I’m sure you’ve run into the frustrating question “why are my emails going to spam?”. Well don’t worry - we are here with our 12 step guide to explain how to stop your emails from going to spam with some tips & tricks on how to avoid spam filters.
It would be a shame for all the hard work you put into crafting your emails to go to waste, but that’s exactly what happens when your email ends up in a subscriber’s spam folder. In fact, a report from Return Path reveals that spam filters are more rigorous than ever, with one in five emails failing to reach the inbox.
When you’re putting together an email marketing campaign, statistics like this are alarming. But don’t worry--we’ve got your back. We don’t want your emails to be just another statistic, and we’ve written the following guide to help you keep your emails out of the junk folder and in your recipient’s inbox where they belong. So without further ado, here are the 12 things you must do to prevent emails from winding up in spam.
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1. Ask Subscribers to Whitelist Your Email Address
Whitelisting an email address in Gmail.
Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! all work hard to ensure that their email program spam filters don’t catch emails that come from people in your contacts. These companies (rightly) assume that if an email is from someone in your contacts, it’s not spam.
To ensure that your emails get this privileged treatment, ask your subscribers to whitelist your emails by adding your “From” address to their contacts or list of safe senders. We recommend including instructions and screenshots illustrating how to do this, as you should not assume that all of your subscribers have the technical proficiency to whitelist emails.
To ensure that all your emails get this treatment, include the whitelisting instructions in the first welcome email you send when someone joins your email list.
2. Always Get Permission to Send Emails
Nothing will get your emails flagged as spam faster than sending an email without permission. Just think about what you do when you get an email from an unknown sender. Assuming the email even makes it through your email service’s spam filter, you’re going to mark it as spam without even opening it.
Sending people marketing emails without their permission is not a recipe for business success in the long-term. If you want to convince subscribers to buy from you, you want them to be engaged and interested. Random email recipients are neither; they’re indifferent at best and more likely annoyed to get an email from someone they don’t know. Always get permission before sending an email; it’s the best practice both ethically and financially.
3. Follow the Laws Governing Email Marketing
Speaking of ethics, you need to be aware of the laws that govern digital marketing communications. In particular, you should be familiar with the CAN-SPAM Act, which outlines the practices you must use when sending commercial emails.
You don’t need to read every line of the law, but you should know that there are harsh penalties for sending spam emails. How do you know if an email is (legally) spam? The CAN-SPAM Act defines spam email as any message which you:
Send without the recipient’s permission.
Send without including a mailing address.
Send with a deceptive subject line.
Send without including a way for recipients to opt-out.
You don’t need to be too worried about the above, since all modern email marketing programs ensure that you comply with the mailing address and opt-outs by default. But you should be careful about your subject lines, which we’ll explore in more detail later in this post.
4. Use a Reputable Email Marketing Program
One sign that spam filters keep a look out for when trying to catch messages is to look at the IP address associated with the sending email address and see if there are any spam complaints associated with it. If there are, then legitimate email addresses can get flagged simply due to association.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to your emails, always use a reputable email provider. All the top providers take steps to prevent spammers from using their platforms, which helps ensure that the malicious actions of spammers don’t hurt the deliverability of your emails.
Furthermore, as we already mentioned, the best email marketing software providers will also have features built in to help you avoid other common spam triggers such as not including a physical address or using a sending email address that looks suspicious.
5. Proofread Your Emails
If your emails sound like they were written hastily (or by a computer), that can be a red flag for spam filters. If a typo slips into your emails occasionally, that’s not going to cause you any serious trouble. But if your emails are riddled with typos, grammatical errors, and sentences that just sound...off, then there’s the risk that spam filters will stop them.
For example, have a look at this real phishing email:
While you’re not going to write an email with problems this extreme, it does offer valuable lessons about how typos, poor formatting, and bad grammar are all hallmarks of spam emails. If you’re not comfortable with your grammar abilities, then find someone you trust to proofread your emails for you, or at least use a program such as Grammarly to catch basic grammar errors.
6. Don’t Write Spammy Subject Lines
While in the past there were specific lists of “spam trigger words” to avoid in your marketing emails, spam filters are now much more sophisticated. Therefore, instead of focusing on specific words to avoid, it’s best to think more holistically and ensure that you don’t write subject lines that sound like spam.
