When you're sending an email to somebody who doesn't know you well (or at all), there's a big risk it will end up in a spam folder.

If you're in sales, that could be a big problem.

I recently asked Tom Pines, president of the email marketing firm RealMagnet, how to prevent spam filters from capturing email messages. Here's his advice:

1. Create a unique subject title.

In your e-mail header, include something unique to the recipient that's therefore unlikely to be in a spam message.  Examples could include your company name, the name of one of your target's competitors, or the name of a person with whom the target is already familiar.

2. Avoid 'salesy' trigger words. 

Spam filters are more likely to gobble an email if it contains any of the following words in the subject line (or even in the body of the text): Advertisement, Business, Cash, Cheap, Commodity, Congratulations, Credit, Deal, Debt, Degree, Disclaimer, Discount, Free, Gimmick, Guarantee, Income, Ink, Investment, Joke, Load, Marketing, Merchant, Money, Obligation, Offer, Opt, Opportunity, Outstanding, Payoff, Price, Profit, Promo, Promotion, Rate, Refund, Rich, Sales, Save, Shop, Spam, Spree, Stock, Subscribe, Trading, Wealth, Win, Winner, Winning, and Won.

Make sure you steer clear of them.

3. Keep the format simple. 

Avoid the use of background colors, large or unusual fonts, or more than one font. In other words, don't make your email look like an advertisement or a brochure.

Instead, emulate a business memo--one font, one size, one color. Put the emphasis on content rather than trying to dazzle the recipient with special effects.

4. Use graphics sparingly. 

Many spam filters assume that any message that contains more than one or two small graphics is probably adult content.  Graphical content doesn't add much in an email anyway; they're more personal (and more likely to be read) when they look like interoffice emails.

5. Limit the number of URL links. 

Spam filters are wary of link-laden messages because spammers tend to scatter links around their messages, hoping that the reader will click on at least one.

A better approach is to have the "next step" be a return email--but if you want the the recipient to click somewhere, have only a single link, placed prominently.

Obviously, none of the above guarantees your unsolicited email won't get filtered out, but it does up your chances.

Needless to say, the content should be short, sweet, and to the point.  There's little point in getting through the spam filter if the content doesn't communicate to a person who's actually reading it.

Like this post? If so, sign up for the free Sales Source newsletter.