Your IP reputation is important. Your domain reputation is important. Your content is important, too.

No, really.

Well, okay. Of the three, content is third in the ranking. Sometimes a distant third. But it is on the list, and rightly so. Sometimes we here in deliverability land talk about how content doesn’t matter – but that’s not quite correct. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that we’re guilty of explaining things too simplistically. Reputation and deliverability success are MOSTLY driven by reputation and reputation is MOSTLY driven by (indirect ISP measures of) permission. Since ISP spam filters can’t really read permission directly, they rely on other signals to try to back into it. And content filtering is a tiny little part of that; trying to infer that a sender is bad  because their mail includes content fingerprints or hallmarks that are often found in unsolicited and unwanted mail. Thus, content matters.

Here’s a real life example of where even good senders can run into content issues.

Every week, I send out my little Spam Resource email newsletter, and occasionally I see bounces at iCloud and sometimes I see spam folder delivery at (I monitor that stuff, you know. It’s germaine to my day job!) I’ve tested changing the subject line, and found that certain changes can actually result in the mail going to the inbox instead of the spam folder. (And maybe I’ll even follow my own advice and implement those changes at some point.) As far as iCloud, well, my newsletter talks a lot about spam and email-related issues, and sometimes I might link to a domain that Apple’s spam/email security partner doesn’t have a real great opinion of, or I might word things (or arrange code) in a way that looks a little too similar to what a bad guy might be doing for email code in a phish or a spoof. It’s kind of rare, but it happens. Sometimes I reach out to Apple about it, sometimes not. I know that I (and my emails) comprise just another tiny momentary speck within an indifferent universe, and Apple’s got higher priorities than tweaking their filters to make me happy.

Anyway, that’s just me talking about how I can tell that I personally had content-related deliverability issues. I don't know how to tell you how you can prevent yourself from running into similar issues. But I can tell you: you should test and monitor for content-related issues. If your mail is suddenly going to the spam folder at Gmail this week, when it wasn’t last week, a bit of content testing can’t hurt, and might be insightful.

My favorite, most simplistic type of content testing is the “neutral content” test. A neutral content test is when you swap out your whole email template for something very plain. Don’t use your typical email design. For text, don’t include your normal marketing content. Don’t link to your usual domains. You just want a short paragraph or two of text, maybe with a headline above it. My go-to text (instead of the old "Lorem Ipsum") is to take the first two paragraphs from the Wikipedia article about the City of Chicago. I take that, I drop it into a simple, but correctly formatted generic HTML template, with a <HEAD> and <BODY> and proper <P>’s and all that happy stuff, and the words in the body talk about the city of Chicago. And that’s it. That’s my neutral content. It’s not likely to trigger any spam filters on its own. It’s not talking about anything controversial, there’s no selling going on, and it’s not talking about anything that commonly appears in spam.

When I’m helping a client test for content issues, we’ll go into their email sending platform and pull up a new email template or campaign, and I’ll help them swap out their usual marketing content with my neutral content HTML email, and we send it to the test list, using the same IP address and domain name that the client normally uses.

And you know what, sometimes this email goes to the inbox, even when their normal marketing sends from that same IP address and domain deliver to the spam folder.

Why? Because they've got a content issue. (Now, what to do next, that's a whole other blog post.)

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