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Are your marketing emails going to spam, but you don’t know why?


With 45% of all email traffic being classified as spam, it can be hard work trying to keep your emails from landing in the treacherous spam folder.


It doesn’t have to be!


Here are 11 simple yet effective ways to stop your emails from going to the spam folder.


But first, let’s learn why your emails end up as spam in the first place.

1. Why do emails end up in the spam folder?

It might seem obvious, but the main reason your emails end up in the spam folder is because email service providers (ESPs) think you’re spam.


The question is — why are your legitimate emails being confused with spam?


To answer this question, we first need to understand how spam is identified.


There are 3 defenses used to identify and fight spam:

  • Internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T and Verizon, develop their own rules to identify and block any suspicious activity on the web, including messages and emails
  • Anti-spam laws, such as the CAN-SPAM Act (USA) and the GDPR (European Union), are unique to each region and can lead to criminal liability and penalties if violated
  • Email service providers, such as Gmail and Outlook, each develop their own level of spam protection, often having multiple spam filters with different algorithms

“Spam filters” is a phrase you’ll hear a lot — they’re the main programs deciding if your marketing emails are labeled as spam.


These filters are designed to detect unsolicited, unwanted, or virus-infected emails and block them from reaching your inbox.

Spam filters

As with everything, the program is slightly flawed, often classifying important or wanted emails as spam.


Spam filters can be particularly merciless when it comes to marketing emails, dooming many email campaigns to a forgotten existence in spam folders.


There are two more terms that’ll come up a lot, and these are crucial to understanding how spam filtering works:

  • Sender reputation — A score assigned to your IP addresses by ISPs; the higher the score, the more likely an ISP will deliver your emails to a recipient’s inbox
  • Email deliverability — The likelihood of your email being delivered to the recipient’s inbox

Let’s first look at why your marketing emails are going to spam in the first place.


Here are 6 poor email sending practices that’ll send your emails directly to your recipient’s spam folder:

1.1. You’ve been marked as spam

Report spam button on Gmail

Report spam button on Gmail

One of the easiest ways for your emails to be marked as spam is for your recipients to actively go and mark your emails as spam.


After they do this, every email you send them will go straight to the spam folder, with no chance of it ever reaching their inbox again.


If this happens enough, spam filters start flagging your emails as spam for all your other recipients.


Recipients flag your emails either because they don’t want your emails anymore or they don’t even remember signing up in the first place.


One way around this is to make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from your list.


This way they won’t receive your emails anymore and you won’t get flagged as spam — everybody wins!

1.2. Your emails aren’t properly authenticated

To ensure you’re not fraud, ESPs use your own authentication protocols that you’ve published for your emails to prove your identity.


By not properly authenticating your emails, ESPs don’t know whether the email is actually from you or a fraudster.


This uncertainty really freaks ESPs out — if they can’t confirm that it’s actually you, they’d rather send you to the spam box than let an illegitimate email slip through to the inbox.


It also allows other people to pose as you and send fraudulent emails on your behalf, as ESPs have no way of double-checking it’s actually you sending the email.


This could have disastrous effects on your relationship with your subscribers — it only takes one fraudulent email scam with your name on it, and they’ll never open another email from you again!

1.3. You’re sending without permission

email marketing 101

The first lesson in email marketing 101 is to always get permission before sending people emails and messages.


Purchasing an email list that you didn’t build yourself means you send emails to people who didn’t ask for it and probably don’t want it — this is the literal definition of email spam.


You’ll also be violating anti-spam laws which can result in some pretty hefty fines and penalties.


Why risk all of this when you can build your own list of qualified leads that will not only receive your emails in their inbox but will also be a lot more likely to engage?

1.4. You have an ineffective email list

Besides having a bought email list, there are a couple of other ways your email list could affect your email deliverability:

  • A list with inactive email addresses — Sending emails to inactive/disabled accounts results in a high bounce rate, which is a major red flag to spam filters
  • A list with low engagement — If people aren’t opening your emails, i.e., you have low open rates, this is a clear indicator to spam filters that people aren’t interested in your emails

Sending emails to the wrong people wastes not only your time and money but can also prevent emails from reaching the right people’s inboxes.

