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How To Avoid Being Labelled A Spammer

By Gerry Patterson

This article is a list of basic Internet Etiquette (Netiquette).


Why Doesn't Anyone Like Me?

Note: If you typed "How do I avoid SPAM?" into your search Engine, you have arrived at the wrong page, you should instead, click Here.

If on the other hand, you have been accused of sending "spam" and you arrived at this page because you typed "Why Doesn't Anyone Like Me?" into your search engine ... Congratulations! Not only have you realised that you might be doing something wrong, but you are actually trying to use the Internet in a constructive way to fix your problem. You are well on the way to reformation. After you read this basic set of rules of polite conduct on the Internet, and apply them, you may eventually be regarded as a member of the human race.

The reason no-one likes you is because you have been labelled a spammer. If you can prove to the Internet Community that you have stopped being a spammer, people will stop treating you as a pariah and may start to converse with you ... and your Internet experience, and possibly even your social life, might cease being sad, lonely and unfulfilling ... unless of course you have some severe personality disorder or a problem with personal hygiene, in which case this set of rules will not really help much. These are just a numbered set of guidelines which set out "proper" behaviour when using e-mail, especially for Newsletters and other promotional mail-outs.

First of all let's get one thing straight. These rules are not codified anywhere. They are mostly common sense based on the norms of acceptable behaviour. There is no precise legal definition of "spamming". Quite often spammers are prepared to break the law, and are associated with criminal behaviour. I will assume that to date, you have only made a "nuisance" of yourself and that you have not and do not wish to engage in criminal activities. And you genuinely want to know why people don't like you.

If you are not a criminal, then spamming by itself is basically impolite behaviour. And, as is so often the case with such imprecise rules of behaviour, transgressions can range from slightly discourteous to downright obnoxious. If you understand all this already and are determined not to change your behaviour, then you probably shouldn't bother reading this. Be warned however, that if you are judged to be impolite by the majority of Internet users there will be consequences. More about that later, if you care to read on ...


Before We Get Started ...

Before I present the rules of netiquette, there are couple of very handy hints for would-be authors of Newsletters and other promotional e-mail:

  1. Make Sure Your Promotion Is Interesting and Well-Written.

    By interesting, I mean that it should be informative and presented in a such a manner that a reader will actually want to read it. If it's a load of dull repetitive rubbish, no-one will be interested in it. Ask yourself honestly: Would this hold my attention if it arrived in my own inbox?

    If the answer is no, then you should not be sending it.

    By well-written, I mean that the promotional document or newsletter should employ correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. It's permissible to use colloquial language and grammar but only if you understand what colloquial means.

    This is not part of the rules of polite behaviour. However, if your newsletter is not interesting and well-written, nobody will want to read it. Furthermore, if you are also impolite, you will quickly be labelled as a spammer. Whereas people might give you a bit more leeway if your publication is well-presented.

    If you can't express yourself well with the written word, then you should consider hiring a professional who can. If you can't afford to hire a professional writer then probably the only option you have is to go back to school, and learn how to write, before attempting to launch your on-line publication. Of course if you are a veritable creative comic genius with an intuitive understanding of the vernacular, you will be able to skip this step. Needless to say, if you are that talented you don't need to concern yourself with anything as tedious as a set of rules.

  2. Don't Use HTML For Your E-mail Promotions.

    There are several reasons why it is not a good idea to use HTML for constructing e-mail:
    • It may not look very good.

      This probably comes as a surprise. Not everyone uses Microsoft Outlook to read e-mail. And among those who do use Outlook, many may have a version that is different from yours. The Internet is not only more complex than you imagine but more complex than you can imagine. This means that HTML e-mail documents will not appear on other people's screens exactly as it appears on your screen. So your finely-crafted HTML e-mails may not be as beautiful as you hoped.

    • It takes up a lot of space.

      This matters to people who don't have a broadband connection. Which is the majority of the domestic market. And this is probably your target audience. Many of them may not be impressed with a large unsolicited e-mail in their inbox. Even well-written HTML can take twice the space of plain text. Poorly written HTML can take over a hundred times more space than plain text.

    • Some people deliberately choose e-mail readers that do not recognise HTML

      Many of the people who make this choice are experienced computer professionals. Your e-mail will fail to impress them. This is important because often these are the type of people who can have considerable influence in deciding whether or not you should be labelled as a spammer.

