According to ReturnPath, only 79 percent of permission-based emails make it to the desired recipient’s inbox. That means 21 percent of emails are being sent to the infamous spam folder. This is discouraging for those of us who spend hours crafting the perfect email campaigns, only to be disappointed by our open and click-through rates.
What exactly is spam? According to MailChimp, “spam is unsolicited, irrelevant email, sent in bulk to a list of people.”
There are two main reasons your emails may end up in a spam folder:
No matter how long you’ve been marketing with email, there are a wide range of factors you might not know about that are preventing your emails from reaching the desired inboxes (i.e., deliverability). On top of these factors, there’s also a legal component:
The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 targets “businesses operating or marketing to people in the United States and sending any electronic mail message, the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” The requirements are:
Keeping those guidelines in mind, we present to you 17 ways to maximize your email deliverability, avoid the spam folder and stay out of legal trouble:
This is an ongoing task and requires weeding out the subscribers who may have been obtained in a legitimate way but are now expired or inactive. Email software platforms refer to these users as “bounces” and if you hit these accounts at a rate higher than 5 percent, Internet Service Providers will label you as having bad email hygiene, making it hard for you to reach inboxes. The solution? Identify inactive subscribers and expired email addresses using your open and click-through rates and remove them from your lists. We recommend doing this on a monthly basis. Quality over quantity, friends.
Before jumping straight to removing those unengaged subscribers, you can try to re-hook them with a re-engagement campaign. To do this, segment your list to create a group of people who haven’t opened your emails in a few weeks or months. Then create a compelling campaign geared just toward them. Use this campaign as an opportunity to provide additional discounts, exclusive content and ask for feedback. Don’t forget to give your subscribers the opportunity to unsubscribe if they no longer want to hear from you.
This means that after someone subscribes to your list, you should send them a follow-up email with a confirmation link to confirm that they actually want to receive your emails and that they didn’t accidentally subscribe. Using double opt-in forms results in more qualified email lists and engaged subscribers. See more about email opt-in strategies.
For those who accidentally subscribed or decide to unsubscribe at a later date, it’s crucial that you honor these decisions. It’s actually illegal to not offer an option for people to unsubscribe. Make this option clear by adding an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every single email you send. Additionally, promptly honor those who unsubscribe. Here’s a list of effective email unsubscribe sites from our friends at HubSpot that serve as creative examples of how to make this process a little more user-friendly.
This improves your reputation among the email gods and identifies you as a trusted sender. It tells the subscriber’s email service that they trust you and want to hear more from you. Pro Tip: Also ask subscribers to move you to their Primary Inbox. When using Gmail, messages from email service providers often get delivered to the Promotions tab. To prevent this from happening, simply ask your subscribers to move you over to their Primary tab, and Google will learn to send your next emails to the right folder.
MailChimp cites “too many images, not enough text” as its top reason for setting off spam filters. A max of 60/40 text to image ratio is recommended, but many email providers and desktop email clients actually block images as a standard anyway, so you should strongly consider the risk when including them in your emails. If you do include them, follow the 500 rule…a study by Email on Acid found that in emails with 500 words or more, “content to image ratio does not affect deliverability.”
Always, always, always send yourself a test version of an email before you send it to your list of subscribers. This is the quickest way to know if that particular email will end up in a spam folder. It’s also a good way to analyze what your email looks like on mobile vs. desktop (pssst: 54 percent of people read email on their mobile devices).
Doing so helps improve your deliverability rates because HTML-only emails are a big red flag for spam filters. Offering both versions proves your legitimacy, while making your emails more reader-friendly. Pro Tip: Make sure your HTML version is properly coded; broken tags could be marked as spam.
People are hesitant to open emails from unfamiliar senders, which is why you should either use your brand name or real name as the sender. Additionally, use your recipient’s name in the “To:” field. Do this so that spam filters know that you do in fact know who your recipient is. Personalizing your emails will also increase engagement and open rates.
As an email marketer, you should constantly be learning. Check in with your company’s legal department (or a trusted lawyer) regularly to ensure that you’re operating within the boundaries of the law. Additionally, subscribe to sites like HubSpot, ReturnPath, Salesforce, and MailChimp, as these companies regularly publish content on current email practices.
Find out more business storytelling tips here.
While you can legally rent or purchase lists of subscribers, it’s a terrible strategy. These people don’t know you or your brand, they most likely won’t be engaged users, and they probably aren’t in your target audience. It’s also a dirty email tactic that goes against the Terms of Service of your email service provider. Your emails to these lists will be marked as spam, ruin your deliverability efforts and crash your open rates. Don’t do it!
Where do we start? Using all caps and exclamation points may get the attention of your subscribers, but it’s also annoying and will seem spammy to email service providers. Similarly, red font is a tactic used by spammers. According to this report, readers don’t like it when marketers use irregular fonts, sizes or colors. Instead, keep it simple and avoid the spam folder by personalizing your emails, staying relevant, and using witty language.
There are certain words and phrases that will automatically trigger filters and send your email straight to the spam folder. HubSpot created a list of those words and phrases. Our rule of thumb is that if it sounds like something a car salesman would say, it’s probably a spam trigger word.
Forms aren’t generally supported by email clients because of security reasons. Instead, use a call-to-action button or link to a separate page with a form. Similarly, don’t attach a PDF or Word document to your mass emails. (They will most definitely be blocked by spam filters). Rather, upload the document to a page on your website or blog, and link to that file in the body of your email.
Did you know Gmail clips messages that are larger than 102KB? This could hide the unsubscribe link and increase the chance that people will choose “spam” rather than “unsubscribe,” which will hurt your deliverability rates. To prevent this from happening, try this:
Google gives a lower rank to webpages that are purposefully filled with keywords. Think about it: no one wants to read something that was written for a robot. The same goes for email copy. Keep it simple, compelling, and actionable. Use casual language, colloquial expressions and personal stories. See this list of killer examples of genuine email campaigns.
The world of digital marketing is constantly changing, and we’re here to help you stay up-to-date on email regulations to avoid ending up in the spam folder. The two most important things you can do is maintain a clean email list and produce genuine and meaningful content. Speak to your subscribers like a real person, provide helpful insights, answer questions, and tell great stories. The deliverability results you want to see will then follow.