Email Deliverability in The High Season: How Fixing Spam Issues Can Increase The Results of Your Campaigns

Author
Vladislav Podolyako
Published
Sep 08, 2021
Reading duration
17m

As big-season events draw near, it's only natural to give your recipients the best experience of interacting with your brand and increase your revenue in return. Email marketing is one of your go-to means of communication and driving sales: It allows you to get creative with your campaigns and personalize your message to the tastes and needs of each client or buyer. Moreover, it lets you nurture new prospects, starting with small season's greetings and ending with customized sales offers. 

However, what can stand between you and the great opportunity to accelerate your sales during the holiday season? If your first thought is 'competition', you're not incorrect - a lot of other companies want their slice of the sales pie in the high season, so they will try to wrestle the attention of your target audience away from you. Moreover, they will succeed if you ignore the top issue that can affect the performance of your campaigns: Spam issues

Whenever we mention spam issues, we rarely mean your inbox being attacked by spammy messages. Instead, we imply your emails being treated as spam by receiving servers and getting redirected to spam folders instead of user inboxes. It's a big deal in email marketing that can make your campaigns nearly invisible and even incapacitate your domain because internet service providers have no tolerance for suspicious activity. 

Without making sure that your emails are delivered properly, there is no point in concerning yourself with the competition or any other matters. What makes us so sure about you inevitably running into spam issues during your first high-season campaign? 

Because it happens all the time to thousands of senders every holiday. 

They get all hyped up about holidays and seasonal offers, they start sending emails more often, they come up with creative templates…and in the end, they have nothing to show for it because their messages just keep disappearing into the void. 

Mind that you don't have to be a nasty sender or be bad at internet marketing to end up in this situation. It's just email spam filters, and email service providers have become extremely careful and scrutinizing. What used to be insignificant before is now scrupulously investigated. Add a constantly expanding list of spam trigger words and spammers who keep coming up with a new dirty trick, and you'll get an approximate idea of how many checks your email domain has to go through to prove that it's credible. 

So, how do you protect your email campaigns from spam issues and maximize your results for high-season campaigns? You remove all the factors capable of increasing the probability of your emails going to spam. 

1. Spammy content

It used to be very easy to distinguish a business email from a spam message. The latter didn't even try to look presentable: It mostly consisted of flashy images and promotional slogans written in caps. Even the subject line was giving the sender's intent immediately, basically shouting a shady offer at the recipient. Think of the "GET RICH SO FAST YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT!" type of subject line. However, these spam messages are in the past. Modern spam filters recognize and neutralize them way before they reach any inbox. But spammers didn't give up. Instead, they started changing their tactics and tried to use less obvious phrases for pestering recipients. Nowadays, spam emails can be recognized by:

  • Deceptive subject lines. These subject lines make it look like the email was sent from your workplace. For example, you can receive a message that is titled "Hello, [YourName]. I'm new here, can you help?" or "Have you seen these new guidelines?" Of course, your natural response is to open it because your work relationships depend on it. But the body text reveals that it all was a ruse and you're greeted with a random sales offer or a suspicious link. Senders who do this can and must be punished under the SPAM-CAN act. 
  • Public email domain. If you deal with B2B clients and partners only, every email sent to you from a public domain should send your spam senses tingling. A credible vendor or entrepreneur would invest some of their time and funds into a paid business domain that has their company name on it. Spammers, on the contrary, don't want to spend a single penny on their scummy tactics but are perfectly fine with wasting your time and money (if you're not lucky). Therefore, you and other recipients are right to treat messages coming from public email domains with suspicion.
  • Link/text ratio.  Spammers don’t want you to read. They want you to click and download, and they will use every trick in the book to make it happen. Hidden links, signature links, misleading CTAs…the body text will be littered with all kinds of URLs, each of them dangerous to your business data and your PC. This is why spam filters pay so much attention to the number of links and attachments in the email. If you don’t want to come off as a spam sender, clean your templates from extra links. You can send them later via another message or save them for your social media marketing campaigns. 
  • Poor grammar.  We repeat it: Spammers don't want you to read. So, they don't bother with proofreading their content. They are well aware that spam filters won't let them send you another email, and they know that you won't write them back. Due to this, their body text teems with orthographic errors and looks like it was written in a hurry or generated by an AI. 
  • Spam trigger words. It became a bit harder to differentiate spam trigger words from acceptable and commonly used business phrases because spammers keep expanding their lexicon by borrowing phrases from a casual email exchange. If you launch B2C marketing campaigns and use informal language, you have to be extremely careful because spam filters have become very sensitive to numbers, exclamation marks, and words like "free," "opportunity," "buy now," "ending soon" or any kind of over-expressive adjectives, such as "amazing," "excellent," "outstanding" etc. The best way to avoid infesting your email marketing content with spammy language is to keep a list of spam trigger words at hand when you write your templates. Only then will you be able to write a sales offer that looks clean and sounds appealing to your target audience. 

