How To Tell If An Email Marketing Message Is Spam

Spam Sign85% of all emails sent are spam.

Yup. According to The 2012 Return Path Sender Score™ Benchmark Report (great report!), after reviewing 130 million IP addresses sending nearly 20 trillion emails, they found 85% of all messages received by ISPs to be spam.

If you think about that number, it’s actually quite amazing how little spam most of us actually receive. Most of the major email providers – Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL, etc – do a nice job filtering out the spam and only dropping “legit” email in our inboxes. That being said, if you are an email marketer, you better be checking your spam folder often! <–tweet this

But how can you tell if an email is spam? What are the giveaways?

As an email marketer, it’s critical to understand what the “tells” of a spam message are so you can be sure to avoid them in your own messaging. In today’s screencast, I review an email my dad sent me this morning … one he thought was legitimate … but turned out to be spam.

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Can’t see the video? Try watching on YouTube.

Have you ever been duped by a spam email?

DJ Waldow
Waldow Social

P.S. Have you heard the news? Nick Westergaard and I have started a weekly podcast called The Work Talk Show, where we interview crazy-smart folks about how work gets done. Give the latest episode a listen!

Email Marketing Made Simple


I recently launched a new online course, Email Marketing Made Simple, that promises to help make you a better email marketer.

-Having trouble growing your email list?
-Not sure what a preheader is?
-Avoiding using the word “free” in your subject lines because someone told you it was a “rule.”
-Having trouble figuring out how to use social media and email marketing together?
-Not sure what you should be testing and how often?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions (or all 5!), I can help.

Learn More about Email Marketing Made Simple


Fight Spam With Spam

Spam Sign

Fight spam with spam.

And chocolate roses.

And duct tape.

According to this story in The Huffington Post, the folks at Mini Cooper had an “email glitch” last week resulting in lots of unwanted/unexpected email sent from its servers to many customers. As you can imagine, many subscribers opted out and/or marked these Mini Cooper emails as spam.

So Mini Cooper decided to have a bit of fun. In the spirit of “don’t take yourself too seriously” … “be human” … and “have some fun” they sent a letter to at least one person who had unsubscribed as a result of the server error.

The letter included the following text:

Nothing says ‘I’m sorry’ quite like flowers and chocolate, so we’ve combined the two and enclosed a chocolate rose. But if you’re allergic to flowers (or chocolate), we hope this duct tape will help fix things up. Or, if you’re ever feeling annoyed again, you can de stress using this particularly squeezable can of spam.

It also included a chocolate rose, duct tape, some “real” spam, and a link to go to in order to resubscribe.

Well played, Mini Cooper. Well played.

DJ Waldow
Waldow Social

P.S. Have you heard the news? Nick Westergaard and I have started a weekly podcast called The Work Talk Show, where we interview crazy-smart folks about how work gets done. Give the latest episode a listen!

Speaking of breaking “the rules” of email marketing, did you know that my buddy Jason Falls and I just wrote a book called The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing: Grow Your List, Break the Rules, and Win?

Yup. It’s true.

In the book, we talk about growing your email list as well as breaking “the rules” of email marketing. Break the rules and grab your copy today, right now. Here –> AVAILABLE NOW!

Reminder: There is no such thing as “best practices” when it comes to email marketing. Best practices are those that are best for your audience.

Why Gmail Spam May Be Hurting Your Email Marketing Program

A few weeks ago I asked how often you checked your spam folder. I was surprised by the responses. In my very unscientific “study,” the far majority indicated they rarely checked their spam folders.

As the average consumer, this is probably not a huge deal. You’ll likely miss out on some emails that are falsely marked as spam; however, most email clients do a pretty good job telling you what is spam and what is not.

That being said, if you are an email marketer, it’s important to understand which of your emails are landing in the spam folder. Do you know? Are you checking this regularly? Are you doing your own testing by sending a copy of your email to various email accounts? Are you using a third party delivery service like Return Path? Or, are you just crossing your fingers and hoping all is well?

