Need Suggestion How to Send Legitimate Email Invitations and Avoid SPAM Filters

Posted on 2009-04-28
Last Modified: 2012-05-06

I own a market research firm that has been in business for 11 years.  Most of our studies involve sending email invitations to people to take web surveys.  Lately I have seen a huge jump in the number of emails that bounce back.  We also send our email invitations to friends and family and have noticed that they are being routed to SPAM folders much more often now.

I am looking for help/suggestions how we can send these invitations in a way to increase their delivery rate to respondent's inbox and ideally increase the rate that people actually read it.  

I just checked on and we are not on any blacklist.

We send our emails out in batches.  We may go a month without sending any, and then we need to send 5,000 - 10,000 over the course of a few days or week.  All of our emails are customized with the person's first name and include a custom hyperlink to take our survey.  We have several options for sending these emails:

Option #1: Gammadyne software which let's us use our ISP (which is Network Solutions) SMTP server.

Option #2: Gammadyne software also offers a direct delivery method where our PC communicates directly with each recipient's email server, skipping our ISP.

Option #3: Using MS Word and Outlook 2003 and mail merge.  This is a much more labor intensive process since we can only send out 30-40 at a time (to avoid our ISP from blocking us) and this cannot be automated like it can in Gammadyne.

We always offer the option to Unsubscribe (be removed from our list).

In a current study we have a 15 minute survey.  We will pay everyone $40 either through PayPal or an Amazon Gift certificate.  

Any suggestions on what we should say in the Subject Line and how we should send the emails?  I suspect you will have some follow-up questions to ask before we can close this.

Possible subject lines include:
Complete a Survey about HP or Sun Servers and Receive $40
Information about your HP or Sun Servers
Help Influence the Server Market in 2010

We can add each person's first name into any of the above.

I strongly prefer an inhouse solution as we often cannot share our lists with third parties.  If there is better software out there (and it costs less than $250 or so) I would be open to buying it.

Question by:MrChip2
    LVL 31

    Expert Comment

    The subject line isn't going to make much of a difference.  Most of the bigger spam analyzers will look at the subject and text - for what you need to do there just isn't a good way to mask that to defeat most spam analyzers.  Adding their name isn't going to help, any - I get a hundred emails in my spam box a day that have a name associated.

    I would suggest looking at the types of addresses that are getting bounced.  Some of the larger email providers like yahoo, for example, have an agreement with a 3rd party that will authorize you as being not spam but regular martketing, which it sounds like you run a legitimate operation so there is a decent chance that you should qualify.  Yes, this will cost money.  Programs like Goodmail will work for many of these.

    Along the same concept of analyzing addresses is to determine the domains that are causing issues and just try contacting their support people.  Chances are they have some method for authorizing emails sent from a specified address or addresses.

    Lastly, user education - if they sign up through your site then instruct them to add the sending email address to their allow list.  For example, hotmail allows you to set up your email to filter all mail that isn't from someone on your contact list - i.e. it doesn't matter if you are accepted by hotmail, you still won't get through unless they add that address to their list.
    LVL 61

    Expert Comment

    Assume you have X recipients.
    Go to post office and buy X mail envelopes
    Print X invitations on A4 paper
    Put printouts in envelopes
    Get back to post office
    They will handle the rest of mailing.
    LVL 31

    Expert Comment

    I'm not quite sure that the gheist's comment was completely relevant, but there is something to be said for direct mailing for an alternative form of advertising.  Bulk mail prices are pretty cheap and have a decent return rate since customers see it on paper instead of it being automatically forwarded to spam box.  Maybe not quite what you were looking for, but it is something to keep in mind...

    Author Comment

    Sorry guys for the slow reply.  I read your posts this am and have been swamped since.  I will try to analyze the bounced domains, but I suspect they are all over the map.  As a rule I try to avoid sending any to AOL.  No offense, but their users rarely fit my target profile and it is nearly impossible to send to many AOL users at one time.  Many of my contacts are in the corporate world and have their own domain (such as,,, etc.).  There are many dozens (if not hundreds) of these - it is not practical to try and contact them.  If I find a lot of people are using Yahoo, then it may pay to get on their "good list".

    I will look into Goodmail to see if it will work.  I just spent a couple of hours looking into ConstantContact and iContact.  Neither will work.  They consider my email lists to be shared.  What happens is a client (let's saw EMC) hires my company to survey their customers.  They have a customer list that people have agreed to be contacted by 3rd parties.  My client shares their list with me after I sign a Non Disclosure stating I will only use their list for this one purpose and then I will delete it.  I give everyone a chance to opt out.  Based on what I am hearing, I am going  to need to do this inhouse.  Do you have any other suggestions on programs I should look at?

    P.S. I wasn't sure if gheist's comments were tongue in cheek.  The type of work that we do would never work by mail.  Sometimes I long for those simpler days...
    LVL 61

    Expert Comment

    "avoid spam filters" part is not pleasant.
    If you are handling bounces by unsubscribing there should be no problem. Also you may try your favorite spam filter before sending out. What is your domain name btw?

    Author Comment

    Thank you both for your help.  Here is an update.

    I looked into Constant Contact and several similar services.  They are not viable options because they consider my list to be shared.

    I looked into several third party apps to replace Gammadyne.  I exchanged several emails with LmhSoft about their e-Campaign Business Edition  package.  I am going to try that one out to see if it at least will give me better reporting so I know what's happening to my emails.

    During my research I learned how these service providers track which emails are opened.  They have an image in their email that is located on a URL.  When someone clicks in the email they need to ping the URL to get the image.  This system gives you a rough idea because Outlook often blocks the images and requires the reader to select "Download Images."  Does anyone know how I can set this up myself?  The ideal solution would let me track this on an individual email basis.  An alternative is to just track total downloads.  Let me know if you think I should open a new question for this.
    LVL 31

    Accepted Solution

    To add a tracking image, you make a tiny image, store it on your web server, and add a URL to it with pixel size of 1 in the message.  Then you just track the access to the image.  This is old school tracking but works well - many hosting packages will allow you to track access to individual files, I'm sure there are plenty of software packages to do this on your own server as well, I don't know any by name offhand.

    Most people will download images into outlook unless restricted by corporate policy or something.  Online email programs will usually block images these days with a download link available for the user to click on - I wouldn't count on too many people clicking it, though, in this case.  Might get a few curious folks though.

    Author Closing Comment

    Thanks for all the great ideas!

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