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What Is SpamAssassin and How to Avoid It

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Did you know that nearly 45% of emails sent in 2021 were just spam?

You probably would not have even noticed because they never show up in your inbox, and we have email filtering software to thank for that.

Email filtering software like SpamAssassin tests all emails you receive and gives it a score to indicate if it is a spam email or not. Email clients then separate the ones that are said to be spam and put them in a separate spam folder so that you never have to deal with them.

This filtration system is helpful for an average email user as it removes potential malicious or unwanted emails, and they have a pleasant experience when checking their inbox.

But, for an email marketer like yourself, this is one of the major hurdles you have to jump over if you want to create a successful email campaign that lands in people's inboxes.

So in this article, we brief you on one email filtering software called SpamAssassin and what steps you can take to avoid it.

Table of contents

What is SpamAssassin?

SpamAssassin, from the Apache Foundation, is open-source software that uses advanced testing and analytical tools to find out if an email is spam or not.

Apache SpamAssassin logo

System administrators and email clients use this software to filter and classify emails as spam and block them from getting sent to people's inboxes.

SpamAssassin uses powerful scoring frameworks and plug-ins to integrate advanced heuristic and statistical analysis to test the following email components to identify spam emails:

  • Sending IP
  • Subject line
  • Email headers
  • Authentication
  • Body content and formatting
  • Markup
  • Character sets
  • Message encoding

It also uses Bayesian filtering, blacklists, online databases, DNS, and fuzzy checksum techniques to check if the email is spam.

After doing all the tests, it calculates a score for every email, determining if an email is a spam or not.

What is the SpamAssassin score?

The SpamAssassin score is the rank which states the possibility of an email being spam, and a higher score means it's more likely that the email is spam.

SpamAssassin assigns a numerical score for every email attribute that it checks, and in the end, all the scores are added up. Usually, positive scores indicate probable spam, while negative ones indicate that it is unlikely to be spam.

The general score for an email to be considered spam is "5" and above, with a maximum score of "10". However, system admins and mailbox providers sometimes adjust this score to be lower or higher than 5, so you have to ensure that your scores are way below 5.

What can you do to avoid SpamAssassin?

SpamAssassin experts say that as long as your email is not spam, you don't have to worry too much about hitting rules within SpamAssassin, and even if you do hit one, it wouldn't be a high enough score to be a problem.

So if you are a legitimate sender, but your SpamAssassin score is higher than you'd prefer, here are a few best practices you can follow to reduce your score and your likelihood of being mistaken for spam.

• Show your legitimacy as a sender

As a legitimate sender, you don't have any reason to hide your sender's information like "from" and "reply-to." So, provide correct and accurate sender information and also ensure that your domain has a verifiable IP address that people can look up to confirm your identity.

Your legitimacy is also shown through your sender reputation, and with every email you send, you build the sending history for your domain and IP address.

As long as recipients open and interact with your emails, you will have a positive reputation. But if your emails are noted as spam by readers or even ignored, then it will harm your domain reputation.

• Avoid mistakes in the HTML code of your email

Mistakes in HTML can be unbalanced tags, invalid tags, default titles, etc., and it can lead to your email being misinterpreted as spam. So, you should double-check to avoid any mistakes or missing components in the HTML.

Also, when composing HTML emails, make sure to have a text section for people who don't want to see the HTML version. And, when writing the text in your emails, don't include any invisible text.

• Set up email authentication

Email authentication protocols assist email servers in identifying legitimate senders from scammers pretending to be reputable brands.

SpamAssassin checks for SPF (Sender Policy Framework) and DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) when it scores an email, and even if you miss one, your score will be affected. So it's best to set up email authentication to help lower your SpamAssassin score.

DMARC might be a popular authentication method that gives you more security, but it doesn't directly impact the score. We would still recommend it to be on the safe side.

• Avoid using too many images in your emails

Using an image or two in your email will not be harmful but avoid relying heavily on it to deliver your message as SpamAssassin doesn't like it if an email is only filled with images. And, while it might not drastically increase your score, it's something you must keep in mind if you want to reduce your score.

We would recommend you keep the number of images in your email below 40% of the total message size and always write alt text for the images. Alt text will ensure that the email makes sense even if the image fails to load or is viewed in text format.

• Don’t sound spammy or weird

Avoid using the following words anywhere in your email, whether preheader, subject line or copy:

  • This email is not a spam
  • Best price
  • Cheap
  • No questions asked
  • Free
  • Money
  • Win
  • Winner
  • Rich
  • Save
  • Income
  • Profit
  • Debt
  • Weight loss

But if you do have to use any of these words, try to find a synonym that doesn't sound spammy. Overall if your email seems normal in tone, grammar, and structure, it will help with the email score.

Related guide: 284 Spam Words That Are Affecting Your Email Deliverability

There are chances that the domain you have linked to in your email can be on a blocklist and have a poor sender reputation. And, if you link those sites, you might be labeled as an 'accomplice' and influence your reputation.

And the thing is that even some promising, genuine companies can have a bad sender reputation, and it is hard for you to know that. So be wary of linking other sites in your emails.

Wrap up

Now, it doesn't mean that the tips mentioned above are a magic fix to avoid being marked as spam, but it does improve your chances.

As long as you have good email practices and avoid writing anything spammy in your emails, you should be able to get a lower score on SpamAssassin and ultimately end up in your subscriber's inbox.

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