what is spam and how to avoid it?


What is SPAM and how to avoid this harmful practice

Learn why sending unsolicited messages to a large number of people can jeopardize your digital marketing strategy.

Barbara Santos

01/29/2020 | By Barbara Santos

What will we see in this post

Who has never gotten an email from someone overseas claiming to be part of a royal family offering you an incredible investment opportunity, or emails with various other miracle promises? These are the famous SPAM, a malicious practice that can jeopardize your digital marketing strategy.

If you think SPAM is a relatively new concept you’re in for a surprise . Even before SPAM became known as the practice of sending unwanted content online, it was an issue even before the internet. Advertisement pamphlets received on the street, chain letters in post office boxes, and phone calls about  products are also examples of SPAM.

The big difference is that getting in touch with people through letters, pamphlets and calls used to require a considerable investment of time and money. With the internet, on the other hand, it’s possible to send unsolicited emails instantly spending little or practically nothing at all.

However, sending these messages is not a recommended practice. But do you know why that is? Is there a way not to receive this content and prevent your emails from being labeled as SPAM?

In this post, we’ll explain what SPAM is and how it can be avoided. Let’s go?

What is SPAM

SPAM (Sending and Posting Advertisement in Mass) is unsolicited electronic messages sent to a large number of people. In other words, it is the action of sending and posting mass advertising.

Generally, the advertisement is the most well-known type of SPAM and the email is the most common way to send them. But it is a mistake to think that this practice happens only for marketing products.

Chain messages that induce the user to send them to others, rumors, urban legends, malicious programs designed to steal personal or financial data, scams and porn are also considered SPAM.

And why is this such a bad practice?

The biggest problem of these unwanted messages is that they hinder the relationship between consumer and brand.

Have you ever got lots of advertisements for products that you aren’t interested in your email? And do you remember how annoying that is? Odds are they ended up in your trash folder.

SPAM creates a big problem for the user. When they receive many unsolicited messages from a given brand, for example, the inbox gets very full, which can certainly affect the company’s image.

Even if today there already are anti-SPAM tools that deviate this content from the inbox, some messages can be confused with SPAM. With this, it is possible that the person misses out on important information that has been hidden among all the ads.

Therefore, it is necessary to avoid spam in any communication channel so that people have good experiences.

However, the email is not the only media in which this practice happens:

SPAM in email marketing

There is a very fine line between SPAM and email marketing.

This is because both types of messages have a business purpose. However, the same message can be considered SPAM by a person who did not request to receive a message and an ordinary email by another.

When a user receives unsolicited email from a company, they can mark the message as SPAM. When this happens, the chances of the company’s server being blacklisted increases.

Whenever an email from this server is sent, it is immediately marked as SPAM, as blacklists are often shared between email providers.

Therefore, it is always important to send email marketing only to those who actually requested it.

SPAM in blogs

You must have seen irrelevant and seemingly random comments on blogs and discussion forums. This practice means to attract traffic to certain websites quickly, but it constitutes SPAM.

Fortunately, SPAM in blogs hasn’t been that common lately, since nowadays the nofollow tag inserted in these spaces shows search engines that links in comments should not be indexed.

SPAM in social media

The sharing of unwanted content is also quite present on social networks. SPAM appears in comments, posts in groups and communities, inbox messages, fake profiles, malicious links, among others.

Spammers often take advantage of the common interest of group members to advertise related products and services. In post comments, they usually post irrelevant links.

Nowadays, all the main social networks already allow users to report content that is considered SPAM.

The history of SPAM

We already know that SPAM is a discouraged practice of constantly sending messages. But do you know how it started?

There are many rumors about the history of how SPAM started. However, the most accepted by the set of rules and good manners laid down to govern the use of the Internet (RFC 2635) is the one from the comedy group Monty Python.

Some British comedians of this group went to a restaurant to enact a scene. The scene was composed of a group of Vikings (represented by the comedians) who watched a couple asking for their dinner there.

There was a brand of spice American canned ham that was marketed in England (hence the name SPAM = Spiced Ham). At the restaurant where the comedy scene took place, this ham was served with every dish. So, even if customers did not order, they ended up eating the canned product.

So, by realizing that, the comedians repeated several times the word SPAM referring to the ham, upsetting and disturbing everyone around.



In March 1994, two lawyers who were part of a forum for submissions of articles, sent an automatic message about a lottery for different forums. However, the message sent was not related to the topics of the groups.

That caused much dismay among the participants of the forums. After all, the multiple messages sent at the same time compromised the network performance. (To access the group messages, click here).

During the heated discussions about the lawyers’ terrible actions, some people remembered the scene of the group of comedians, which was shown on television shows and even movies. So they associated the disturbance caused by the messages about the lottery to the nuisance generated by the repetition of the word SPAM in the restaurant.