I’m here to tell you today why Gmail spam may be hurting your email marketing program.

On March 19, 2012, Gmail announced what seemingly was a small change to how they deal with spam. In that blog post, they told users how they now show a brief explanation at the top of each of your spam messages as to why each message landed in your spam folder. I cannot confirm this 100%, but by looking at my own inbox over the past 6 weeks, I think Gmail may have also changed a few other things. I have noticed more legitimate email in my spam folder than ever before.

I put together a short, 5-minute screencast to show you what I mean and why it’s critical to ensure your email marketing messages are not landing in Gmail spam.

Can’t see screencast? View here.

Are you seeing the same thing I am? If you are in charge of email marketing at your organization, are you checking to see if your emails are landing in Gmail’s spam folder?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

DJ Waldow

How Often Do You Check Your Spam Folder?

My wife is an Ob/GYN. She is not a marketer. She does not actively participate in social media. She does not have a blog. She mostly consumes content on the web instead of creating and sharing.

In many ways, I consider her the “average” consumer.

Last week, as I was peeking over her shoulder while she was processing email in her Gmail inbox, I noticed something that caused me to pause. She had hundreds (hundreds!) of emails in her spam folder. Hundreds! To put that in perspective, I currently have zero. I clean it out daily – many times per day.

Me: How often do you check your spam folder?
Kristina: Spam folder? Never. Why?
Me: Wait. What? Never? Really?
Kristina: Should I be?

As an email marketing guy, this got me thinking. Do other people – those not living, breathing, sleeping, dreaming, eating email – ever think about their spam folder? Does anyone other than me actually check their spam folder for legitimate email?

I turned to social media to ask my network. Here is what they said:


  • A couple times a day (M-F) and 1 or 2 X on weekends


  • rare and rarer.
  • Do I have a spam folder?
  • almost never or may be only when I am expecting an important message and don’t yet see it in inbox.
  • I check my biz account most every day. I find email of value in it often. I check my personal account rarely because I almost never find anything but true spam in it.
  • never!
  • what spam folder?
  • Fairly frequently. I look for patterns in what my email provider considers spam and try to glean some insight about what to avoid.
  • Once in a while. Some email providers have the tendency to move emails with attachments to spam with out any logic.
  • i never check it but i clear it daily.
  • Daily. Some emails of my bank end up there so I have begun checking it regularly.


Note: The two replies which I’ve bolded are from folks who work in the email marketing industry. It’s not that I discount their answers, it’s just that they are not really the “average” email consumer.

So what does this all mean?

4 Takeaways

First, let me be clear that this is in no way a true survey. There is a ton of bias in the replies, it’s not great sample size, etc. However, it still is interesting and does tell us a bit about how folks think about spam.

Takeaway #1: Most people are like my wife – they rarely check their spam folders. Some don’t because they trust that their email client (such as Gmail) is correctly marking “bad” emails as spam. Others only check it when they are expecting an email and it doesn’t arrive in their inbox.

Takeaway #2: From an email marketer perspective, it’s pretty important to be aware if your emails are landing in the inbox or your subscribers’ spam folder. If most folks never check spam – and your emails are landing there – you are losing potential eyeballs, click-throughs, and conversions.

Takeaway #3: Announcements like this one from Gmail, “Learn why a message ended up in your spam folder,” while interesting to the die-hard email marketers like me, are not all that valuable to the average person (hat tip to my colleague Loren McDonald for sharing).

Takeaway #4: Most spam, at least from my experience, looks like the image below. If that’s the case, who cares that providers like Gmail are now “showing a brief explanation at the top of each of your spam messages.” (see example)? If nobody looks at the their spam folder, does it really matter?

Where do you stand on spam? Are you like most people I asked and don’t check it often? What if you are an email marketer? Does this change your perspective on spam at all? Will you begin paying a bit more attention to your inbox deliverability?

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

DJ Waldow