🕒 June 1, 2022       🗩 Cameron Taylor

If you’ve ever opened your inbox, you’ve probably been inundated with messages promising that you’ve won a sweepstakes or warning you that your computer has been infected with a virus. These email scams or spam have been such a regular part of the 21st century experience that there are whole movies and comedy skits based on them. While these spam interactions can be annoying and possibly dangerous for the consumer, they can be just as problematic for marketers. Spam muddies the waters of communication between business and consumer, making it harder for valid emails to make it to the inbox. This can make it harder for marketers to communicate with their subscribers.  

What is Spam?

Let’s start at the very beginning of the issue, what is Spam Email? The origin of the name is often debated, but most attribute it to a sketch from Monty Python and the Flying Circus. In it, two patrons of a restaurant bemoan their dislike of spam, while a repetitive song praises the breakfast meat. Game chat rooms in the 80s and 90s would set up bots to send repetitive messages of “Spam, Spam, Spam” or sometimes the song in its entirety. These annoying messages provided other users something they did not want just like the restaurant patrons in the sketch. As time passed, spam became the moniker for unsolicited or unwanted communication, typically emails but can also be text messages, generally sent out in bulk to a nonsubscriber list.

Botnets are often used to deliver spam emails to their mailing lists. A botnet is a network of hijacked computers infected with malware. These computers often become infected through, ironically enough, spam email. By using computers with neutral sender reputations, the spam sender can avoid being blocked by the Email Service Providers as the IP addresses don’t have a poor reputation. Once the hijacked computers develop a poor reputation through the spam sends, the sender will move on to other computers.   

The reasons to send spam can vary, but it usually falls under two categories, commercial spam and malicious spam. Commercial spam wants to sell you something and uses these bulk emails to try to engage as many potential customers as possible. The products or services can be legitimate, but they generally aren’t. Malicious spam wants to gain access to your information (credit cards, bank accounts, etc.) or your computer. These often disguise themselves as antivirus warnings, sweepstakes, pleas for money or even imitating brands that you would be familiar with and trust such as your bank or job. Regardless of which type of spam it is, the overarching goal of these communications is to gain access to your resources that you normally wouldn’t provide.    

How does this affect legitimate senders of large lists of recipients that have opted-in to receive email?

Email Service Providers (ESPs) are constantly on the lookout for spam emails. If their users have bad experiences in their inboxes, they have a higher chance of abandoning the email and the provider. This creates a strong incentive for ESPs to remove as much spam as possible. ESPs will look for certain characteristics in campaigns to determine if the content is spam.

These characteristics can include:

  • Mass deployments from a domain with no previous deploy history
  • Image heavy campaigns with little to no text components 
  • Campaigns deployed consistently to dead or “do-not-mail” addresses 
  • IPs and domains with high hard bounce rates on deployments (authentication and reputation)
  • Campaigns without a text version of the email

ESPs will monitor these types of emails and will take steps to either isolate them in the spam folder or block them all together. They will even take over dead email addresses to monitor if the address is getting removed from sender lists. If an IP continues to send an email address that provides no activity to the campaign (clicks and opens), then the ESPs will assume it is spam. 

There are no ‘fool-proof’ methods of determining spam. Emails sharing an “interesting business proposal” can end up in your priority folder, while a birthday e-card from grandma can find its way to the spam folder. Marketers should work to distinguish their emails from their spam counterparts. Taking the extra steps to meet the expectations of a “good sender” will enable you to preserve your good reputation and get your email to the inbox . If you want to find out ways to distinguish your campaigns from the bad actors that plague the internet, stay tuned for our next post to learn more about being a “good sender”.


Spam is something we’ve all dealt with and while it can be annoying to customers, it can be even more disruptive to marketers. Spam makes it harder for business communications to reach their consumers by mudding the waters between legitimate and illegitimate email campaigns. Spam uses a variety of techniques (botnets, hidden text, fake domains, etc.) to reach their intended inboxes. Email Service Providers are on high alert for anything that resembles spam in order to isolate and or block the email or domain from sending to their users. It is the responsibility of marketers to stay up to date on spam markers (image heavy content, high hard bounce rates, etc.) in order to avoid their campaigns from being perceived as spam.

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