So, from then on, everything that was sent in bulk, but without the recipient’s consent, was named SPAM.

How to identify SPAM

Recognizing that a message is SPAM can be quite difficult for some. That is why many software and hardware manufacturers offer services to prevent and protect against this practice.

Known as antispam, these tools stop inappropriate messages from coming in. However, despite their usual efficiency, they can sometimes classify legitimate messages as fake.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to check the SPAM folder from time to time in order to make sure that no important information was accidentally sent there.

Also, keep in mind there are common SPAM characteristics to keep an eye out for:

  1. Messages from a sender you don’t know or who you didn’t share your personal contact information with.
  2. Emails that you did not expect to receive, especially with subjects unrelated to your interests.
  3. Offers of products that work miracles in a few days, such as remedies for instant weight loss.
  4. Ads for products with too many advantages.
  5. Sensational stories that ask to be shared, like conspiracy theories.
  6. Newsletter of a website you have never visited.
  7. Emails with confusing titles, which seem to establish a conversation with you. For example: “Hello, remember me?”
  8. Messages with links for you to click in if you want to win a gift.
  9. Texts with warnings that that message is not SPAM. After all, legitimate emails don’t have to say they are not fake.

The impact caused by SPAM

Apart from being inconvenient to the user receiving unwanted messages, there are some problems caused by SPAM that must be taken into consideration to avoid this practice:

1. Waste of time

Every time a user receives an unsolicited message, she spends part of her time deleting spam.

2. Decrease in productivity

People who use the email as a work tool spend more time to get to important messages because of the number of inappropriate emails.

Plus, there is the risk of clicking a malicious link and corrupting valuable data from your computer.

3. Not receiving important emails or attached files

If the mailbox is full of Spam, it is possible that the user doesn’t get a few emails, especially those that are larger and need space to be received.

4. Financial frauds

Some messages have links that install computer programs that commit fraud or induce people to fill out data on cloned sites of financial institutions.

5. Loss of messages

Because of the large number of Spam, you can delete messages that were important, forget to read some email thus taking longer to respond.

6. Receive inappropriate content

There are several inappropriate or offensive messages sent to random email lists.

Therefore, it is possible that you receive content that doesn’t match your beliefs and values.

How to avoid SPAM

At times, it may seem impossible to avoid receiving SPAMs. Fortunately, there are a few precautions that can help you protect yourself from this type of content:

1. Always keep your antivirus software updated

It is important that you have an antivirus on your computer that can block potential attacks to your personal data. However, your information isn’t protected by only having this tool installed.

So, update the security software whenever necessary. Besides, use the antivirus periodically and make it a habit not only in your corporate computer but also in your private one.

It is important to install antivirus software on your mobile phone too. After all, it is common to use mobile phones to access the Internet.

If you notice unusual behavior in your computer or mobile device, remember to scan it for viruses. And if the problems persist, it is necessary to reinstall the entire operating system.

2. Don’t share personal data

Email and bank account information are highly confidential. Therefore, you should not share them on suspicious pages. Malware codes sent to your email may be able to turn your system into a server for sending SPAM. 

It’s usually not easy to see that your computer is infected. Most people only figure it out when the device gets very slow or if there are connection problems.

With banking information, the danger is in the unauthorized transactions that can be performed. When this happens, the user may suffer financial losses. For example, a high-value transfer; bill payments or purchases that weren’t made by the user.

3. Avoid sharing chain messages

Don’t share questionable messages. Usually, they are used to capture email addresses and use them to send SPAM without the consent of the user.

In addition, several stories shared in chains are false. That’s why you need to check the veracity of the information not to share bad content.

4. Use anti-spam tools

The anti-spam tool is essential because it directs suspicious messages to a SPAM folder outside your Inbox. So, even if you don’t have this tool installed in your computer, try to use the resources offered by access providers.

5. Separate your emails into categories

If at all possible, try to have more than one email and separate them by category. You can, for example, have an account just for subscribing to lists and receiving promotions. So, you can prevent certain SPAM emails to get to your personal or commercial emails.

6. Don’t believe in all the special deals

Avoid clicking popups and buttons that lead to extraordinary free gifts. It is always important to check first if the gifts are even real and if the site that offered them is trustworthy.

Several institutions already have on their pages information that confirms or not the sending of free gifts, promotions, and discounts. So, remember to analyze all the messages you get before clicking everything that appears on the Internet.

How not to SPAM

If you have an online business, you should not send spam to your potential buyers. When you send unsolicited messages, users may report your page. An example of this is on Facebook. Reported pages can be suspended and even excluded from the network.

In addition, sending emails to people who do not know your services and products can make people lose interest in getting to know your brand in the first place.

