Spam filters are great. They keep already-bursting inboxes clear from scammers, advertisements for questionable medication, and a whole slew of other messages you’d rather not have to sort through.
But they can also catch real, important things, as Boomerang, a productivity software company, has pointed out in a blog post by Brendan Greenley. Luckily, you can keep your emails from ending up there by avoiding some known traps.
Imagine the made-up Jane Cash sent this email to her fake co-worker, Friend Jones, from her personal account after work because she noticed he was anxious all afternoon. She just wants to help. But her message might be destined for the spam folder.
Can you pick out 11 things in this email that might get it caught in a filter?
Did you catch ’em all?
Let’s go through them one at a time.
1. The “Cash” in the From Field
Even when “cash” is a last name in your email address rather than a scam (such as Boomerang’s example: “Free Cash Now” < firstname.lastname@example.org >) it can get caught in a filter.
2. The Free Webmail Provider
If your email comes from the domain of a free provider (i.e. it ends in gmail.com, yahoo.com, or hotmail.com), it could trigger a filter, though Greenley insists it shouldn’t be an issue for most users unless they’re “frequently writing cold outreach/marketing emails.”
3. The “Do You Want” Start to the Subject
Avoid kicking off your subject line with phrases like “Do you want” and “Do you have,” both of which can cause your email to get caught in a filter.
4. The Question and Exclamation in the Subject
Apparently, spam filters don’t like this particular combination of punctuation in subject lines.
5. The Larger-Than-100% Percentage in the Subject
Hyperbole with percentages can also endanger your email.
6. The Enthusiastic Offer to Help in the Subject
Jane is just trying to help out a colleague, but her subject line promise to support him—in the form of the phrase “will help”—could trigger a spam filter, leaving her kindness to languish unseen.
7. The “Dear Friend” Opener
“Dear Friend,” as well as formal openings like “Dear sir,” can get you in trouble. Now, you don’t typically go around starting emails to your friends with “Dear Friend,” you probably don’t have a friend named Friend nowadays, and you’re unlikely to frequently find yourself emailing a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (we think).
But you should also want to keep in mind that the openings “hey,” “hello,” and “hi” get the best response rates, according to another Boomerang analysis, though “dear” also performed better than average.
8. The “Hey Bro”
There are many reasons you should keep this phrase out of your emails and speech, the least of them being that it could send your email to spam.
9. The GIFs
Keep in mind that emails in which images, GIFs, and/or memes overwhelm the text might never make it to their destination.
10. The “I Like Oprah!”
Talking about Oprah with a lot of enthusiasm (in the form of an exclamation point) could get you in trouble with the filters.
11. The “Urgent” Phrase
Using “urgent reply,” “urgent business proposal,” or another phrase with the word “urgent” in it could send your very timely email to the recipient’s spam folder.
How’d you do? Whether you found all the things or failed miserably, you’ve now learned a few tricks to help you avoid falling into spam filter traps. Oh! And if you’re now dying for more tricks, check out the longer list here.
Photo of person typing on laptop at home courtesy of Oscar Wong/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author