This is a very important stage for your seasonal email marketing campaign. Keep in mind that spam filters will check your email, starting with the From line and ending with your email signature. You must stay in control of your content by reviewing every element of your sales email. It can be done either by hand or with the help of tools like mail-tester.com or Folderly that can scan the contents of your email and reveal any hidden issues in the text. 

2. Wrong email design 

What are the two key elements of impressing your target audience during a high-season campaign? That's correct: Content and design. You already know what can go wrong with your content, now let's talk about email design. 

  • Image-only emails. Let’s say, you get an idea, “Why not send emails that almost entirely consist of images?” That idea feels brilliant. Who doesn't want to use images? They grab attention, make your templates look more original, and intrigue prospects. However, implementing images or customized templates without knowing how they fit into the mail-sending guidelines means setting a trap for your campaigns. You forget that a fraction of your recipients can have email image blocking enabled, so your emails won't make any sense to them. Also, the more image elements you have in your email, the heavier it's uploaded and scaled for mobile devices. As a result, you'll end up doing a lot of work that your recipients won't appreciate because they aren't going to wait for it to download. Moreover, your recipients will unsubscribe and report you because they don't want to deal with such messages from you almost every season. 
  • No mobile-friendly options. Your email may look fine on the PC, but have you checked its performance on a smartphone or a tablet? If your email design isn’t responsive for smartphones and tablets, it’s not a violation of anti-spam laws, but your recipients who check their email via phone or any other mobile device are quite likely to grow frustrated by poorly-rendered emails and mark them as spam. It’s their way to say “Get this mess out of my eyes and inbox, I don’t want to ever see it again.” So, before you launch your campaign, making sure that your email design is responsive and doesn’t conflict with mobile screens is a wise decision. 
  • Using Web HTML with emails. You can ask your designer to upgrade your emails with CSS attributes, iframe tags, JavaScript, or flash elements, but an experienced email engineer will instantly tell you to cut it out (unless you want your message to be instantly blocked by spam filters.) For example, Microsoft Outlook doesn't support web HTML elements in an email template at all, and major email sending services don't tolerate messages that contain flash. Therefore, when a Gmail or Microsoft Outlook server receives an email containing CSS attributes or JavaScript, it treats it as a spam message of some kind of a phishing scam and decides to play it safe.  
  • Skipping core email elements.  Some senders think that leaving a subject line empty allows them to build up intrigue and highlight their body text. However, the only thing such an approach can build up is animosity. Don't treat your target recipients as public in a circus - they don't need a clown show or magic tricks to pay attention, they want clarity and transparency. Therefore, be frank with them and express your intention in every part of your email, "From:" line, subject line, and body text included. 
  • Not adding an accessible email version.  An accessible email text is your plan B in case you deal with email services that block image-only messages. You should always keep a template with a plain text of your marketing message so your recipients in Microsoft Outlook (and similar email services) would be able to read it easily. It will show that you care about your recipients' experience, which isn't the virtue spammers are known for. 

