How to avoid the spam folder and build your sender reputation

If you’re an email marketer, you know the spam folder is a no man’s land and should be avoided at all cost.

While it may seem impossible to avoid it completely, there are many ways that marketing teams can help fight the good fight and avoid the folder of no return. 

While spam folders can be a bother to marketers, they do play an essential role in protecting people from cyberthreats. So, to avoid the spam folder, adhere to all email marketing rules and regulations, including all CAN-SPAM regulations. And, of course, keep reading this step-by-step guide we’ve put together for you.

Why spam folders are important 

Before we talk about how to avoid the spam folder and build your sender reputation, it's essential to understand why spam folders are important. 

Spam filters work to keep consumers safe from the millions of cyber threats that can easily find their way into their inbox. The spread of malware, ransomware, and the frequency of phishing attacks on email users can be hard to contain. 

Thanks to the many spam filters put in place by internet service providers (ISPs), many email messages are searched and filtered into spam long before consumers even realize they’re there. 

How do spam folders and filters work?

ISPs utilize a variety of filters to help identify potentially threatening content, including:

  • Illegitimate sender information

  • Trigger words

  • Image-only emails

  • Poor sender reputation

The good news is that there are not only plenty of best practices to help you avoid the spam folder, but there are also a variety of third-party applications that can help you check your overall sender score and see if spam filters are blocking your content. 

Why you need to avoid the spam folder

Yes, the spam folder helps keep people safe. But these filters sometimes make mistakes, and that means legitimate email messages end up in the wrong place.

What's worse than consumers not receiving your messages? Having your deliverability be negatively affected. 

When your email deliverability begins to decline, your sender reputation score also declines. Your email deliverability and sender score are both factors that many ISPs take into consideration when running their spam filters. So, while consumers may be awaiting your content, if these two scores are low, ISPs may automatically block your content as a way of protecting their clients.

Sender Score Metrics example

Source: Emma

How to monitor your email deliverability rate and improve your sender reputation

The good news is that there are several ways to monitor your email deliverability rate and help improve your overall sender reputation. 

The first step in this process is to carefully look at your email analytics and take note of any negative changes in metrics such as:

  • Unsubscribes & opt outs

  • Open rates

  • Click & click-through rates

  • Spam & complaint rates

For example, if you’ve noticed an increase in your overall opt outs, unsubscribes, or complaints, then you know something isn't sitting well with your readers. The same can be assumed if you see an unusual decline in your overall open or click-through rates. 

Emma email marketing example

Source: Emma

Depending on your email service provider, you may even be able to monitor your email deliverability rate as well. 

If you're unable to monitor this particular metric, you can use a third party application designed to help monitor your email sender score. Notable sources include Sender Score by ReturnPath and Talos Intelligence by Cisco.

By monitoring your sender score, deliverability, and other key performance indicators (KPIs), you'll be able to make note of any patterns that could be of concern and take action immediately. 

6 ways to avoid the spam folder

Now that you understand why the spam folder is important, and how to monitor your sender reputation, it's time to talk about the proactive ways to avoid the spam folder. Believe it or not, there are dozens of techniques to help you avoid the spam folder.

Here are six ways to prevent entering no man’s land. 

1. Use an email opt-in process

One of the most common reasons email messages land in spam is because the ISP’s filter has marked the message that way. Now, if you’re adhering to email laws and regulations, then you already know you must get a consumer's express approval before sending them any marketing content. 

That's why sending an opt-in email confirmation is absolutely vital. Better yet, send double opt-in confirmations (to make sure subscribers aren't entering information only to opt out once they realize they’re on a mailing list). Many double opt-ins use an email verification message, such as the one below.

Lyft business email example

Source: Really Good Emails

This helps readers know they’re signing up for an account, and part of that requires email communications. 

Many brands go a step further and allow subscribers to fill out an email preference center — this helps them dictate the content they want when they want it. 

lastminute.com email example

Source: Campaign Monitor

2. Clear your email subject lines of spam trigger words

You may know that a winning subject line is key to standing out in a crowded inbox. But did you know that ISPs have a list of spam trigger words for incoming emails?

Avoiding spammy language isn't easy. Sure, while words and phrases like, "be your own boss" and, "money making" can be clear spam words, some aren't so quick to spot, including:

  • Clearance

  • Buy direct

  • While you sleep

  • Increase sales

  • Why pay more

  • Web traffic

  • Free consultation

  • Call now

  • Sign up for free

Not only do you want to be careful of using these words in your email subject lines, but you also want to avoid using them in the body of your emails as well.  

3. Make sure your sender information is accurate and reliable

Having the right sender information is just as essential as anything we’ve noted above. 

Why? Because subscribers want to know who they’re receiving content from. You may think sending from CEO Bill Smith is a good idea, but readers may not know who that is, and that could lead to a spam complaint. The more spam complaints you receive, the more frequently your emails will be filtered through to spam. 

BuzzFeed email example

Source: Campaign Monitor

Make sure you abide by email best practices and include an easily identifiable unsubscribe option. After all, it's better to have someone opt out of receiving emails than it is to receive a spam complaint. 

Walgreens easily identifiable unsubscribe button

Source: Walgreens 

5. Don’t use link shorteners

While you may think shortening links in your email messages is a good idea, it's actually considered a red flag. Spammers of days past frequently used link shorteners to disguise their links.

For example, when someone hovers over an affiliate link, they will see the domain name, like in the example below.

Amazon example to not use link shorteners

Source: Gmail

Scammers will often include a link to a site that looks oddly familiar, like, "Amaz0n.com." 

While most individuals would instantly notice the spoof address, a link shortener could disguise that tell all. 

6. Your send frequency matters

Believe it or not, your send frequency can play a role in whether or not your emails get marked as spam. The problem lies in sending too frequently. 

Sending message after message — especially if your subscriber isn't opening them — tips off spam filters. Once they see your readers aren't opening your messages, they assume you’re sending spam. 

Now, that doesn't mean you should disappear. Instead, A/B test your campaigns to see what frequency works best. Even better, dedicate a section in your email preference center so readers can tell you how often they'd like to hear from you. 

Wrap up

While sometimes it's inevitable to avoid the spam folder, there are many marketing tips and tricks to help you pass through ISPs’ spam filters and make it into subscriber inboxes. A few ways to do so include: 

  • Utilize email opt ins

  • Avoid spam trigger words

  • Use accurate and reliable sender information

  • Avoid the use of link shorteners 

  • Find the right send frequency

Looking for ways to improve your email results? Check out this detailed guide and make well-informed decisions about your next campaign.

About the Author

Emma Email

Emma is an email marketing platform that gives you all the tools you need to send campaigns that really connect with your subscribers. With our​​ powerful automation and personalization features, you can create and send email campaigns that reach the right customer at just the right time. It's email marketing that works for you.

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