Become a Spammer: Learn Better E-mail Marketing Habits

Ian Lurie

When I say ‘become a spammer’ I mean it in the FBI/Mulder profiling way, not the Buy-lots-of-servers-and-send-out-millions-of-messages-an-hour way.
You can become a far better e-mail marketer if you study really crappy e-mail marketing. All those e-mails that look like they were written by a troupe of crazed chimpanzees hold invaluable lessons in how to:

  • Get your message delivered.
  • Establish trust with the recipient.
  • Get your message read.

I’ll demonstrate with an e-mail I got today. I blurred out their contact information, although God knows they must not be easily ashamed if they’re sending out this kind of dross:
You glance at a message like this and immediately your brain screams ‘spam’.
Why? And what do we learn from it? Seven lessons:

1. Always Use a Real ‘From’ Name

An obvious first step: Don’t send your marketing pieces from ‘cattle’:
OK, this is an extreme case. Cows don’t even have fingers, never mind laptops. And I don’t know anyone named ‘Mr. Cattle’. But there’s still a lesson: Always use a real name.
The name can be a company or a person, but it needs to be real.

2. Avoid Subject Line Alarm Bells

All caps, nonsensical subject lines tell me that you were either suffering a seizure when you wrote this, or you generated the e-mail using some half-baked list scraped from my web site in 1998. This one actually says both:
Make sure your subject line makes sense, and that it scans for legitimacy. For example, this e-mail could’ve said “Ian Lurie, I’d like to waste your time with a stupid offer to optimize”
I still would’ve ignored it, but at least it would’ve seemed more trustworthy.

3. Send to a Real Address

Send to a person, not a generic alerts address. I set up [email protected] to catch morons like this spammer. If it’s not sent to ‘ian’ or ‘info’ or something similar, I automatically ignore it.
Make sure your e-mail marketing is going to a real person with a real mailbox, or that it at least uses a name and not a generic drop-box address. Otherwise you’ll probably end up in the spam folder.
Using your house list can avoid a lot of these problems.

4. Don’t Use Catch Phrases

Certain phrases will always catch the spam filters:
“No obligation”
“Discreet service”
…are great examples. If you feel dirty after writing your e-mail marketing copy, chances are you’ve got some catch phrases in there.
The victim author in this case used ‘I am trying to contact LURIE’. It doesn’t include any catch phrases, but it’s got all caps and it makes almost no sense.
Gong. Better luck next time.

5. Be Competent

Lousy writing, awful grammar and incorrect capitalization/punctuation all erode the reader’s trust. If you write badly enough, the reader will scan your e-mail and assume you’re sitting in a cyber cafe in Nigeria. In this case, the message reads like my 6-year-old-daughter wrote it on a bad day:
Actually, that’s insulting to my daughter.
You don’t need to be Ray Bradbury. But you do need to write like you speak the language.
Write well. Proofread. Little mistakes add up fast, and the end result will be a quick trip to the trash bin.

6. Be Certain

Nothing makes me doubt your legitimacy more than when you doubt your legitimacy. Mr. Cattle hits the warning bell over and over: “Anyway”, “some kind of response”, “I was wondering”, blah blah blah.
I like, don’t really think, like, I know, like, whether you know what you’re doing, y’know?
Write clear, definitive prose. Again, you don’t have to write a masterpiece. But get to the point, and do it with confidence.

7. Know Your Audience

The final kicker: Mr. (Ms.?) Cattle sent me a search marketing offer. I’m a search marketer, you idiot. And given this e-mail I think I’m a damn sight better at it than you.
Know your audience, and send to folks who actually need your service.

Matching Deeds to Attitude

Just to prove that even this example could’ve been done better, here’s the same lame spam, rewritten:
From: John Smith
Subject: Build traffic for
To: Ian Lurie
I can help you build traffic to using search marketing. We’ve done work with sites like yours, and I know we can help you, too.
And, we only charge $300 per month.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience,
I think this has a better chance of getting a read or two, don’t you?
Related Posts
6 Best Practices for Your Link Building Email Campaigns
7 Email Marketing Fails and How to Avoid Them

Start call to action

See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

End call to action


  1. What a waste of keystrokes. Hard to believe someone actually sits down at the computer and takes the time to send out e-mail that they think will convince someone else they should pay him $300/month for services, but doesn’t take the time to research the audience or compose a decent e-mail.
    Thanks for sharing. You always find the absurd in things!

  2. I get e-mails a lot like that at work. There are a couple decent ones that look like the may be legitimate but they e-mail to two calendar e-mails and the religion page e-mail. Is anyone really going to take that seriously if your addressing it to a generic e-mail? And then I see the same e-mail in all three inboxes. Brilliant.

  3. Oh now this just made my morning. Being a grammar and language guru, I just about died reading that. Personally I enjoy the last statement: “if we emailed you my ad by mistake…blah…blah…” You emailed the ad yourself nitwit! who is we? This “cattle” person should also make use of the comma, as it is missing repeatedly.
    I’ve been getting emails from the bank of Nigeria saying I have millions ready to be put in my bank account. I mean those emails are a sight to behold. There are no words…

  4. Regarding the point number 1, I am sure you will be surprised that I come across a name called “cattle”. The thing is some chinese like to use funny name. I even get to learn about people named “clever”, “steel”, “pretty” and etc.. So,perhaps the spammer is using the real name đŸ˜‰

  5. @Daren, I have the same thought with you. The name could be weird. These day we can find someone have ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘gray’, ‘steel’, ‘rose’. This is not always chinese who have this name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close search overlay