Imagine this scenario: A customer sees one of your listings on an automotive shopping site such as Cars.com and sends you an email inquiry. You respond with a well-crafted email, but before your master work reaches the customer to move the sale along, it’s caught in a spam filter like a fly in a spider’s web, never to be seen again. Let’s look at how spam filters work and what you can do to avoid them.

Understand How Spam Filters Work

“There are two critical factors that spam filters use to determine whether your email is legitimate,” says MaryAnn Maksinski, direct marketing manager at Cars.com. “One is the content of the email itself. The other is the reputation of the sender. Both are very important.”

Certain phrases (e.g., “Call now!,” “Information you requested” and “Satisfaction guaranteed!”) trigger spam filters, so you want to minimize or avoid their use altogether. Multiple dollar signs to indicate savings or too many exclamation points to show excitement, for example, also can block your message from the car buyer’s inbox.

The other factor is the sender’s “reputation.” If your dealership is blindly sending out bulk emails without permission, using a “dirty list” and repeatedly hitting the ISP with too many invalid email addresses, the IP address may be identified as a spammer. If that happens, you get swept in right along with them – even though you’ve never personally spammed anyone. Using an email service provider that works with the ISPs is highly recommended to maintain your reputation.

Know What to Do

Assuming that your sender reputation is clean, these obstacles won’t stop you from delivering the information your customers have requested if you follow industry best practices. Maksinski offers the following tips:

  • Be careful of the subject line. That’s the first place spam filters look, and they’re aggressive. Avoid using words like “free” or “sale,” headlines in all capital letters or excessive punctuation. Be straightforward instead of promotional (e.g., “Responding to your Cars.com inquiry”). Not only is this approach better for the customer, but it improves your odds of avoiding spam filters.
  • Use a real name in the “from” line. Your dealership may use sales@[dealershipname].com as the general mailbox, but that type of address can also get you blocked. Instead, use an address with your name. It also tells the customer who to contact at the store for more information.
  • Provide content relative to the inquiry. Be friendly, but be sure you take the time to read the email and answer the customer’s questions. You’re writing to a real person who has expressed interest in a particular vehicle. Provide the information needed to bring the customer into the store. Consider ending with an open ended question that engages the customer in further dialog.
  • Never use the line, “This is not spam.” Enough said.
  • Don’t include too many images. If you have too many images and too few lines of text, the spam filters are likely to block your email. Include one or two images, then direct the customer to a landing page or your Cars.com listing to see more.
  • Avoid too many blank lines. This is important if you’re cutting and pasting information, and extremely important if you’re doing it from an online source. Multiple blank lines say “spam” to a spam filter.
  • Watch your spelling. An accidental misspelling not only tells a customer you’re careless, it may also lead to a trigger word. Check your work before you hit the “send” button.
  • Avoid too many (or lengthy) hyperlinks. Spammers frequently include numerous links in their emails to get their targets to take an action. Spam filters look for multiple links, so try to limit yourself to a single, simple link. Free sites such as Tinyurl.com help abbreviate a link so that it doesn’t extend beyond a single line.
  • Check your construction. Free sites such as http://spamcheck.sitesell.com will review your email and determine how likely it is to be caught by a spam blocker. Check the message before you send it and you should avoid common traps.

Once the email goes out, don’t just assume everything went well. Ralph Ebersole, Cars.com’s director of automotive consulting and dealer training, recommends taking these additional steps:

  • Click and call in 10. Once you receive an email, follow up with the customer by phone within 10 minutes of sending your response. Ebersole cautions against trying to sell the car on the call; instead, inform the prospect that you want to be sure the customer received the email and has the information he/she needs.
  • Have the vehicle’s ad up on your computer. If the customer has further questions you don’t want to have to fumble looking for answers. Make sure you’re seeing what he/she sees before you place the call.
  • Turn off your auto-responder when you’re at your desk. An auto-responder is not a response. It’s also more likely to fall into a spam trap. Answer all inquiries personally, with the information the customer wants. You never know who is in the market to make your week.

Additional Resources

Looking for additional tips you can implement in your store today to drive more traffic with your online advertising and desk more deals with your internet sales processes? Check out Cars.com’s DealerCenter. Here, you can read previous editions of our DealerADvantage newsletter or listen to archived recordings of our DealerADvantage Live webinar series.