ideas on getting around spam filters, but the fact is that the arms race is necessary to keep technology moving forward and even if these tactics are used solely by legitimate businesses in a perfect world, these ideas will also spur filter creators to up their game as well.

  3. Malcolm James · May 8, 2012


    Amen, and here endeth the lesson.

  4. Malcolm James · May 8, 2012


    You won’t get any arguments from me, except to say that the online marketers are producing something only slightly less palatable than what my puppy will leave on the newspaper tomorrow. Unfortunately, only you and I will be able to detect the stench.

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