When your partner is angry with you, it's an uncomfortable feeling, isn't it? My husband Steve was furious with me because I broke the golden rule of "no children on the work computers".
I had grown lax and to stem the persistent arguing, let them on in the belief that their activity was homework. It must have been while downloading a PlayStation cheat that one of the boys allowed in a whopping new virus. It immediately spread to three more computers on our network and it took Steve the whole weekend to fix the problem.
We had the regular AVG Security software, but after the attack upgraded to a higher level of coverage. This change has brought a new challenge. Now, when I download emails on my laptop away from the office network, at least 50 per cent of my normal incoming email is marked SPAM and a further 15 per cent has the dubious honour of a double SPAM SPAM heading. Innocent emails are getting thrown straight into the sin bin called junk mail.
On the "incoming" side, we want filters to work marvellously, saving our time and bandwidth from any unnecessary waste. In fact, little do we know how much of a bombardment spam really is. According to the Google enterprise and archiving security network Postini, in the first quarter of this year about 94 per cent of all email sent to its customers was spam.
Yet on the "outgoing" hand, of course, we want our normal business correspondence to get through ... especially marketing and promotional emails that our customers have asked for and subscribed to.
Therefore it pays to understand how emails are screened, rejected or accepted. So many eyes look at an email, from webmail providers such as Gmail to internet service providers (ISPs) and from filters built into your email programs to the software purchased by your company.
The newer your email software, the more advanced the filtering will be. Outlook 2007 is pretty good whereas Outlook Express has minimal - no, useless - filtering.
But wait, there's more! Ever heard of black or grey listing?
Lists of known spammers, or the ISPs they use, comprise the blacklists. Using this information, your ISP will deny any messages coming from an entity on the blacklist. The bad news is that innocent clients of blacklisted ISPs get blocked too.
Grey listing is when an ISP temporarily rejects all incoming email (or email from senders not recognised). The theory is that if the email is legitimate, the originating server will resend the delayed email in a few seconds, minutes or hours. This method relies on the fact that most spam sources do not behave the same way as "normal" email systems and most likely will not resend.
Your problem: the delivery of your email is held up in this process too.
In addition to checking the sender and ISP addresses, filters also intricately examine both the words and the technical composition of each email. They primarily work on a point-scoring system, tallying up those "naughty points" for having perceived spam words and potential spam composition.
It is important to note that it is up to each company's discretion how strictly or leniently they want to tighten the spam noose. Some IT managers have their filters so vigilant that if it sees "unsubscribe" - it automatically does so!
Many large organisations also deliver emails without attachments too, by the way. When rejected, the recipient and the sender never know. It happens without notice. This means if you send a mass email with a red flag phrase like "forward this email to your friends, colleagues, family" - you'll never know how many didn't receive it.
When you have a moment, go to this web address and have a look at Spam Assassin: http://au2.spamassassin.org/tests.html. This shows an extensive list of what it looks for in the back of the email - the bit you don't see, the HTML code. A few examples:
*If the font is set at too big a size, it calls it shouting and takes points away.
*If it sees non-standard font colours, it takes points away.
*Message has a certain percentage of HTML code.
*Message has "click here".
*If something is sent BCC (blind carbon copy).
*If there is html and plain text combined.
And when it comes to the specific words in your email, there are so many red flags:
*"Order today" or "order now".
*The subject line has ! or $$$ signs or punctuation.
*"Forward" or "Pass this email on" (or similar permutations).
*A dollar sign before the word "only".
There is only one short, sharp answer I can give you for getting your emails to slip by those filters. It is not what you want to hear.
The response is to try to make your marketing emails as simple and understated as possible.
Debbie Mayo-Smith is a best-selling author and international speaker.