Keeping Political Campaign Email out of the Junkmail Box
Benjamin A. Katz
Effective communication has always been the key to a successful election campaign and in the electronic age, email has increasingly emerged as an efficient, low-cost medium for doing just that. Unfortunately, if your campaign staff is not sufficiently aware of the pitfalls posed by spam filters, your carefully crafted email message may simply end up in the intended recipient's Junk Folder.
Email service providers (such as AOL, MSN and Gmail) have been forced by the glut of unwanted bulk email to institute increasingly sophisticated filters on their email systems. These rely on extremely complicated methodologies that screen incoming and outgoing messages for characteristics that typify junk mail. If any given message scores enough points, it ends up in the contemporary equivalent of the Dead Letter Box. This applies if the message is directed to one recipient or to one hundred thousand. It applies equally to people who subscribed to your campaign's email list and most importantly, it applies to political mail as well as commercial mail and it applies whether your message or newsletter is or is not truly junk mail.
The most obvious of the points weighed by email service providers involves forbidden words—particularly those touting miracle drugs or containing adult-oriented text or images. Less obvious is use in the subject line of expressions such as free or urgent.
Another trigger for negative points is a heavy image to text ratio and also use of excessively-bright spam colors. Use of excessive punctuation in the subject line—particularly question marks and exclamation points—is equally problematic.
Another extremely important part of the equation is the identity of your email service provider. If you are using a service that is gray or black-rated, you are far more likely to have your email messages rejected.
This is only a partial list that varies from one email service provider to the next. In addition, the rules are constantly changing as the system evolves to cope with the hordes intent on abusing the system.
There are various measures you can take to maximize the prospect of your email messages being delivered. For starters, use common sense. Begin by looking through your own junk mail folder and take note of the words and other features that filtered out those particular messages. Although you may be tempted in a moment of levity to allude to adult-oriented or other touchy subjects, don't. Rely on basic text colors and, if you do include images as part of your message, keep them relatively small. Although you obviously want to draw attention to your subject line, remember that two exclamation points are the kiss of death.
One crucial step is to avoid black or gray-rated email service providers that have earned a reputation for supporting junk mail. As a broadcast email provider, CompleteCampaigns.com goes to great lengths to guarantee the integrity of its service and continues to earn a clean bill-of-health from all the junk mail filters. In part we maintain this reputation by only sending out legitimate political email. Make sure whoever you use has strigent rules about what email they'll send.
If you don't want your email to end up in junk mail boxes, don't spam. Email should be sent only to voters and supporters who have specifically subscribed and you should provide a procedure (preferably automated) to delete the addresses of those who choose to unsubscribe. Sending unsolicited email will get you branded as a spammer and prevent future emails from reaching their recipients.
The last measure is, perhaps, the most important. Before sending out a bulk or broadcast email, do a test mailing to yourself and to other members of your campaign staff who are using a variety of email providers. If necessary, keep tweaking the content until it passes muster.