1.5. Your email content triggers spam filters

When it comes to the actual content of your emails, there are a couple of things that are particularly good at triggering spam filters:

  • Too many spam trigger words

Specific words are often associated with spam — words like “free”, “easy money”, “no-cost”, and “risk-free”.


Overusing exclamation marks, capital letters, and emojis are also considered spam triggers.

  • Misleading links

Spam filters are alarmed by links that go to unsafe websites, are associated with malware, or where the display URL doesn’t match the destination URL.

  • Attachments

Attachments are one of the main ways malware is distributed, so they very quickly alert spam filters.


Plus, they’ll slow down the loading time of your emails which can annoy users, edging them towards the spam button.

  • Too many images and too little text

To avoid getting flagged for spam trigger words, spammers started using images instead of text.


Because of this, spam filters are now very suspicious when one large, or many small, images are used with very little text.

  • A deceiving subject line

Spammers often send spam with a deceptive subject line that doesn’t match the content to trick recipients into opening their emails.


For example, “Are you available for dinner on Tuesday?”, “RE: Work deadline”, or “Your Order is Being Processed”.

  • Incorrect spelling or grammar

Most spam is riddled with spelling and grammar errors — spammers often use machine translations to translate their emails into English.


These errors can also make your emails look very unprofessional — neither spam filters nor your readers will be very impressed.

1.6. You have inaccurate sender information

Lastly, the reason your emails are flagged as spam might be because your sender name doesn’t match your sender address.


This is another big no-no according to the CAN-SPAM Act.


For example, you may receive an email with the sender name “Outlook”, but if you look at the actual email address, it’s a random collection of letters and numbers — clearly spam.


Anti-spam laws also require you to include your valid physical address.


This can usually be found at the bottom of the email above the unsubscribe link.

systeme.io’s physical address in emails

systeme.io’s physical address in emails

Omitting your physical address, or even adding a false one, will immediately trigger spam filters.

2. 11 actionable tips to stop your emails from going to spam

Now that you know exactly what not to do, we can look at what you should do.


Here are 11 actionable tips that’ll help lead you directly to your recipients’ inboxes and avoid the spam folder’s evil clutches:

2.1. Use a trustworthy email service provider

email service provider

Using a top-quality, reputable email service provider has many advantages when it comes to avoiding spam:

  • Spam filters trust your IP address

Trusted ESPs tend to have multiple controls that prevent spammers from using their software.


If your email and IP addresses come from highly-trusted ESPs, spam filters are more likely to trust that you’re not a spammer and less likely to flag you as spam.

  • You can avoid spam filters

Most popular ESPs also come with built-in checks that let you know whether or not you’re triggering spam filters before you send your email.

  • You can be assured you’re complying with all the anti-spam laws

Most of the top ESPs comply with the anti-spam laws and force you to as well.


That way, you don’t have to worry about unknowingly violating the CAN-SPAM Act or GDPR and risk earning a sizable fine.


Overall, using a trusted email service provider not only improves your email deliverability but also makes the process of avoiding spam triggers much simpler and faster.

2.2. Authenticate your emails

As mentioned before, email authentication involves publishing a set of authentication protocols for ESPs to use when they receive your emails to make sure it’s actually you.


If you’re a Gmail user, you don’t have to worry about this because it happens automatically with your Gmail account.


But if you have your own custom email address, you’re going to want to pay attention.


There are 4 authentication methods:

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF) — By comparing the sender’s IP address and the IPs authorized to send from your domain, it can confirm your identity
  • Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) — This ensures messages aren’t changed during the sending process
  • Domain-Based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) — Both the SPF and DKIM are required to send and deliver the email
  • Brand Indicator for Message Identification (BIMI) — Attach your logo to emails to make them more recognizable to your recipients

To set up these authentication methods, all you need to do is add TXT records in your domain’s DNS management.


This can be done through your email provider.

