The other day I learned that I have a big, possibly massive knowledge gap in the area of my brain dedicated to email communications. I realized I knew nothing about spam filters — other than that they exist. I didn’t know if they were causing some of the complaints that I’d been receiving from U.Va. alumni about not receiving our emails. I’d just assumed that the “work” associated with beating spam filters was being done for me automatically through the technology we’ve deployed.

My explanation for this knowledge gap isn’t sufficient to forgive myself for not learning about the issue of spam many months (years) ago. The reality is, however, that there are other reasons why an alumnae might not get one of our e-blasts. Those reasons occupied more of that brain space I mentioned.

Typical reasons why someone might not get our emails include:

1) the alumnae unsubscribed from our email category or asked for an OMIT code to be applied to her record;

2) her email address is old or incorrect;

3) the email address expected to receive emails is not marked as “primary” in our database;

4) no physical address in the system, which would prevent her from appearing on a zip code based list;

5) her zip code is not included in the collection of zip codes for a metro region, and therefore is not part of the “geo-code” we use to pull the list.

Lots to think about, right?! And this doesn’t even factor in some of the strange glitchy reasons like finding out someone is coded as a “friend” instead of “alumni” or something like that.

Here I am thinking that the only reason alumni weren’t getting our e-blasts is because some component of our data was outdated or incorrect. When someone doesn’t get an email finding out why requires a member of my team to conduct cumbersome albeit valuable detective work. But lately, when my team has applied a thorough check of the data we have for a constituent, there doesn’t always seem to be a reason why someone is not getting our emails.

Enter the spam issue…

We recently purchased a service called Litmus primarily to see if our emails were getting caught in spam filters. As it turns out, we were using language and symbols in our communications that were causing our emails to get caught in a few key spam filters. It’s not an exact science, but clearly there were changes to be made in order to increase the likelihood that our emails reach our constituents. Did you know that dollar signs and exclamation points can trigger spam filters? I didn’t.

Testing emails for SPAM filters passage is now a routine of ours.

Testing emails for SPAM filters passage is now a routine of ours.

Testing emails for spam filter passage is now a routine of ours.

The jury is still out as far as to whether running emails through will actually increase open rates. But if you are in-charge of sending out emails, whether engagement related or solicitations, then you might want to consider checking out a service like Litmus that offers great insights, not only on spam filters, but also on how your emails look on various platforms and devices when they arrive.

Ryan Catherwood is Co-Host of Advancement Live and the Director of Engagement Strategy at the University of Virginia. Follow him on twitter @RyanCatherwood and connect with him on Linkedin.


Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.


Ryan Catherwood

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