What conclusions can you make from this paragraph? If you decide to involve a web designer, make sure that they know all the specifics of creating visual elements for emails and don’t treat your email campaign as a website or a landing page. Work together with a mailbox engineer or ask for a consultation from experts who know how spam filters and email services work. It will save you from the endless loop of rewriting and redesigning your email templates over and over. 

3. Broken safety guidelines 

Even the most law-abiding sender can get carried away while chasing hot-season opportunities. In their hurry, they forget to check their email’s HTML coding, make sure that the file size is compatible with the requirements, or even add an opt-out feature for the recipients who don't want to receive marketing messages anymore. All this leads to slow, yet imminent deterioration of your prospects' and internet service providers' trust. 

  • Bad HTML. Unsophisticated HTML is hard to miss. It's all over the place. Literally. The formatting is off, the font pairs look chaotic and sloppy. Any user who receives such an email will instantly move it to spam. Any spam filter system that comes across it will instantly add your domain name to the list of suspects. 
  • No opt-out feature. Not leaving your recipients with a way out of your email campaign is a bad decision. It shows that you don’t care about their experience at all and you expect just to brute force your way through. Naturally, users won’t stand for that treatment, so they report your domain name and move on with their day. 
  • Shady attachments. If you want to attach marketing materials to your email, you must be extremely clear about what you're attaching and why. You must mention email attachments in your body text and avoid heavy files. The average weight of your email must be up to 100 KB. Don't go above that threshold and don't attach anything aside from PNG documents. Files with the rare and unreadable format will instantly alert spam filters. 

The best way to avoid violating safety guidelines is to not take risks (no sudden attachments, no relying on HTML) and put your recipients’ needs first. Focus on polishing your sales offer and putting yourself into your subscribers’ shoes. What would they want to read in your marketing email? What kind of approach would put them at ease and make them feel comfortable about receiving your emails? 

4. Low engagement rates

Users who interact with your emails matter a lot. The more opens and clicks you receive, the more internet service providers are inclined to trust you. However, senders often block themselves from the opportunity to increase their engagement rates by doing the following:

  • Not verifying the list of recipients. If you gather a database of potential customers but don't check it for invalid or obsolete email addresses, you will create another obstacle for your email campaigns. Sometimes, email addresses grow old. Sometimes, they get abandoned. Sometimes, they get turned into spam traps. You don’t know without a proper investigation and verification. So, when you send seasonal campaign emails, a bunch of them may end up in non-responsive mailboxes, which won’t look good for your sender reputation. 
  • Not segmenting the lists of recipients. For those who verified and validated their list of contacts, there is another thing coming. Segmenting a list of recipient emails is extremely important for email personalization and message customization. Without them, your marketing campaigns hold little value to your intended recipients because nothing about them says, "This offer was made specifically for you." Instead, your campaigns feel generic at best, leading to less-than-average open rates. Contact database segmentation means that you get to know your target audience better and gain a better understanding of how to connect with it. The more you're aware of their individual needs and preferences, the more opportunities you have to build a trusting relationship. 
  • Not removing inactive recipients before the campaign. Not all your subscribers stay the way they are. Some of them stop frequenting their inboxes, some of them stop interacting with your emails, some of them create new email accounts on another email service and don't bother with renewing their subscriptions. Whatever the reason is, the result is always the same: A fraction of your recipients becomes inactive. Therefore, when you send them lots of campaign emails regularly, it may lead to a drop in both the engagement rate and your reputation as a sender. If you want your campaigns to perform at their max capacity, don't forget to review your list of recipients and get rid of the contacts who haven't been active for six months or more. 

Your target audience mustn't be static. You must shape your content and campaigns in a way that will prompt your recipients to respond and interact with your messages. When you manage to build up momentum, it will be easy to come up with offers and ideas that would match the pace of your conversation and catch your prospects' interest. To make your task easier, you should target the most active and responsive recipients on your list while avoiding potential spam traps and dead-ends. You can explore list segmentation in greater detail in this blog post. 

