There are several obvious ways to prevent emails from getting into spam. First, act organically. If you grow your email lists organically, your chances of being flagged as email spam are low. Second, be engaging. If you create engaging, personalized messages and send them one by one, your mail will never be blocked. These are two major practices marketers, and SDRs should keep in mind if they don’t want to constantly wrack their brains 🧠 by thinking, “Why are my emails ending up in spam?”
Let’s leave the ways to spark recipients’ curiosity and improve email engagement for some other time. Let’s now analyze the technical aspects of email deliverability and see the most common areas where marketers and SDRs do their email marketing wrong.
To help us explore deliverability issues deeper, we’ll engage with Mike Hillyer, Founder & CEO at EmailNinjas, who joined Michael Maximoff on Belkins Growth Podcast (S2E4) and discussed at length why emails are directed to spam.
What if you see your email getting into spam and will changing an ESP stop it?
Email service providers (ESP) provide senders not only with a domain name and inbox but also with a wide array of features for protecting their mail from spam, managing their cold email blasts, and so on. Probably, that’s the reason why the first thought that occurs to many when they run into spam issues is ‘my emails end up in spam folders because there’s something wrong with my ESP.’ In reality, it’s not like that at all.
“Changing ESPs because you don’t like your deliverability rates is as crazy as changing a gym because you want to lose more weight,” says Mike. You can’t lose weight, not because the gym you go to is bad but, most likely, because your approach to losing weight is flawed.
Why do emails go to spam? Basics
Mike compares email deliverability to a three-legged stool where each leg is equally important to keep it standing 💪. Indeed, why do emails go to spam?
If your mail goes to spam and you don’t want this anymore, here are three essentials:
Who are we sending our emails to? If you are careful about who you are sending messages to and how you have obtained your recipients’ email addresses, you won’t be wondering for a minute of your time, “Why are my emails going into recipients’ spam folders?”
So, if you want your messages delivered, who should you send them to? Those who permit to email them. Use onsite fill-in forms to gather email addresses. Better still, set up double opt-in offers to get not only the leads’ personal information but also subscription confirmation.
“For the Who aspect of email deliverability, it is also crucial how you maintain that email list afterward,” explains Mike. “It is important because of how ESPs are judging whether to accept your mail or not.”
👉 Here is how email service providers are working now. First of all, ESPs use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to ensure delivery optimization and protect users from spam. In particular, ESPs try to recognize patterns in email sending from each sender: Commonalities, differences, sharing the same sender domain and the same sender email address, and so on.
“Even if you use a different domain and sender name but the same copy template in all your sends, ESPs will see patterns in the template and accumulate that mail together,” says Mike. “If after that ESPs identify that your engagement rate is quite low and your recipients aren’t actually engaged with your messaging, the email marked as spam might become the new normal.”
What is the content of our emails? If you’re laboring under the impression, “My emails won’t go to spam if I avoid using spam words,” you’re a few years late. Mike explains, “We’ve come a long way from where it used to be. ESPs don’t rely as heavily on looking at content and subject lines, like spam words ‘free,’ various pharmaceutical names, etc.)” This way, the content in your emails might simply be triggering spam filters.
What are spam filters and how do they work?
Content filters were a mainstay of spam filters for a very long time. 💡 Your emails were more likely to end up in the spam folders if you were utilizing words or expressions that spammers frequently utilized.
A spam filter is increasingly depending on elements like your overall sender reputation as they get more intelligent and complex. Your words still have value despite this, though. We continue to see a significant number of content filtering rules, particularly when dealing with smaller receivers, such as corporate mailboxes or university inboxes.
In other cases, university censors have even rejected mail containing "curse words" as improper. Spam filters search for specific terms (or combinations of words). If a message receives enough hits or has certain words in addition to some of the other items on this list, spam filters may mark it as spam. ✔️ Typical spam trigger words/points are:
- Free and lowest price;
- "Additional earnings”;
- 'Easy money' and 'No cost';
- those with exclamation points;
- unnecessary punctuation or spaces in words;
- any capitalized words
Typically, these are phrases that are either overtly intended to increase sales 📈 or are blatantly designed to bypass spam filters (such as the extra spaces). Employing a few of them won't necessarily cause your messages to fail, but using too many of them might.
Of course, some of these terms can be challenging to stay away from, especially if you're sending emails about business or finances. Use different words and try coming up with inventive ways to phrase things to get around this issue.
Above all, it's smart to steer clear of obtrusive or "salesy" language and make sure you adhere to the tried-and-true best practices for creating email content we're discussing here.
Now ESPs observe patterns in senders’ behavior and use data to decide which emails should get into spam. For example, you’re warming up a new inbox, and an ESP lets your messages get through to a subset of your recipients. Then the provider observes 👀 how your recipients are responding to your emails:
- Do they put it in the spam folder?
- Do they read it and immediately delete it?
- Do they forward it to their friend?
- Do they reply?
The more engaged people are, the better you've done your job. If an ESP recognizes your recipients’ behavior as unengaged for a long time and your behavior as spammy, you may eventually find yourself googling, “Why are my letters in the spam folder? 5 Ways to Fix It.”
The What aspect of keeping your emails from ending up in spam is centered around email engagement. And a key aspect of engagement includes clicks and opens. The ratio between how many recipients opened and clicked through your messages and how many emails you sent measures the success of your campaigns. ❗️ There are only two ways to improve the ratio:
- find a way to make recipients engage more, and
- decrease the number of subscribers you send to.
Telling how to increase your subscriber engagement rates will require more than one paragraph. Basically, research and personalization are key. “Clear calls to action, compelling content, leaving a user wanting something more – these are the things that can make your “What?” more successful,” says Mike.
