SpamAssassin Rules and what they Mean for your Emails

For the past several years I have been following SpamAssassin’s rule set and I am always amazed by how many seemingly innocuous things (e.g. “Dear x”) can make perfectly harmless emails come under suspicion.

The vast majority of issues come from poorly coded/authenticated emails. This can either be the fault of the email’s designer (in the case of poor HTML) or the the platform (infrastructural issue). Some common HTML issues include:

  1. Too much code (in terms of your code to text ratio)
  2. Too little text (in terms of your text to image ratio) — you get penalized for being succint if you also use images
  3. Poorly written code (title set to “untitled”; unclosed tags, etc.) — apparently spammers cannot code well
  4. Larger or smaller than ordinary fonts — stick to something similar to 10-12pt
  5. “Shouting” — too many words in all caps; excessive use of red or blue font
  6. Hiding the unsubscribe text by making the font the same color as the background — a shady practice that would only result in spam complaints anyway



Here are a few highlights that I often see being violated that you would never think about from a SPAM perspective. It is interesting that what is often thought of as a best practice (explaining how/why someone was subscribed  and how he or she could unsubscribe) must be worded carefully to avoid a penalty: 

  1. Email contains ‘Dear (something)’ — so much for being friendly
  2. Claims you can be removed from the list 
  3. Talks about how to be removed from mailings
  4. Removal phrase right before a link

It is humorous though quite sad that email has been somewhat ruined because of all of the bad apples who take advantage of unsuspecting inboxes. Twitter, unfortunately is likely to follow if unchecked.

See the full list of Spam Assassin Rules

FTC Approves Changes to CAN-SPAM Law

Part of responsible email marketing is ensuring that you’re always in compliance with CAN-SPAM laws. Earlier this week, the FTC made some changes to the CAN-SPAM requirements. 

The new rule provisions address four topics: 

  • An e-mail recipient cannot be required to pay a fee, provide information other than his or her e-mail address and opt-out preferences, or take any steps other than sending a reply e-mail message or visiting a single Internet Web page to opt out of receiving future e-mail from a sender
  • The definition of “sender” was modified to make it easier to determine which of multiple parties advertising in a single e-mail message is responsible for complying with the Act’s opt-out requirements
  • A “sender” of commercial e-mail can include an accurately-registered post office box or private mailbox established under United States Postal Service regulations to satisfy the Act’s requirement that a commercial e-mail display a “valid physical postal address”
  • A definition of the term “person” was added to clarify that CAN-SPAM’s obligations are not limited to natural persons

Michael Goldberg posted a great summary of what these changes mean for marketers on the Outperformance Marketing blog. 

Based on the new modificaitons, Goldberg explains: 

In a multiple-advertiser email, a single advertiser can assume the role of sole “CAN-SPAM sender.” The Final Rule issued by the Federal Trade Commission establishes that, when there are multiple advertisers in single email, a single advertiser can assume the role of sole CAN-SPAM sender if (a) the advertiser meets the requirements of “sender,” as defined under the CAN-SPAM act of 2003, (b) is the only advertiser identified in the “from” line, and (c) complies with all of the other original sender requirements imposed by the Act, including the requirements surrounding a “valid physical postal address.” 

Senders must provide recipients with an easy, unburdened way to unsubscribe from a commercial email. Specifically, the Federal Trade Commission requires advertisers to allow consumers to opt out of subsequent commercial email messages from that advertiser without requiring payment, information beyond the consumer’s email address, “or any other obligation as a condition for accepting or honoring a recipient’s opt-out request,” including requiring a consumer to visit more than a single Internet Web page.

“Person” will be defined, for purposes of CAN-SPAM, as an individual, group, unincorporated association, limited or general partnership, corporation, or other business entity. 

A “valid physical postal address” has been defined as “the sender’s current street address, a Post Office box the sender has accurately registered with the United States Postal Service, or a private mailbox the sender has accurately registered with a commercial mail receiving agency that is established pursuant to United States Postal Service regulations.” 

What didn’t change?

You still have only ten-business days to honor all opt-out requests.