Email senders urged to watch their words

23 May 2006

Saying the right thing counts for a lot in business but companies now have extra reason to mind their language because using certain words when composing emails could cause IT filtering systems to mistakenly tag a legitimate message as spam.

According to Email Reaction, a UK-based email marketing provider, seemingly innocuous words such as ‘percent’, ‘sincerely’, ‘statements’, ‘urgent’ and ‘warehouse’ should be avoided in email communications because they increase the chances that anti-spam technology will classify it as spam.

Spam filters operate by assigning a score to certain words based on how likely it is that a message containing one or more of them is junk. This weighting is then combined with other factors, including the sender’s details, to determine the probability of a message being classed as spam and consequently blocked.

Email Reaction has discovered there are some words that count heavily against a message being legitimate, such as: acceptance, accordingly, beneficiary, beverage, certified, dainty, deceased, degrees, deposit, depression, diagnostics, dollars, dormant, enlarge, foreigner, lenders, lottery, medication, paste, presently, reciprocal, replicas, reseller, southwestern, Swiss, tablets, trademarks, valuables, watches.

Business-specific words that are likely to figure in a spam email include: loan, maintained, medium, organization, percent, perpetual, sincerely, somebody, statements, transaction, urgent, verify, warehouse. In addition, spam mails were frequently found to mention websites such as Hotmail, Paypal, Amazon and Ebay.

Vicky Carne, managing director of Email Reaction, said it was very difficult for people to work out what spam filters might judge to be a sign of junk mail. “Companies often run a simple test using the open source Spam Assassin filter but this tends to highlight technical issues which owe more to the email template than the message. It’s important to run a keyword check as well to see how the message can be edited to improve the likelihood that people receive the messages they have asked for.”

By Gordon Smith