Six Tips to Spam Proof Your Digital PR Emails and Bypass Spam Filters

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.

What is Spam?

Spam emails are, in short, emails that were unwanted and unprompted by the reader. This can range from one-too-many marketing emails for a brand, to fundraising requests from politicians, to yes, even your diligently crafted media pitch. Generally emails sent en masse are much more likely to be marked spam, as are previously-unseen email addresses. 

Spam emails are diverted to a junk mail or spam folder that neutralizes attachments due to concerns over security, as well as keeps the emails out of the main flow of the inbox. Emails can be reported as spam if efforts to unsubscribe are either unfruitful or there is no way to unsubscribe in the first place.

Spam is also kryptonite for any PR professional- we are, after all, supposed to get in front of journalists’ eyes, and sitting relegated in the spam filter does not support this core job task. 

Why Reaching Journalists Matters

Any digital PR campaign is designed to help a site rank organically through dynamite, helpful content and– importantly – concentrated media outreach to earn high authority links that pass equity to your brand’s page, boosting its perception in the eyes of Google. 

Think of the rhetorical question: “If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there, does it make a sound?” Similarly, if you have a content page but no journalists will see it, does it earn high authority links? 

Reaching journalists is imperative to the digital PR process, and doing so in a way that encourages them to not just open one pitch, but every pitch you send. Without robust anti-spam tactics on your part, you’ll end up ignored in journalist inboxes and unable to bring your campaigns to the next level. 

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Six Tips to Avoid Spam Filters

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 avoiding spam filters is email personalization.

1. Personalization

Personalization is the difference between a faceless, unintentional email and a targeted media pitch that showcases that you, a PR, have done your due diligence.

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 the 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. And it takes even more time after that to personalize the body of an email that showcases you understand a journalist’s works and audience. 

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, not specifically intended for a given recipient, or trying to sell something. Including a salutation and name will not only help you avoid being flagged as spam but it will also likely 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, 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.

After all, better to have a recipient opt out rather than have you marked as spam– not only will you still reach others who are more interested, but that’s one less set of deaf ears your pitch will fall on.

gif of waving goodbye

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.

It’s important to maintain an outreach mindset even in the early stages of content ideation – if the piece is hard to pitch, or hard to pitch without sounding spammy, it’s not in service of you or your clients.

4. Refining Media Lists

It can be tempting to blast out a campaign to a huge list of journalists from multiple verticals and see what sticks, 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.

Not only that, but journalists who receive irrelevant pitches are less likely to open future pitches of yours – see what we said about personalization above. Remember, even if you’re trying to achieve broad coverage, every journalist is an individual.

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.

Depending on whether you use a press database as part of your media outreach, it’s incredibly easy to filter media lists by job, language, and even DMA a journalist might work in. This will help you better create a targeted list and eliminate anyone who obviously wouldn’t want to receive your pitch.

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.

Spacing out your emails can also showcase when your pitches are most likely to be read as well as give you time to tweak and adjust your message or subject line as needed.

6. Clickbait Subject Lines

Clickbait subject lines are easy to identify.

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. 

You can also add phrases like “[New Data] or [TIMELY] to appropriate subject lines to make sure that journalists know this is new, relevant, and timely data.

Writing a Spam-Proof Pitch

Besides the tips above, what else can you do to ensure that your emails are not marked as spam? Here are a few other tips for how to avoid spam filters.

Besides ensuring that your subject line clearly communicates the main angle of your pitch, it’s important that the pitch itself doesn’t beat around the bush. Besides starting with a personalized greeting to journalists, we like to jump in with a few key items:

  • The overall thrust of the content campaign
  • How it connects to past work of the journalist
  • A headline statistic, bolded to jump out from the body of the text

From there, we format a pitch so it’s scannable, generally using bullets, and finish with a call to action to peruse the full report to get further statistics.

This is a rough formula that warrants tweaks for every pitch, else it itself becomes a spammy format. Consider that, for example, personal finance journalists will want to see statistics around money and spending, in a way that perhaps local reporters might be less interested.

It’s still on you as the PR pro to find the best way to communicate your pitch clearly and concisely to the journalist- but if you do so, the likelihood of being marked spam is considerably lower.

Avoiding being Marked Spam on Follow-up 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. 

Not only that, but be sure that your follow-up email contains different information and doesn’t simply regurgitate the same three stats. It’s easy to get caught up in a plug and play mentality with pitches, but each pitch is an opportunity to personalize and really show journalists you understand their needs. 

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. We typically wait a minimum of three business days before reaching out again.

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.

You can also use a tool like Mail-Tester. Mail-Tester will prompt you to send an email from your address to a created email address and then will provide a spam score based on how your email performs. This is a great way to check at a glance whether it’s your pitch that was the problem- or whether you’ve been marked spam and need to pivot. 

What to do if Your Emails are Marked as Spam

Take some time to go through your pr email 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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