5. Insufficient sender reputation

You may think that you have enough reputation to pick up the speed and start sending more emails. However, internet service providers will think otherwise, and their opinion will be reflected in your dropping open rate and increasing bounces. If you haven’t gained enough sender reputation before you start launching massive marketing campaigns related to the high season, your domain will inevitably end up in blacklists. Naturally, reputation takes a while to build - this is why it’s the first thing that you should work on once you register a business domain. 

How do you improve your sender reputation?

  • Ensure proper authentication. Receiving servers must be able to identify your email domain easily, greenlighting your messages and letting them through, straight to the recipients' inboxes. To do it, you have to keep your DNS records in check. The most important email authentication DNS records are an SPF record, a DKIM signature, and a DMARC policy. These three safety protocols exist to ensure that all emails sent by your domain haven't been tampered with and are accompanied by a set of instructions on what to do if some messages fail to pass the authentication check. If at least one of those records is missing or has issues, you can't plan and launch your campaigns until you fix it.  
  • Work on your IP address reputation. If you work from a dedicated IP address, you have nothing to worry about. Your user behavior is the only one that is taken into account by spam filters and internet service providers and you're the only sender who can impact your status by withholding from suspicious or illegal activities and maintaining healthy sender behavior. If you started your email marketing from a shared IP address, it means that your reputation is affected by other users who have the same IP. It's not a problem when you are certain that all these users are decent folks who won't try any spammy or shady tactics. But if you don't have that confidence, we suggest switching to a dedicated IP address and warming it up before you can go on with your high-season email marketing campaigns. Additionally, you must use Return Path Certification, which puts you on the white list of credible senders and provides ESP with certificates proving your credible status. You would also need a TLS (transport-level security) authentication for your email service provider since the protocol used for email exchange isn't very reliable and requires extra encryption.
  • Polish your domain reputation. Internet service providers love steady, consistent performance and predictable patterns. Due to this, your email domain should send emails at a regular volume or pace without straying away from the planned schedule. The more diligent you are, the higher your domain reputation is. You shouldn’t start your high season email marketing campaigns without dedicating several months to warmup campaigns that are supposed to generate trust from internet service providers and show that you’re a credible sender ready to work on your good name. 

It will take a while before internet service providers start treating you without suspicion and let you change the daily volume of emails. It's an inevitable part of email marketing, and everyone has to go through it. The best thing you can do is to prepare a solid foundation by working on your DNS records, doing proper warmup campaigns, and fine-tuning your IP address properly. Tools like Fodlerly instantly notice and inform you about all areas for improvement, letting you spend less time looking for issues and dedicate more time to fixing them. 

Conclusions

High-season email marketing campaigns can bring you a lot of new clients and purchases. But if you don't take care of your message's journey, you'll be missing out on sales opportunities. Hot season email marketing is a lot more demanding and attracts more attention from spam filters and email service providers, so you have to be ready for additional scrutiny. 

Plan your actions carefully. Without your intervention, your campaign emails are guaranteed to fly past your prospects' inboxes and result in the loss of your revenue. Take care of your engagement rates, review your content, check your DNS records and keep a close eye on your Sender Score because it should inform you about your readiness to launch high-season campaigns.

With this blog post, we made sure that you can protect your campaigns from being perceived as spam by disgruntled users and suspicious spam filters. You can solidify your results by running a mailbox audit with Folderly and taking a good look at the report. You'll be able to view your sender reputation and potential issues that need your immediate attention. If you want to try all Folderly features, you have a free 7-day trial to do so. So, don't hesitate to give it a try and get better visibility into your inbox. 

Vladislav Podolyako
Author:
Vladislav Podolyako
Founder & CEO
Vlad’s decades of entrepreneurial wisdom and business building experience have allowed him to successfully mentor a diverse group of business owners, entrepreneurs in growing their companies. A recognized expert in the areas of transforming organizational culture and leadership development, B2B Sales, Marketing, spent more than 10 years building technology products, with a background in communication networks and electronic device engineering.

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