Staying Out of the Spam Folder

Joe Guereschi

“Why are my emails going to spam?”

Our Deliverability team fields this question all the time, but it can be a difficult one to answer. In days gone by, most of us deliverability “gurus” had contacts, even friends, who were Postmasters for ISPs, and we were often able to reach out to them directly for specific information behind a delivery problem. But today, everything is automated, which makes things easier in some ways and harder in others. Relationships with ISPs haven’t completely disappeared, but they have definitely changed dramatically.

Since we no longer have the luxury of going straight to the Postmaster, email marketers must be even more diligent about using email best practices to avoid the spam folder and the dreaded spam complaint. The old “This is SPAM” button now serves as the judge, jury and executioner of your email reputation. Help discourage your subscribers from pulling that trigger and keep your emails flowing into the inbox with these quick tips. These strategies won’t guarantee permanent placement in the inbox, but they are a great place to start.

Collect Explicit Permissions

Thousands of blog posts have been written on how to properly collect permissions, but getting explicit permission is really the key to controlling complaints. Mom always said, “Honesty is the best policy,” which is true in life as well as for your collection methods. The more up-front you are with your customers, the more likely you’ll get a solid opt-in and see higher engagement metrics. By incorporating a check box or email sign-up as part of the online purchase process or at a Point of Sale terminal in-store and clearly explaining your intentions for your emails, your customers will be less likely to say “I didn’t sign up for this …” and mark your email as junk.

Keep Your Word

Don’t abuse your marketing relationship with your customer. Give them exactly what they agreed to at opt-in and send messages that interest them! If your opt-in promised a monthly email and you send emails daily, your customer won’t likely continue to open your emails to find an unsubscribe button. They will just mark the message as spam from the inbox. Create a clear opt-in statement that accurately reflects what you plan to send and how often. And stick to it!

Engage Your Audience

Engagement plays a huge role in inbox delivery. If the majority of your contacts delete your email without opening it, ISPs will start to consider your emails as ‘unwanted’ and begin filtering your emails to the spam box rather than the inbox. The data you have on your contacts and how you leverage it to send relevant messages will have a direct effect on engagement levels. Hopefully, your ESP has a strong segmenting tool that allows you to target specific data points on your contact list. For example, if I just purchased cat products from an online pet supply company and they send me an email about dog products, I will probably never open that email or take the time to unsubscribe from it properly.

Be Consistent

The most important place for consistency in your email is the sender information. Your sending domain and “friendly from name” should be set in stone. If you’re sending from “ABC Company” with an email address of abc@abc.com it should never change. You want your customers to easily recognize your brand. If the from address suddenly changes, they may not realize you sent the message and may be more likely to mark it as spam.

Consistent sending frequency and volume are also important, especially if you’re using a dedicated IP. If you sending 100,000 emails on a typical day and then send 1,000,000 out of the blue, ISPs will see that spike and do any number of different things. Worst-case scenario, they will reject every single one of your messages. If you’re thinking about increasing your volume, consider ramping up your IP slowly rather than suddenly pulling the trigger.

Make sure your branding, logos and templates are also consistent, and keep your unsubscribe link in the same place (preferably at the top of your emails). A lot of marketers shy away from doing this, but in my experience, it greatly helps reduce spam complaints over time when a user can easily find the unsubscribe link without having to search through endless footer information to find it.

Avoid Old Lists

Just don’t do it. But if you decide to use an older list, at least be smart about it and stay within the guidelines of your sender’s policies. Read my earlier post for more information on why using old data can be a bad thing.

Optimize Your Messages

Responsive templates can reduce frustrations for mobile/tablet readers. Think about those emails you view on your smartphone that are so jumbled you can’t tell what the sale is about, let alone find the unsubscribe link. If your designs are not responsive or are hard to read, your mobile-only users may just want you out of the inbox altogether.

Spend Time On Your Subject Lines

Be honest. Be witty. Just don’t irritate anyone. This is sometimes easier said than done, but A/B split testing with smaller groups can often help you determine the success rates of large campaigns before you even send them. Be creative and entice the customer to open, but try to avoid gimmicky subject lines and steer clear of CAPS, which can be a red flag for ISPs. Don’t give everything away either! You don’t want customers to get all the information they need from the subject line.

You can also make it a more personal experience. Dynamic subject lines, content and send times may help you achieve much higher open, click and conversion metrics. They’ll also help you stay in the inbox because you’ll be seen as a relevant sender with strong opt-in methods.

Think of your email reputation as credit. Once you have it, you’re good to go. But it only takes one bad email or one bad list to destroy your credit and make it next to impossible to get back in the inbox. I can’t guarantee your inbox placement, but follow these strategies, and you should see more success. Feel free to share your other tips for making it to the inbox in the comments below.