But is it possible to promote a product on the Internet without spamming?

Email marketing is proof that you can do that. However, some tips on good conduct online are necessary before you even create your commercial email.

Check them out:

1. Send emails to those who are interested only 

As we mentioned many users flag messages they receive without their consent as SPAM. After all, nobody likes unwanted content filling their inbox.

Therefore, try to send emails only to people who’ve shown a real interest in receiving your content and offers.

The first thing to do is ask the users if they’re interested in receiving content, offers, and ads.

One way to do this is to offer email registration forms on your brand channels, such as website and blog. That way, if someone is interested in your content, they’ll register.

In addition to preventing your email server from being blacklisted, it also increases users’ engagement with the content, since they will have chosen to receive it.

2. Send useful emails 

There is nothing worse than accepting to receive content and messages from a brand and then being bombarded with random, irrelevant offers.

If you have a customer email list, make sure that the message you want to forward is really useful for that group of people.

One way to ensure this is to create nutrition flows and targeted email campaigns, ensuring higher opening and click rates.

3. Good online practices

The web is not  lawless territory, where “anything goes” to attract attention and win over consumers. Quite the opposite. There are several rules of online behavior that you need to follow to prevent your communication from being labeled SPAM.

An example is to properly fill in the “subject” field of the email. Thus, you sincerely describe what you are sending to the user and he will have the option of not opening the message if he is not interested in the topic.

4. Never buy email lists 

Newcomers in the digital marketing world may be tempted to buy email lists

 After all, this way it is possible to have access to tens of thousands of addresses without all the trouble of capturing one by one. And among so many people, odds are someone will be interested in your business, right?


Buying email lists is one of the worst digital practices and can contribute to your messages being marked as SPAM by users.

There are several reasons for this:

  • The recipients are random people, who do not know your brand and have not shown interest in your products;
  • These lists may contain fake or old addresses, decreasing the delivery rate of emails;
  • Upon realizing that they are receiving unsolicited messages, many people can mark the content as SPAM.

So, although it takes a lot more work, creating an email list one by one, with addresses of real people and who are really interested in your business, will always be the best option.

5. Avoid clickbait

Have you heard of clickbait, or click-hunting? It is a very harmful practice that consists of using sensational or miraculous titles to attract users’ clicks.

Titles such as “You won’t believe what happened” and that do not convey what the message is about, unless the user clicks on a link.

Since the vast majority of such content is often fraudulent or malicious, email providers have developed systems that can automatically identify and block it.

So, if you don’t want your emails to be flagged as SPAM, make it clear right away the type of content you’re sending. Create explanatory titles and always deliver everything that was promised in your text.

6. Clean your email list

Even if your email list is organic, you need to clean it from time to time to prevent your messages from being confused with SPAM. The goal is to remove addresses that are invalid or no longer relevant to your brand’s campaigns.

When you constantly send emails to addresses that don’t exist or have been inactive for a long time, the servers understand that your contact list has no quality. Thus, the content can be flagged in the anti-spam filters.

In addition to preventing your messages from being confused with malicious content, sanitizing also ensures that your list will contain only relevant contacts that are engaged with your brand.

7. Include an unsubscribe button

Unlike other communication channels that invade user privacy, email marketing has the great advantage of being able to send content only to those who are really interested in receiving it.

So when a user decides to share their email address when they see an offer, they are signaling that they are interested in your material.

However, at some point, they may lose interest or simply decide that they no longer want to read your content.

That is why it is important to offer a visible unsubscribe button in your messages so that people who are no longer interested can stop receiving your emails.

It is much better to have a subscription canceled than to have your email marked as SPAM by a user who feels uncomfortable with the content or the frequency of sending.

8. Don’t initiate your contact by email 

Many companies end up using email as a channel to establish their first contact with potential customers, a practice known as cold mailing. However, this is definitely not recommended.

Although the user can simply ignore his message. when he notices an unsolicited email in the inbox, he may feel uncomfortable and flag the content as SPAM.

Thus, wait for him to provide the contact details and only then forward the messages he wants to receive. By doing this, you guarantee more engagement in your email marketing campaigns.

Plan your strategy 

As you can see, SPAM is a very harmful practice for any email marketing strategy. In addition to being uncomfortable receiving this type of message, it is also bad for a brand’s reputation and your user engagement rate.

To prevent your emails from falling into the anti-spam filters, keep up with good internet practices and keep in touch with users who are genuinely interested in your content.

Following our tips on this article, you avoid sending SPAM and you also make sure you have higher engagement and a good email open rate.

Wait, there’s more. Check out our 9 tips for creating effective email streams for your business and learn how to target content to the right audience!


This article was originally posted in May 2017 and has since been updated to convey more complete, accurate information.