SPAM sucks. It floods our mailbox and tells us about seemingly real opportunities to “Make Cash Quick” or “Last Longer in Bed.” SPAM convinces some of us to click that shiny red button to see if we won the grand prize. SPAM asks for us to cash bank checks from faraway countries to help a poor soul feed his family or rebuild his village. The bottom line is that spammers truly suck, yet they continue to persevere (you have to give them that.)

I’d expect SPAM from small businesses sending out a mass email to hundreds of customers from their Gmail account (we’ve seen it hundreds of times.) We’d expect SPAM from a small business that spends a small fortune on a list of “Authenticated and Tested Email Addresses” and sends to thousands of recipients who have never opted-in. We’d expect SPAM from exhibitors at a trade show emailing everyone on the attendee and exhibitor lists to stretch their marketing dollar as far as it can go. But we WOULDN’T expect SPAM from a company like

We’re talking about THE Target, the company with with a worldwide presence of over 1,750 stores. The Target that has all those commercials with the dog and the umbrellas and the whacky crap going on to a pop song. The Target that is in a positional arms race with Wal-Mart and Amazon. Yes, that Target.

I’m but a small microbe in the large universe that is the business world, but even I can teach Target a few things about their Email Marketing practices. Here are 4 ways that Target can improve its Email Marketing campaigns:

  1. Send from your own domain. How does my Gmail account know Why am I not receiving Emails from You employ tens of thousands of people, make millions upon millions of dollars, and you can’t hire an IT technician to route the Email Marketing through your servers? Come on guys, even we can mask the emails to our clients’ domains through Constant Contact.
  2. Avoid “Free” in your subject line. FREE has its own dedicated section in Hubspot’s “Ultimate List of Email SPAM Trigger Words?” The word “Free” in the subject line is like the Bubonic Plague to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. It screams, “I want to infect your users’ inboxes with tons of crap!” As an Accredited Constant Contact Business Partner, we know that marketers have 1 second to get the message across within 7 words and 1 additional second to drive the reader to open the Email. Using “Free” may be effective in some cases, but how effective can it be in your SPAM or Junk folder? Instead of a subject line like “Free gift cards on your favorite home brands,” Target may want to opt for a subject line like: “Gift Card Savings On Your Favorite Brands.” Short, sweet and still entices the reader to open.
  3. Avoid punctuation in subject lines. The subject line isn’t even a complete sentence, so there is no need for a period at the end. It’s a bona fide Email Marketing Best Practice to leave out punctuation. If you need to break up a thought, try a hyphen (-) or a colon (:).
  4. Finally, take advantage of your image alt attribute text. Target fails miserably when it comes to leveraging their image alt attributes in the Email. The Email team types in 3 incoherent, incomplete sentences as a description of the image. Of course, “FREE GIFT CARDS” sticks out and raises an eyebrow, but it does not even mention “My Favorite” brands anywhere. Poor description of the image will not motivate me to “show images” in my Gmail window.Matt Cutts, one of Google’s mainstay SEO Gurus, outlines what the image alt attribute is and why it’s important in the video below:

With those four improvements alone, I’m willing to bet that would show up in my inbox rather than my SPAM or Junk folder. Even if they do continue to end up in my SPAM box, I’m more than willing to click “Not Spam” if they make those small but essential improvements.

Jake Burns