As for decreasing the number of recipients, technically, it is cleaning your subscriber lists. Your engagement rate will get higher if you remove inactive/disabled email addresses to prevent bounces.
How are we sending messages? In terms of email sending, “how” means regular email list cleaning. You can’t think, “My emails are never ending up in spam” if you have people on your list that haven’t replied in 90 days or ever. If you have recipients who have never clicked or opened your messages and you keep sending them to them, you’re dropping the ratio and will soon see your emails in a spam folder.
☝️ First, you show ISPs and ESPs that you don’t care if anyone is paying attention to your mail, which is typical of spambots. Second, you don’t get rid of dead contacts. A dead address is a potential spam trap. Do you know what a spam trap is? Some ESPs have a practice of shutting down dead accounts and then reopening them as spam traps.
If you clean your email lists, ESPs see that the ratio of the recipients, who are opening, clicking, and engaging with the message, is up. At that, you haven’t even started making the copy more compelling or putting in better calls to action. The ratio is up simply because instead of trying to get the number of sends higher, you made it smaller. And the result is a higher ratio of how many were engaged and how many it was sent. “After you fix the How, you can start working on the What,” says Mike.
What to do if my emails are heading to spam? Practical recommendations
The Internet is full of advice on “What should I not do to let my emails go to spam?” or reasons, such as “Why are my letters being directed to spam?” But hardly anyone says what I can do if my letters are moving to spam right now and my inbox is probably blocked for the bulk of my subscribers.
“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging,” says Mike. “If you’ve got a reputation problem, stop sending, step back for a second, and pause the campaigns.” Poor engagement is the first thing Mike advises you to handle to improve your deliverability.
🧹 Start cleaning your email list aggressively. If you have data and sent history, weed out from your list all the accounts that haven’t engaged with your emails for, say, 30 days. Put aside all email addresses that have had no clicks, and no opens for 30 days, or just take them off the list entirely.
There can be exceptions, as a lot depends on your knowledge of your audience. You may say, “On average, my subscribers engage once every four months, so I can have such an aggressive cleaning.” Probably, but if you’re lamenting, “My emails are directed to spam,” you need to take drastic measures. Leave only new subscribers and fewer than 30-day engagements on the list.
Next comes a waiting time. You can keep sending using other domains. When you’re having trouble at Yahoo, your Gmail accounts are most probably fine. Use them while your Yahoo inboxes are cooling down. One week is normally enough for ESP counters to reset.
If, however, you’ve completely burnt your sender reputation, you’ll have to look at other options, such as a new IP, etc. You can also use a 7-day waiting period as a remedy for a situation when nothing is going through.
Now, the second thing Mike advises is to resume sending, starting with a small number of sends and incrementally increasing it. First, send just 10% of the most engaged recipients and see the results. If statistics show that you’re getting back to recipients’ inboxes and getting clicks and opens, your tactic is right. Then send the next 20% of the most engaged recipients and check out if everything is running smoothly. Keep sorting out your recipient group by the most engaged segments and growing your sends until you’re back to sending to all (but don’t bring back the segment that didn’t engage in the last 30 days). That’s it. Your deliverability is restored and probably even increased.
🤔 What if my emails go to spam? Here are a few quick tips:
- Do list cleaning regularly. If you make a list-cleaning process a staple for your email marketing, your engagement rates will keep growing simply due to your list-maintaining practices;
- Do proper authentication. Using techniques like DKIM and SPF to properly authenticate your emails is one of the finest ways to enhance your reputation. You need not be concerned if you use a free service like Gmail. This only applies if your email address is unique, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. By adding TXT records to the DNS configuration for your domain, you can set up these authentication procedures;
- Take care of the “copy” aspect of your emails. Once your emails have been properly validated, you'll already be making progress toward avoiding the spam folder. Don't forget the numerous design and copy sins, such as putting everything in graphics, seemingly spam emails, poor grammar and spelling, overusing punctuation and emojis, sending attachments, improper sender information, etc.;
- Monitor your feedback loops. Look for spam button clicks and notifications, and immediately remove users from your email lists. You don’t need to wait 10 days to start unsubscribing people. While you’re waiting 10 days to get them off your lists, they’re going to hit the spam button again and again, and your reputation is tanked. Keeping unwanted contacts on your lists damages your sender reputation and reduces deliverability;
- Make it easy for your subscribers to unsubscribe. If people don’t want your emails, they’ll click unsubscribe, or they’ll click spam. Make it much easier for them to hit unsubscribe than hit spam. Make it clear how to unsubscribe. Don’t hide it at the bottom. Don’t blend it into the rest of the text. Don’t make it tiny. Unsubscribing should be easy;
- Request whitelisting from recipients. If all else fails, you may always request that your receivers whitelist your email address to prevent spam filters from classifying your emails as such. This is indeed a popular tactic, as even major brands urge their subscribers to add their emails to their whitelists. You can write a help document that explains how to whitelist your email address in well-known clients like Gmail to make it simpler for users.
If you are still thinking, ‘Why are my emails directed to spam?’
Many people still wonder, “Why do my emails go to spam? I don’t send spam!” even after implementing a few essential changes. 📍 If you still sometimes see your email moving to spam, but you don’t send spam messages, make sure you grow your contact lists organically, use double opt-ins, keep weeding out any unwanted emails, work on increasing engagement, and don’t underestimate spam reports.
However, if you’re still unsure as to how you can improve your deliverability rates, order a quick audit of your practices or ongoing assistance. At Folderly, we know how to boost your email performance - just contact us.