How to avoid emails going to spam

Sometimes you start an email campaign with high hopes only to end up asking yourself: Why are my emails going to spam? Read more...



No matter how many stars we wish on, some questions will never have simple answers — including email. One of the biggest problems for any email provider is how to avoid emails going to spam. Your deliverability is key, and it can feel like Inbox Service Providers (ISPs) have a vested interest in keeping you out of the popular clique. 

 Still, as much as ISPs can seem like mean girls, they have a big responsibility in making sure that their users see as little spam as possible. That means beefy spam filters to protect their users. However, this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Before you panic, remember that landing in the spam folder is something that can be repaired.

How to prevent your emails from landing in the spam folder 

If your emails are landing in spam, it is likely due to a poor sending reputation and low engagements. Your sending reputation may be poor as a result of getting too many spam reports or getting caught in spam traps, or because of bad behavior from others on a shared IP. Alternatively, while your sending reputation may be decent, your subscribers just may be plain unengaged from your emails. Both of these problems can lead to your awesome emails being sent to the spam folder. Not good. Luckily, both of these things can be fixed with the right best practices and better sending habits.

Ask your contacts to opt in, and then opt in again

Now is a great time to remind you of the little phrase we should all know by now given its impact on email sending — the CAN-SPAM act. CAN-SPAM states that you have to get a user to opt-in to email messages that are going to be sent to them for marketing reasons. However, many ISPs want the extra effort from senders with a double opt-in (Confirmed Opt-In). Additionally, if you’re operating email programs in Europe, you must be compliant with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires you to ask for clear consent from your subscribers before sending any marketing communications. For US operations, the state of California has a similar regulation—the CCPA. In general, no matter where you’re operating, it’s important to be aware of any data and privacy laws you must obey. 

However, opting in just isn’t enough anymore and many ISPs want the extra effort from senders with a double opt-in (confirmed opt in). The thing is, even if you have a sign-up page with a dozen information fields, nothing is stopping your mom from signing you up for those great cruise deals she found. Since you didn’t sign up for these email messages personally, you’re more likely to complain or mark them as spam. Suddenly that cruise line is hitting spam filters left and right, all because they didn’t have a double opt-in policy for their email marketing campaigns.

It might seem like a stretch, but it can happen to any business. Send a follow-up email after a sign up to confirm their opt-in for your email messages will save you headaches in the future.

Plus, this double confirmation is a big help in regards to your email engagements. Since they’ve confirmed that they want to receive your email marketing messages, chances are they’ll be more likely to open and read your emails. Better open rates, better click-through rates, better ROI. What’s not to love about that?

Make your unsubscribe link easy to find

Unsubscribes are better than spam complaints. Always make sure that you have an unsubscribe link in your emails, it’s way better than getting marked as spam. The unsubscribe link must be visible and not in the ultra-fine print. If you are using Mailgun’s unsubscribe links, we will also add the “List-Unsubscribe” header line to help make that link stand out on platforms that support it.

If a user doesn’t want your messages, giving them the option to remove themselves is the next best thing. Otherwise, they can flag a message as spam in attempts to get rid of it, or filter it out to a folder that will never see the light of day again.

Keep an eye on your engagement metrics

Email Services like Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail have all been known to use engagement tracking to help detect and filter spam. Take a look at your email engagements: how are metrics like your open rate and click-through rate doing? Engagements play an important role into your reputation, and that reputation can make or break your chance at hitting a spam filter. These metrics are important but remember that they are only one part of the equation. ISPs also track how each user is interacting with your messages. If a user is not opening, clicking, or replying to these messages, then it is likely that the messages will go to spam for that user. The more users that react this way, the worse things get overall. 

Clean your email list regularly

We get it. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of unengaged subscribers. But sometimes you have to face the facts—like Gretchen Weiners and “fetch,” sometimes re-engagement just isn’t going to happen.

If a user is not engaged, it might be time to sunset them from your email list. Depending on the frequency of your email campaigns, you may want to look at removing unengaged users.

Thirty days for a daily sender, 90 days for a weekly sender, and six months for a monthly sender are some good time frames to see if a user still wants your messages. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have actual legitimate emails by running your list through an email authentication application. Our Email Verifications feature can help retroactively and reactively when integrated into your sign-ups, which gives your email marketers peace of mind when they send out email messages.

Otherwise, consider running a re-engagement campaign to confirm whether or not they still want to receive your messages. This is mostly for marketing emails, but it’s still important to keep in mind if you have a lot of automated workflows in motion.

Focus on your email content

Recognizing that subject lines matter is great, but there are a few other things that can impact you as far as email content is concerned. Our friend, the CAN-SPAM act, reminds us that we also need to make sure that our email is properly labeled and not misleading on who sent it and why. Making sure that there are privacy policy links and a physical address on your emails is something you need to do to follow the rules and steer well clear of spam filters.

Once we get past those hurdles, you also want to make sure that your email is properly coded especially when it comes to HTML. It’s helpful to look over your code to be sure nothing is out of place, but free tools like Mail-Tester can also shed some light on what might be impacting your emails’ reputation as far as code goes.

Want to know more about how to get your emails in the inbox? Check out our Email Growth Playbook, a database of 60+ tactics to help you increase the performance of your email campaigns.

Summing up: Care about your subscriber relationships

All-in-all, remember that everything here helps to build your reputation. It’s easy to start off on the wrong foot, especially when you might not know how to start in the first place. The more you adopt these best practices, the better your relationship with ISPs will be, and you’ll be able to send email straight to the inbox.

If you think you need some help with improving your emails, our managed deliverability service might be a great fit for you. You get a cool Technical Account Manager like me, and we may or may not make Mean Girls references to help explain the ins and outs of email. Unlike fetch, we can help make your email programs happen.

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