How to Spam-Proof Your Digital PR Emails

By Victoria Schmid

Crafting the perfect email pitch is a key part of every digital PR strategy. Whether you’re doing mass cold outreach, or reaching out to a highly-targeted short list of journalists (or a mix of both), your pitch needs to be compelling enough to be opened. 

But before journalists even lay eyes on your pitch, your email needs to pass through a spam filter.

All email platforms (Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, etc.) have a spam filter designed to keep out unwanted emails. Even though each platform has a different way of detecting spam, there are steps you can take that will improve your chances of avoiding a spam filter so it can land in a journalist’s inbox.

These tips are also general best practices for cold emailing. This will help maintain a professional image and earn coverage for your client, while also keeping your lists full of journalists who haven’t opted out of receiving your pitches.

Six Tips to Avoid Spam Filters

Midjourney image of an email

If you’re wondering how to send a PR email that lands at the top of your recipient’s inbox – there are a few things you should review before hitting ‘send.’

  1. Personalization
  2. CAN-SPAM compliance and unsubscribe messages
  3. Spam trigger words
  4. Refined media lists
  5. Scheduling and email limits
  6. Clickbait subject lines

The first step in a spam-proof news pitch or cold email is personalization.

1. Personalization

Digital PR is a fast-moving world, and we’re all busy balancing different campaigns for clients. But when learning how to write a digital PR email to pitch new content, it’s important to remember that time invested in personalization is worth it. Taking the time to add a greeting and first name is not only a best practice (and helps you establish a relationship with a journalist), but it also helps your email avoid spam filters.

A screen shot of a blank email with a name

It’s as simple as including “Hello [First Name]” at the beginning of an email. You may be asking: Why wouldn’t someone do that? The honest answer is that it takes more time to personalize emails.

Even with outreach tools that make it easy to mass-send emails, it still takes extra time to: 1. Find someone’s name and 2. Insert it into your emails.

If you don’t include a greeting or first name, it signals to spam filters that you’re mass-blasting an email that could be irrelevant or trying to sell something. Including a salutation and name will not only help you avoid being flagged as spam, but it is also likely to increase open rates. Think about it…you’d rather open an email with your name in the greeting than not, right?

There are many other ways to personalize your emails, including using names in subject lines to grab attention, including feedback on something they’ve recently published, or commenting on something they’ve recently tweeted. When it comes to digital PR outreach tips and cold email best practices, including a name is a must.

2. CAN-SPAM Compliance and Unsubscribe Messages

If you’re working in the U.S., it’s not just a best practice to include an unsubscribe option in your emails, it’s also the law. The CAN-SPAM Act includes best practices for businesses who use emailing, and calls out that emails need to “tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you”.

Including an unsubscribe link or message in your email that gives the option to opt-out from future emails is imperative. We all know how frustrating it is to receive emails and with no way to stop them. Omitting an unsubscribe message will likely lead to more people marking you as spam…which is hard to recover from.

While some may hesitate to include an unsubscribe message for fear of recipients opting-out, the bottom line is that it will benefit both the sender and receiver. You don’t want to entice people to mark you as spam, and you don’t want to waste time emailing someone who doesn’t want your pitch.

3. Avoid Spam Trigger Words

Some words will automatically flag your email for spam. While some spam trigger words aren’t regularly used in digital PR pitches, like “weight loss”, “big bucks”, or “meet singles”, there are some that could.

When working on dream job campaigns in particular, I found it hard to avoid spam trigger words like “make money”, “get paid”, or “work from home.”

When ideating a new type of campaign or a dream job, keep in mind how you’re going to pitch to try and avoid spam trigger words. There may not be a perfect solution, but it’s something to keep in mind before you get too far into content creation.

4. Refining Media Lists

It can be tempting to blast out a campaign to a huge list of journalists, but the reality is that your campaign will not be relevant to thousands of journalists. This can lead to low email open rates and being marked spam due to irrelevancy.

Comb through your media lists and remove anyone who obviously shouldn’t be there (for example, if you’re pitching a USA trends map, remove email addresses that end in ‘.ca’ which indicates they work in Canada.) Remove duplicate email addresses, those where an email was shown as undelivered, and filter out people who haven’t opened your pitches at all in the past 12-24 months. These are some easy ways to cut out contacts who won’t open your emails or will bounce back.

A high number of bounce-back emails is also an indicator of mass emailing and could be likely to land you in a spam folder. Every time you have an email bounce back, use a filter or list to make a note of it and remove them from future lists.

Yes, this takes time and may remove a good chunk of contacts from a list. But you’ll likely see open rates go up as you target more active and relevant journalists. The key to avoiding a spam filter is to mimic manual emailing.

Midjourney image of emails in a trash can

5. Scheduling and Email Limits

Along the same lines as weeding through your media lists, it’s also important to pay attention to how many emails you’re sending. A human couldn’t send 1,000 emails in one hour, so you shouldn’t schedule that many either.

Over my four years working in digital PR, I’ve found that it’s best to send a maximum of 400 emails per day to avoid being marked spam (the absolute maximum during a large campaign is 500). I also space those out by at least 30 seconds, across about five hours.

6. Clickbait Subject Lines

Go to your spam folder right now and scan the subject lines of the emails in it. Notice any common phrases? Avoiding phrasing like “Save money with this trick” or “Click here to see what we have” to ensure you’re not lost in the spam folder. Subject lines should be short, concise, clearly show they’re communicating data, and able to stand out from a field of spam emails. Journalists receive thousands of pitches every day; the more you can ensure your message misses the spam folder, the better.

We’ve found it’s better to be straightforward: “New York Voted #1 Weirdest State” as opposed to “This state voted #1 weirdest” tends to make it past spam detectors with a bit more ease. 

Avoiding being Marked Spam on Followup Emails

When drafting a follow-up email, it’s important to maintain continuity between your initial pitch and your follow-up. Nothing feels more like spam than an errant “RE:” with no context in the body of the message. Be sure to double-check that your initial message is included and that your text references that this is a follow-up email. 

Common sense applies: take all the provisions we have for your initial outreach and be sure to keep them in mind when composing follow-up messaging. Avoid clickbait and treat journalists like humans. Make sure that you wait an adequate amount of time before you reach out to follow up. 

How Can I Tell If I Am Marked Spam?

If your email open rates are consistently below 15%, it’s quite likely you’ve been marked spam. Before you panic, pause your emails and let your outgoing email account have a break to recover before doing further damage.

Take some time to go through your press lists and clear them of bounced addresses – sending emails to inactive addresses increases spam likelihood. Give lists with especially low open rates some extra time away- emailing with low engagement is another variable that can flag spam. Past that, there’s nothing to do but wait and hone best practices in the meantime. 

These cold email tips can help prevent your news pitch from going to a spam folder and instead – landing in the journalist’s inbox. It’s important and worthwhile to invest time in making sure you are following cold emailing best practices.

Remember: the more journalists you get your campaign in front of, the more likely you are to earn valuable media coverage and help your client’s site rank higher

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