2.3. Set up a double opt-in system

Pottermore’s double opt-in system

Pottermore’s double opt-in system

A lack of email confirmation is one of the main reasons why people end up with messy email lists in the first place — and we all know what a list of inactive or disinterested email addresses can do to your deliverability.


When building your email list, you have two options for your opt-in forms:

  • Single opt-in — To opt-in, people just have to enter their email address, and they’re automatically added to your email list
  • Double opt-in — When someone enters their email address, they’re sent a confirmation email where they have to click on a link to confirm that their email address works

The problem with single opt-in systems is that anyone can enter any email address, whether it has a typo or doesn’t even exist, and it’ll automatically be added to your email list.


This can drastically increase your bounce rate, sending you straight to the spam folders.


A double opt-in system ensures that every email address added to your list actually works.


It also gives people another chance to decide if they really want to join your list.


Having a double opt-in system from the start ensures that you build a list of active, interested subscribers, decreasing your chances of being marked as spam and helping your deliverability in the long run.

2.4. Clean your email list regularly

Even with a double opt-in system, your email list is bound to get a bit cluttered over time.


People either change their email addresses or change their interests, and a once-effective list of active and interested subscribers can turn into a list of stale leads.


To stop this from happening, it’s good practice in email marketing to regularly clean your email list and shed the dead weight of inactive subscribers.


To find these subscribers, look at bounces, open rates, low engagement, duplicate addresses, and spam complaints.


You might not want to give up on them just yet, and re-engagement email campaigns can be a good last attempt at breathing life back into the lead before pulling the plug.


But if that doesn’t work, it’s time to say goodbye and remove them from your list.


Doing so increases your engagement, promotes a high sender reputation, and improves your deliverability.

2.5. Make it easy to unsubscribe

systeme.io’s unsubscribe button

systeme.io’s unsubscribe button

While a deep clean of your email list is necessary every once in a while, there is a way to let your email list clean itself — through an unsubscribe button.


Here’s why you should include an unsubscribe button in your emails:

  • It makes it easy for people to unsubscribe and it saves you the time of sorting through open and click-through rates to find disinterested subscribers yourself
  • It’s a requirement of most anti-spam laws, including the CAN-SPAM Act
  • You want people to unsubscribe instead of marking your emails as spam which will give you a poor reputation and deliverability issues

Additionally, you can also add a preference button:

  • This gives subscribers the option to adjust their preferences, letting them choose which email campaigns they want to receive
  • This reduces your number of unsubscribes while still avoiding spam complaints
  • Subscribers will be more engaged, as they’ll receive content they’re actually interested in

Adding an unsubscribe and preference button will allow you to keep the subscribers that will help your sender reputation, not hinder it.

2.6. Get your subscribers to whitelist you

Email service providers assume that you want the emails from people on your contact list, therefore they’re not spam.


So if you manage to get yourself on your recipients’ contact lists, you’ll never have to worry about being marked as spam.


To do this, you can ask your recipients to whitelist you which entails adding your “From” address to their contact list or list of safe senders.


Here are steps you can take to do this:

1. When you gain a new subscriber, send them a welcome email.

2. In this email, add a section asking your new subscriber to whitelist you — this way all your future emails always reach their inbox and never become email spam.

3. Start the section with, “To ensure you never miss an email, please add [email address] to your contacts or whitelist”.

4. Next, you explain to your subscribers exactly how to do it.

Here’s an example — Morning Brew is a popular daily business newsletter that uses their welcome email to tell recipients exactly how to whitelist their email address:

Morning Brew’s welcome email

Morning Brew’s welcome email

2.7. Avoid using spam trigger words

Spam trigger words

Spam trigger words

As we know, spam trigger words are words and phrases that are often found in spam to entice the reader to act.


Some top examples of spam trigger words include:

  • Click here
  • Once in a lifetime
  • Best price
  • For instant access
  • Order now
  • Unlimited
  • Dear friend
  • No obligation
  • Billion dollars
  • Eliminate debt

Unfortunately, there are hundreds more out there, even including a simple word like “get”.