For an example of spammy subject lines, have a look at the following screenshot taken from a real Gmail Spam folder.
As you can see, some of these emails are from legitimate brands like Lyft, Dollar Shave Club, and FareDepot. However, due to the wording the email marketers at these companies chose, the emails have ended up in spam. Note how many of these emails make references to money, use too many exclamation points, or generally promise discounts.
Does this mean you should never send emails with subject lines offering discounts or deals? Of course not, but it does show that you should be careful with these sorts of subject lines. For more information, you can review our guide to email subject line best practices.
7. Purge Abandoned Email Addresses from Your List
One metric that spam filters use to catch errant emails is to look at how many of the emails to which you are sending are active. If the percentage is too low, then that can be a sign that you’re sending spam email content.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, you should regularly remove addresses associated with email accounts that don’t appear to be active. If someone hasn’t opened your emails in a long time, then it’s probably safe to remove them from your list. You can think of this like pruning a tree. You cut away small bits now in order to ensure the overall continued health of the organism.
Of course, this advice only applies if a small number of your subscribers aren’t engaging with your content. If you have low email open rates overall, then you may need to rethink your overall email marketing strategy, as this could indicate a deeper issue than just a few inactive email addresses.
8. Use a Spam-Checking Tool
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a program that would just tell you if your emails were likely to get caught by spam filters or if they're still even valid at all? As it turns out, such applications exist.
One of our favorites is called Emailable. Simply send your email to their provided email address in order to automatically receive a report on how likely your email is to go to a recipient’s spam folder.
9. Have a Clear Sender Address
Your sender address is what appears in the “From” field when someone looks at your email. If you have a sender address full of random characters or that just sounds suspicious, you run the risk of your email getting flagged as spam.
For this reason, we recommend avoiding sender addresses that contain lots of numbers or gibberish. Stick to either a person’s name or your company name. Not only is this helpful for keeping you out of spam, but it’s also more personal than a string of random characters, which people have come to associate with automatic emails, not compelling, personalized offers.
10. Email Your Subscribers Regularly
If you only send an email every couple of months, then you risk subscribers forgetting who you are or why they subscribed. If this happens, they may unsubscribe or even mark your email as spam when they do finally hear from you.
To prevent this, stay in regular contact with your subscribers. Of course, you should always provide value when you send an email; don’t just email subscribers with a certain frequency because it’s “best practice” to do so.
Rather, look for opportunities to provide value to your subscribers as often as you can. If that’s just once a week, that’s okay, so long as you consistently email them each week (and use smart timing to make sure they get the emails when they’re most likely to open them).
11. Make it Easy to Unsubscribe
Making it easy for your subscribers to leave your email list might seem like a counterintuitive suggestion, but it’s key to both complying with the CAN-SPAM Act and ensuring that subscribers trust you. While complying with the law is your foremost priority, including a way to unsubscribe also shows subscribers that you have confidence in the value of your content. After all, if you don’t think that your emails are excellent, why would you send them to begin with?
How easy you make it to unsubscribe is up to you. Some brands take the confidence approach to the extreme, placing an unsubscribe button in the header as well as the footer of their emails. While you can do this, there’s also the risk that people will either unsubscribe without reading the email or hit the button by mistake if you place it in the header.
Therefore, we think that a standard unobtrusive unsubscribe button in the email footer is the way to go for most ecommerce entrepreneurs. See the above screenshot from a Stack Overflow email for an example of this, and remember that your email marketing software will already have this feature built into its templates.
12. Be Honest
We already mentioned how the CAN-SPAM Act forbids sending deceptive emails, but the point warrants further exploration. Above all, you should always be honest in your email marketing. Don’t write subject lines that trick people into opening your messages.
Specifically, don’t write things that make emails look like they’re from a person’s employer, subject lines that are threatening or alarming, or email addresses that appear to be from someone they’re not. Resorting to cheap tricks like these is not the way to run a business. Instead, focus on how you can create value for your subscribers. When you give them a great offer, the money will take care of itself.
We hope you now understand what causes emails to end up in spam, as well as what you can do to keep them from going there. As long as you follow the best practices we’ve outlined above, you can rest confident that the emails you send will wind up in your subscribers’ inboxes, and not buried in the junk mail folder.
Next up, take a look at our Resources page for useful guides and tutorials to help you maximize your returns from email marketing.