Less email litter — not more spam filtering

The most popular question in email sending is inevitably “how do I stay out of the Spam folder”. And of course, there’s no definitive answer you could ever give someone. Spam filtering is something between art, science and black magic. Gmail and other ISPs can’t share with anyone how they handle incoming email because if we all knew, we’d work to game the system.

I always found the question of “how” spam filters work kind of irrelevant. Instead, I think we should be focusing on “why” we even need filtering to begin with. Most email is unsolicited, unwanted crap that gets sent around to try to scam the recipient in some way. So the ISPs are tasked to keep that crap out, or better, only let the emails we want in.

But maybe the real question is, what emails do we actually want? If you remove actual spam, what’s left in your inbox? I bet most of us will say our inbox is devoid of spam, but littered with crappy emails. Newsletters, app notifications, announcements, coupons, forwards from Aunt Sue and on and on. This litter is causing us to have anxiety over our inbox, causing us to look for magic tools that will be less stressful and have given email a terribly bad reputation.

We’ve been talking about a concept we’re calling Email Littering on the Postmark blog. Or this idea that while spam will be a solved problem with email filtering, we’re not doing anything to stop the emails that aren’t spam but are still unnecessary. Those notifications that bring you no value. Or those newsletters that keep coming even though they don’t tell you anything new. Everyone is looking at people’s inboxes as a way to make more money and coming up with strategies to attack it at all angles. So our inboxes are fuller than ever with emails that have passed the spam filter, but bring us no joy or value when we get it.

Which brings me back to email filtering. Why are we so obsessed with understanding how the big ISPs filter or block emails. Instead, let’s focus on the same exact thing they are focusing on: getting only the best, most necessary and wanted email to your screen. See, if you look at all the steps Gmail and Outlook (mobile) and others are taking, it’s clear that they are moving past Viagra spam. They are looking at solving the anxiety and wasted time of combing through a sea of email and instead bringing you exactly what you want to see or expect to see.

We as ESPs and email senders can focus a lot less on the rules in Gmail’s spam filtering and instead join them in the crusade to rid our inboxes of litter. If we just focus on this in parallel, there will be no reason to put our emails in a spam folder, or in hidden folders. See, if we focus on respecting our customers’ inboxes, and sending the least amount of email necessary, we’ll be helping Gmail. And we’ll be contributing to less email litter. It’s a much better use of our time to focus on what we can control: the volume and content of the emails we send. Instead of guessing how to game the system and shove our litter into people’s inboxes.


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