How to Avoid Being Mistaken for SPAM

Now that I’ve got your mouth watering, I’m here to tell you something less savory: only about 85% of the emails you send in your newsletter campaign actually reach the inboxes you’ve sent them to. That means that a whopping 15% of all the emails you send get flagged as spam and filed away in the dreaded “spam folder” (even when you’re not attempting to blackmail strangers in exchange for bitcoin). So how do you get past tough spam filters and land safely in the inboxes of your audience? Keep reading and we’ll tell you!

There are over 150 known reasons that emails can be flagged as spam and these are changing all the time—even words like “Dear” can trigger spam filters. Beyond your choice of words, there are lots of small inclusions that will result in your emails being flagged as spam. Whether it’s sending emails too frequently (or too infrequently), designing emails that aren’t mobile responsive, or emails with too many images—ever-changing spam laws can feel impossible to keep up with.

So, what can you do? The first thing you might want to consider is email authentication. Authentication basically tells your Internet Service Provider (ISP) that emails are coming from your brand. If you’re interested, SPF & DKIM are the Gold Standard for email authentication; if you’re lucky enough to have a subscriber list that’s over 50,000 you’ll want to authenticate with DMARC. But make no mistake: authentication is only the bare minimum needed to make sure your emails are not marked as spam.

Once your email is authenticated, you’ll want to constantly work to improve your reputation data. Reputation data lies at the micro-level of each subscriber and is based on your relationship with that subscriber. Depending on both the actions of the email recipient and your actions as a sender, your reputation data will either build in a positive or negative direction. The following scenarios outline how particular actions relate to your reputation data:

Very Positive Signal

Positive Signal

Negative Signal

  • The recipient responds to your email.
  • The recipient moves your email to a designated folder.
  • The recipient opens your emails consistently.
  • The recipient clicks around your emails.
  • The recipient forwards your email to someone else.
  • The recipient deletes your email without opening it.
  • The recipient marks your email as spam without opening it.

If you notice engagement drop, or that a lot of your subscribers aren’t opening your emails, you could develop a poor sender reputation which could start to trigger spam filters. A “re-engagement campaign” is an effective way to prevent this from happening. “Re-engagement” essentially entails sending an email that asks the inactive people on your list if they’re still interested in your content.  It can look something like this one we designed for a client:

Recipients that don’t respond to the email are removed from your list. Cleaning your list will momentarily decrease your number of subscribers, but your reputation data is likely to improve. When it comes to sending emails and measuring engagement, remember this: quality emails sent to a slightly smaller but more interested audience will garner more impressive results than frequent emails sent to a disengaged list.

The last thing you can do to decrease the chance of inadvertently designing spammy emails is to consider user experience. Design your emails with the knowledge that engaging subject lines, readable layouts (design mobile first), personalized emails, and organic email lists (avoid buying lists) will improve your access to inboxes as much as authentication will.

As spam filters become further refined we’ll all have to worry about having our emails misdirected away from inboxes less and less, but for now, we’re lucky enough to have these solutions!

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