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How to keep your emails from being mistaken for spam

Posted by Patty Johnson on Feb 1, 2017 7:40:23 AM
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What do you mean, you didn't get my email?

Keep your emails out of the spam folderBack in the day, before there were options for email testing like Email on Acid or Litmus, if you wanted to test your email in multiple clients, you had to do it the hard way. You would send it to various team members and ask them to open it on their assorted smart phones or computers. This was necessary to test emails across all operating systems  and email clients. What renders propertly in Windows might not render on a Mac, and what looks good in Outlook might look awful in Gmail, and then there's smart phones... you get the idea. 

And nothing was so frustrating as waiting for a screenshot or feedback from someone, only to find out they never got the email. Or maybe they had, but it went straight to their spam folder.

Here's how you can prevent your emails from ending up in the junk folder, or never getting delivered at all:

Obey CAN-SPAM regulations

Once upon a time, it was easy to keep your emails from getting rejected by the mail server as spam. You just had to follow the CAN-SPAM laws, and your email would get delivered. Now that there are fines imposed on companies sending spam in many countries, it's even more important to follow those laws. For a quick refresher, or if you've never heard of CAN-SPAM, there are three simple steps to prevent most spam filters from rejecting your emails:

  1. Include a visible, working unsubscribe link in the email
  2. Include the name and physical address of the sending company or person
  3. Include at least one sentence of text in the email

The law includes more than just these three, including things like having accurate subject lines, but they are more subjective and generally require an email to have been reported as spam in order to initiate a review. If it's determined to be spam, the sender's domain or IP could be blacklisted. Not following these 3 rules in a marketing email will not only cause most of your emails to bounce back as rejected, but all marketing email services (like Eloqua, HubSpot, Marketo, or MailChimp, to name a few) will not let you even send the email, without those items in place. 

Don't write spammy email content

On top of the CAN-SPAM regulations, email servers are getting smarter. They "skim" your emails for words that are more likely to mean the email is spam. It's easier now to check your emails before you send to make sure your content isn't likely to be mistaken for spam, using free online spam-check services like ISnotSPAM or Mail Tester, but it's always a good idea to try not to write spammy content in the first place. 

These recommendations apply to the content of an email as well, but are especially important when crafting your subject line:

Avoid words and phrases that sound like something Billy Mays would have said

  • As seen on
  • Buy direct
  • Clearance
  • Free
  • Get it now
  • Offer expires
  • Supplies are limited
  • Order today
  • Call now
  • 50% Off!

Avoid sounding like you're trying to sell a male enhancement product, (even if you are):

  • All natural
  • All new
  • Amazing
  • Guaranteed
  • Real thing
  • Satisfaction

Definitely avoid trying to convince the reader that you're not spam, by telling them so

  • This isn't spam
  • Don't delete
  • One-time mailing
  • Subscribe
  • We hate spam

Because nothing says "I'm not spam" like starting out your email with "This isn't spam! Honest!" 

Of course, there are legitimate uses of some of these words, You may need to use words like "free" in your email, because maybe your email is about a buy one get one free sale. So make sure that if you do need them in your email, you keep them to a minimum. Also make sure there's more content to your email to balance out the presence of the spam trigger words. 

Have more copy than links or images

Email spam filters look at the percentage of images, links, and raw text in an email. Do not send an email with no text — even if the text is in images. This is a common practice with spammers and Nigerian Princes who need your help to get their money. They use images to try to avoid spam filters for content, since the images can't be "read" for words. 

Additionally, try to use fewer than six images, so emails don't look spammy and to prevent long load times on mobile devices. Keep your ratio of links to unlinked copy low, too. If you're sending an offer email, inbound marketing best practices say you should only include one CTA, so as not to confuse the recipient as to where they should click. Get them to your primary offer with the email, and then let them wander your site from there. Again, a lot of links in a single email looks like spam, with the exception of newsletters. 

Use the spell checker. We've all seen emails with horribly misspelled subject lines that are blatant spam email servers check for this now. Plus, it looks unprofessional to send an email full of misspellings and grammatical mistakes. If you're not doing your writing in a program that has an automatic spell checker, use an online tool like Hemingway to check your work for you.

And lastly, but most importantly:

Don't send spam

Make sure your emails are going to contacts who really opted-in. If someone opts-out, respect that. If your emails are showing up unrequested in someone's inbox, no matter how un-spammy they are, they might just delete it, they might unsubscribe, or they might mark it as spam so that they don't get any more of them. Getting marked as spam means that your emails will simply end up in their junk folder from now on. But if more than a few of your emails get marked as spam, by one or more recipients, the server takes note, and will ban your IP address or your domain name from even getting through to the intended viewer, and then your emails will start to bounce. These lists get shared, especially by email clients like Gmail and Yahoo, and it could result in your emails being blacklisted throughout most of the internet. Getting removed from a blacklist is very difficult, so the best thing to do is not get blacklisted in the first place.

 It's not terribly difficult to avoid ending up in spam foldersor worseblacklisted, if you follow these simple rules. Remember:

  • Obey CAN-SPAM laws.
  • This is email you're writing, not an infomercial.
  • This is not an email about a product hucked by a character named "Smilin' Bob."
  • Correct your spelling.
  • Don't be a spammer.

Do you have writers block? Maybe Pivot can help.


Topics: spam, marketing emails