It’s impossible to avoid them entirely, but you should at least keep them far away from your subject lines.


Using spam trigger words in your content should be fine, as long as you’re not doing anything else to trigger a spam filter.

2.8. Optimize your email design and content

Your email design and content can prevent emails from reaching the inbox by playing a large role in spam filtering.


So here are some actionable tips telling you exactly what to do to beat the filters:

  • Avoid spam trigger words in your subject — Spam trigger words are acceptable in your content but are way too noticeable by spam filters in your subject line
  • Ensure your subject line matches your content — Don’t mislead the recipient to get them to open your email, you can still be creative while remaining honest and transparent
  • Have a clear sender address — It should always be clear to the recipient who the email is from, and the sender address must match the sender name
  • Include your physical address — Unless you want a steep fine, make sure to add your physical address somewhere in your email
  • Use a call-to-action (CTA) button instead of links — Because spam filters are suspicious of links, a CTA button often works better
  • Only use trustworthy links — If you’re going to use links, make sure they link to a safe site that has no connections to malware
  • Have a good image-to-text ratio — Adding spam trigger words to images is a great way to avoid spam filters, but make sure to still add a good amount of text so that spam filters don’t get suspicious
  • Try not to send attachments — Because both spam filters and email users are incredibly cautious around attachments, only use them when absolutely necessary, for example, when sending a lead magnet
  • Proofread everything — Double and triple-check your entire email for any technical mistakes, and use a grammar checker, like Grammarly, to ensure messages have perfect spelling and grammar

Use this as a checklist, and make sure you cover everything before hitting send.

2.9. Email your subscribers regularly

If you only email your subscribers once in a blue moon, you make it easy for your subscribers to forget about you.


Then, when you finally decide to reach out to them, they won’t even remember signing up in the first place, and they’ll send you on a one-way trip to spam town.


You also don’t want to send too many emails which end up annoying your subscribers into clicking the spam or unsubscribe button.


Finding the perfect schedule and frequency depends on your industry and each email marketing campaign.


Experiment with your schedule and frequency, and use key performance indicators (KPIs) to tell you what works for you and your email list.


Some important KPIs to watch for are:

  • Spam complaints — How many recipients are marking your emails as spam
  • Open rate — How many emails are being opened
  • Click-through rate — How many emails are getting engagement on their links
  • Delivery rate — How many emails are reaching recipients’ inboxes

2.10. Be compliant with the email marketing laws

It’s been emphasized enough how important following email marketing laws are for your deliverability, reputation, and business in general.


We’ve discussed the two main anti-spam laws, namely the CAN-SPAM Act and the GDPR.


Another important one to be aware of is the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL).


Here’s a crash course comparison chart comparing the 3 major anti-spam and data protection laws:

Comparison chart of anti-spam and data protection laws

Comparison chart of anti-spam and data protection laws

2.11. Use a spam checker

If you’re still worried your email will go to spam, you can always turn to spam checkers to put your mind at ease.


A spam checking tool acts as a spam filter, assessing whether or not your email is considered spam, however, there’s no risk involved.


This gives you room to make mistakes and learn how to fix them without negatively affecting your reputation or deliverability.


Here’s a list of some of the top spam checkers:

  • Litmus.com
  • Postmark
  • Email on Acid
  • Mailgun
  • SpamAssassin
  • MxToolbox
  • GlockApps
  • IsNotSpam
  • Spamanalyze
  • Blacklist Check

3. Conclusion

As long as you follow these 11 best practices, you’ll see a major increase in your deliverability, sender reputation, and email marketing success!


It’s important to note that no matter what you do, you’ll still have some stray emails falling into spam’s trap.


If you’re looking for a top-quality email marketing platform to help you beat the spam filters, try systeme.io — an all-in-one digital marketing platform with everything you need to run your online business.


You can even start for free with our forever Free plan where you’ll get unlimited emails for up to 2,000 contacts!


Stop your emails from going to spam with this 11-step guide under your arm and systeme.io by your side!

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