Avoid Spam Filters with a Johnson Box

Looking to avoid filters and the dreaded “this is spam” button? Of course your are!

At the ISP level your email reputation and delivery is determined by your subscribers clicking the “this is spam button” more than any other single item. Try using a Johnson box at the very top of your emails and watch what happens.

“A Johnson Box is a box commonly found at the top of direct mail letters, containing the key message of the letter. The purpose of it is to draw the reader’s attention to this key message first, and hopefully grab their attention, enticing them to read the rest of the letter.” – Wikipedia

In fact I used one to get you to click thru to this page! It went like this…

This simple resource will…

  • Get your email read
  • Raise your click thru rate
  • Lower your spam complaints
  • Repeated use will raise your open rate
  • It doesen’t cost a thing

I will let you know Monday morning what my click thru rate was from the email you received. That is if you are one of my subscribers. You can always sign up at the top of this page on the left form….

The idea here is to create attraction and mystery while letting the reader know that the content they signed up for is in the particular email . More click thru’s, less spam complaints and a higher open rate can only be ahead using a Johnson box.

ISP representatives have said repeatedly that user complaints are the number-one gauge they use to determine whether to block incoming mail as spam. But the message apparently has yet to sink in with many marketers.

If you do not believe that the end user is the most ruthless spam filter then you better click that link.

How do you use a Johnson Box in your next email campaign?

Write up a 20 to 30 word overview of your email’s message.

The overview should include the key benefit and incentives of your product / service.

Place the overview at the very top center of your email message.

The Johnson box should be text only (no images that may not load) and indented.

Think benefit laden bullet points here.

Jeannie Jennings recently wrote at ClickZ How 20 Words Generate a 220 Percent Lift in Response.

Also return path posted a good article on email relevance and the spam filter button.

See example here…


  1. Posted February 23, 2008 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Tackett

  2. Posted February 23, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Chris, you know very well that if your Johnson Box contains enough spam filter triggers your message will be blocked with or without your “Box”.

    Johnson Box is a good email marketing tip, but it doesn’t help you to avoid spam filters. It helps you to increase the CTR.

    By the way, speaking about spam … the comment above mine is a typical spam comment. I receive lots of such comments daily … Only “technorati” is sometimes changed with “Google” or something else. The rest of the message is always the same …

  3. Posted February 23, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Of course you want to run your emails thru the content checker first, but the spam filter I am referring to is a human one. If the “this is spam button” gets clicked you face far more filtering at ISPs. Enough clicks and you will get blocked. This is the future of spam filters, ISP blocking due to email reputation.

    Thanks for the heads up on the comment spam. You are right, take a look at this post…

  4. Posted February 23, 2008 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Chris, I now where you’re coming from.

    But the button is just a button, it’s not a spam filter. By using the box you don’t avoid the spam filters. You avoid being labelled as spammer by a human being who may tell a spam filter to block your NEXT messages. So the box inserted in a message doesn’t help you to avoid the spam filter, but may increase the deliverability of your NEXT messages.

    I hope you got my point.

    Speaking about that post regarding the spam comments, it’s very strange … My Akismet (are there more versions?) always blocked this type of spam messages and never asked me whether I approve them or not. My clever Akismet just knew that they were spam :-) First time when I got such comment I thought that my Akismet is a little bit drunk and I approved the comment. But when I’ve received the 2nd, the 3rd comment, I told him, “Sorry my dear Akismet, you were right” :-)

  5. Posted February 23, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Chris I Agree.
    Using a Johnson box in the manner you described has nothing to do with readers clicking the “This Is Spam” button.

    I personally would use the johnson box at the top to include subscription details and PROVIDE YOUR OWN WAY TO REPORT SUSPECTED SPAM, attempting to replace this isp button.

    If you feel that this email is spam please click the link below, and you will not receive any more email from us …

    Then I would outline the contents of the email, underneath. Just my 2 cents

  6. Posted February 26, 2008 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Chris, I continue to appreciate your assistance over the years with delivery issues on my legitimate opt-in commercial newsletter. You’re the only knowledgeable person I’ve found who’s goal really seems to be to help non-spammers get past the filters. Again, you’re much appreciated!

  7. Posted September 4, 2008 at 2:32 am | Permalink
  8. Posted September 9, 2008 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    You make a relevant point Chris on 2 fronts. 1. the whole goal of sending email is to get it opened, read, responded to, and sell something.

    2. To give value and avoid spam.

    In this attention deficit society we live in getting to the point now is key. Probably, why twitter has become so en vogue.

  9. Posted January 9, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    “If you feel that this email is spam please click the link below, and you will not receive any more email from us …”

    That’s exactly the type of lie that spammers use to confirm their harvested email addresses (among other techniques such as image urls that run a script when loaded), and people have been rightfully advised not to click on unsubscribe links in unsolicited emails. Unfortunately some people are so paranoid (or just ignorant) about spam, they also sometimes avoid unsubscribe links even in legitimate emails. Considering that mindset, starting your email with a statement like “Please do not click the spam button. This is not spam!” can actually have the opposite effect because there is so much mistrust now.

    So I can see how filling the Johnson box with the summary of actual content is the best way to remind people they requested this email!

    Another way to reduce spam button clicks is to offer customizable email content. A music promoter for example can offer genre selections so each recipient has the power to filter out unwanted genres. And it helps to include a reminder about this feature in each email. What I’m not sure about is the ideal position of that reminder within the email … at the very top? Near the top? At the bottom? Anyone experienced with this?

  10. Posted January 9, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Another thing that occurs to me … there will always be a certain number of spam button clicks no matter how careful you are with your lists and email content. Yes, the spam abuse system itself can be abused. Some people use it as the quickest way to unsubscribe, and I imagine some people use it in a malicious way on purpose.

    So the question is … do the ISP’s blacklist based on a certain number of clicks, or do they look at the number of their users reporting a list of spam compared as a percentage to the number of people who DON’T click the spam button?

  11. Posted January 9, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    I meant to say “reporting a list AS spam”, not “of spam”.

  12. Posted January 9, 2009 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    @Kenric, Good points all.

    #1. You said: “If you feel that this email is spam please click the link below, and you will not receive any more email from us …”

    Those days are over, now they send to their email list, if it bounces they remove the address, if not they know it is real.

    #2. You said: “do the ISP’s blacklist based on a certain number of clicks.”

    Yes, it is the number of clicks on the spam button, versus how many emails came in during that delivery run. They don’t keep totals, they only look at the particular delivery run.

    Still the best thing you can do is ask your subscribers to whitelist your email address. Use this whitelist utility:

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