    • The place for HTML is not other people's inbox.

      I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are a top gun HTML programmer. The place for your HTML masterpieces is on your website. A well written text e-mail can contain a link to one of these superb creations, and if your writing skills are as good as you think they are, you will have convinced the reader to check the link with witty, entertaining and imaginative writing.

Note: As I said, the above hints are not part of the rules of basic netiquette, they are just practical advice for running a newsletter. Still, if you do break just one of the rules of polite behaviour and your e-mail is also a huge, uninteresting, poorly written, semi-illiterate HTML document, you will almost certainly be labelled a spammer and you will pay the penalty.


Rules Of Netiquette.

  1. Don't Tell Your Readers They Have To Click On A URL To Unsubscribe.

    Unless your readers have already clicked a URL to invite the publication or unless you have already received clear and unequivocal permission to send the e-mail, then it is rude to transmit messages that tells them they are on a list and that they have to visit a site, maybe enter something and click some things before you might consider not sending any additional material. This is especially true if the e-mail is unsolicited. This transgression may not be sufficient to earn you the label of spammer ... But be warned! You are very close to the edge! If you failed to heed the advice in the section above ... you could be over the edge and you may have to pay the penalty for spamming.

    Some examples of acceptable unsubscribe instructions would be:
        In order to unsubscribe just reply to this message
            with the Subject: Unsubscribe
    
    or better still
        In order to unsubscribe just reply to this message.
    
    or even better still
        If you want to receive this email regularly, reply to this message.
        NOTE: IF YOU DO NOT REPLY WE WILL NOT E-MAIL YOU AGAIN!
    
        If on the other hand, you already are on our regular mailing list,
            and you wish to be removed, reply to this message with the
            Subject: Unsubscribe
    
    If you don't know how to program these types of e-mail transactions, and you have therefore decided to use the click-this-link approach anyway, you must have permission before sending the e-mail!

  2. Don't Send E-Mail That Has No Return Address.

    People should be able to reply. If you are using the return address to decide whether to subscribe or unsubscribe, then there should be a return address somewhere (preferably at the very top of the e-mail). This is basic courtesy. It is extremely rude to send an e-mail and not have a return address. It is also dangerous ... it might result in you being labelled a spammer!

    In any case, how else are all those appreciative readers going to respond? How else will they heap praise on you for your creative writing? How else will they tell you what a great newsletter it is and how they enjoy your lively and informative prose ... Don't you want them to give you feedback?

    E-mail was not intended to be a one-way medium. Even though your thoughts and writings may be inspirational examples of creative endeavour, you should not use e-mail to broadcast them. Perhaps you should consider a web-site that uses static pages ...

  3. If Someone Asks You To Remove Their Name From A List, REMOVE IT!.

    Do it! Do it immediately! Don't bother with lame excuses like "They didn't click on the link!", "We don't accept e-mail requests!" or "We only process these requests at the end of the financial year!". Bullshit like that will further antagonise a recipient. REMOVE THEM IMMEDIATELY! It doesn't matter if they contacted you by letter, fax, e-mail or phone call. Just get them off the list! Failure to do so will almost certainly result in you being labelled a spammer and you will pay the penalty.

  4. Don't Think That People Don't Mind Useless Information Because It Costs So Little.

    No matter how little it costs, it is still costing the end-user, not you. Just remember that who pays the piper calls the tune. Would you be so unconcerned about the cost if you were paying it?


The Penalty For Spamming.

The Law:

In most countries, there is no law against spamming. So you won't need a lawyer to plead your case. And there is no court to pass judgement on you.

The Verdict:

However, your case will be considered by a jury of peers. Other Internet users, will consider the evidence and deliver a verdict. And it will spread with the speed of electrons across the globe, like a digitally amplified version of Chinese whispers. If the consensus is that you are a spammer, the majority of Internet users will despise you. Needless to say this will happen very quickly. This judgement will be delivered with a speed that no legal system could ever attain.

The Sentence:

Unless you are a highly proficient and devious spammer, and capable of hiding, those Internet users will see to it that your sorry butt is kicked right off the Internet.

    Have a nice day!