“I never got your email” sounds like the modern-day version of “the dog ate my homework.” But check your junk email folder, and you’re bound to see at least a few marketing emails you would have gladly opened.
As email spam filters become increasingly sophisticated, there’s a one-in-five chance that the missing email excuse is actually legitimate.
Only 80 percent of commercial email arrived in recipient inboxes in 2017, according to a study by Return Path, which helps companies improve email deliverability. Five percent of email got stuck in spam folders, while 16 percent never even made it that far, blocked at the gateway by email providers.
No email service provider or email marketing expert can guarantee your messages land in the inbox. Essentially, providers promise to deliver your email to the digital equivalent of the post office. But they can’t be certain that the mailman (the recipient’s email server) will place the mail inside the box. And of course, no one can force recipients to open what they think is junk.
But as an email marketer, you play an important role in deliverability, too. These strategies, both technical and personal, can help you keep your email out of the spam trap.
1. Don’t use a personal account like Gmail to send marketing emails
If you’ve been getting less spam in your inbox lately, you can thank DMARC. Read this post, DMARC Policy Could Impact Your Email Deliverability, if you want to know all about what DMARC is (a standardized approach to email authentication) and what it stands for (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance).
But if you can only manage a few paragraphs on this topic, here’s what you need to know: If you’re sending mass marketing messages from a personal account like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail, you’re not DMARC-compliant—and therefore, your emails may be headed straight to the junk folder.
Say you’re using a platform like Keap to send email from an address like [email protected]. Gmail knows you’re not actually sending email from its server. It thinks you’re “spoofing,” tricking recipients into thinking the email came from somewhere it didn’t—a tactic spammers use to imitate people and companies. As a result, Gmail blocks your email from its users’ inboxes as a protective measure.
Fortunately, the solution to DMARC compliance is relatively simple: Get your own domain name to send emails from an address like [email protected]. Domain names are available from Google and other providers for as low as $12 annually. (Plus, a real domain name looks more professional, too.)
2. Send personalized emails
[Sometimes, a perfectly well-intentioned email ends up in spam](https://keap.com/resources/email-marketing). Other times, though, you’re kind of asking for it. Consider the difference in the opening lines of these two emails.
Email No. 1:
SAVE BIG BUCKS for a limited time only! ACT NOW to take advantage of this incredible deal!
Email No. 2:
I wanted to let you know that we’re offering a special promotion to new clients this month.
Both could be examples of legitimate, automated marketing emails advertising a promotion. But email No. 1 looks awfully similar to the bogus messages found in your junk folder.
To make your email more inbox-worthy, consider these tips:
Make it personal
Marketing messages that resemble personal letters typically bypass the spam folder. ESPs like Keap allow you to use merge fields so you don’t have to customize emails one at a time. For more ways to make email look more personal, check out This Time, It’s Personal: 20 Tips for Sending Automated Emails Without Sounding Like a Robot.
Limit your use of images and links
Images and links are the telltale signs of a promotional email—which in the case of Gmail, often means they’ll land in the promotions tab. The promotions tab isn’t the same as the spam folder, and a study by ReturnPath actually found that Gmail’s tabbed inbox has had a minimal effect on open rates. Still, if you’d prefer your emails to be in the regular inbox, aim for mostly text.
Avoid spammy words and phrases
While email providers don’t publish an official list of spam triggers, a glance at your junk folder will give you a few ideas. Be careful using all caps and too many money-centric words like “fast cash,” “cheap,” “for just $$$,” “100% free,” and so on—basically, any phrases you’d hear in a late-night infomercial.
3. Build a good email reputation
A bad reputation is hard to shake—in life and in email marketing, too. Your emails are less likely to reach the inbox if you’ve developed a poor sender reputation, based on factors like the content you send and the number of spam complaints you’ve received from recipients. Here are a few ways to boost your reputation.
Always ask for permission before emailing
What would you do if you received a marketing email from a company you’d never heard of and didn’t care about? At best, you’d delete the email or unsubscribe from the list. But you might mark the email as spam—and you’d be justified in doing so. According to the CAN-SPAM Act it's illegal to send spam, defined as unsolicited, commercial, bulk email.
To add contacts to your email list, you need their permission, either verbally or implicitly through an opt-in form on your website. Ideally, you should use a double opt-in, which requires the contact to click an email link confirming registration (instead of relying on the initial opt-in form, which could have been submitted by anyone).
The need to obtain permission means you should never buy, borrow or share an email list. Read Why You Should Never Buy Email Addresses to learn more.
Send the kind of email you said you would
If email subscribers simply register for an event and you start sending them daily deals instead, those emails are technically unsolicited—and therefore, you’re in spam territory. If you’re obtaining email addresses from something other than an email list sign-up, like an event registration or an e-book download, you still need to ask permission before adding contacts to your general email list. Add either an opt-in box for your newsletter list or a disclaimer that by sharing their addresses, contacts will receive additional marketing emails.
Email timing and frequency matters, too. If you promise a monthly newsletter and instead send daily emails, you’re prone to spam complaints. The same is true if you don’t send any emails for months, which can cause subscribers to forget who you are.
Make it easy to unsubscribe
Of course you don’t want people to unsubscribe from your emails. But if you don’t give them the option, their only way out is to mark the email as spam. Include an unsubscribe link at the footer of every marketing email you send. For Keap customers, the unsubscribe link can’t be removed.
Send targeted emails through segmentation
No one likes getting emails about products or services they already purchased (or never would). Keep your subscribers engaged (and away from the spam button) by segmenting them into different lists. Say your business has three locations: With segmentation, subscribers who select their preferred location won’t be bothered with emails about the other two. Learn more about segmentation in Take Your CRM Contact List to the Next Level with Segmentation.
Maintain a healthy email list
Email subscribers who haven’t opened a single email in the last six months aren’t exactly eager to get more marketing messages from you—which makes them suspects for spam complaints. If you have a marketing automation system like Keap, you can search for unengaged email subscribers and enter them into an automated email campaign that attempts to revive their interest through offering a discount or asking if they want to be removed from the list. If that doesn’t work, you’re better off without them. Here’s how to practice good list hygiene if you’re an Keap customer.
4. Get the DKIM stamp of approval
DKIM stands for Domain Keys Identified Mail, an email protocol that allows you to authenticate your email domain.
In short, DKIM is like a digital signature that email providers check to ensure you are who you claim to be. When your sender authenticity is validated, the email provider is more likely to send your emails to the inbox.
DKIM also solves a problem experienced with some email clients: If your sender field reads something like “[email protected] on behalf of [email protected],” DKIM implementation will correct it to appear that the email is coming from you, not Keap.
You don’t necessarily have to understand all the details of DKIM to implement it. If you’re a Keap user, follow these directions to authenticate your domain within the app.
5. Set up your SPF record
Here’s the third and final acronym you need to know to keep your emails out of the spam folder: SPF, or Sender Policy Framework.
Your SPF record is yet another way to show ESPs that your emails were really sent by you and not by an unauthorized spoofer. With SPF records, the sending domain tells the receiving domain which ESPs are allowed to send email on its behalf.
Configuring your SPF record means authorizing your ESP (like Keap) to send email from your domain. The setup depends on your website hosting provider (like GoDaddy). If you’re an Keap customer, here are directions for configuring your SPF record.