“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.
In 2022, nearly 49% of emails sent worldwide were identified as spam. While most of that actually is spam, many legitimate emails get caught up in spam filters too, so there’s a chance that the missing email excuse is actually legitimate.
How to prevent emails from going to spam
Spam is essentially unsolicited email. However, when it comes to the business of email marketing, spam is whatever an email recipient marks as spam.
No email service provider (ESP), like Keap, or email marketing expert can guarantee your messages land in the inbox. Essentially, ESPs 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, like Outlook, Gmail, Apple, Yahoo, etc.) 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 and your small business marketing automation software, such as Keap, play an important role in email deliverability, too.
The following strategies can help you keep your email out of the spam trap.
First, a few notes on some terminology that can be confusing:
- Email service provider (ESP) refers to a service that sends bulk mail (like Keap, Mailchimp, Constant Contact, etc.) on behalf of their customers (companies that need to send email to a lot of people)
- Email provider (a nearly identical term, minus one word) refers to companies that host email services (like Apple, Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo) and receive email on behalf of their customers (individual email recipients)
To avoid confusion, we’ll use “ESP” and “email provider” to differentiate the two types of services in this article.
1. Don’t use a personal account like Gmail to send marketing emails
If you’re sending mass marketing messages from a personal account like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail, 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.
Some companies go a step further and won’t even deliver the email at all if it’s going from a free account to another free account. For example, if you send to a Yahoo email from a Google email, the mail will be blocked due to internal Yahoo policies.
Fortunately, the solution 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 like GoDaddy for as low as $12 annually. (Plus, a real domain name looks more professional, too.)
2. Send personalized emails
Sometimes, a well-intentioned email ends up in spam. 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 marketing emails advertising a promotion. But the first email looks awfully similar to the bogus messages found in your junk folder.
To make your emails more inbox-worthy, consider these tips:
Make it personal
Marketing messages that resemble personal letters typically bypass the spam folder. Plus, ESPs like Keap allow you to use merge fields so you don’t have to customize emails one at a time, which makes your emails more personal while saving you a ton of time. For more ways to make email look more personal, check out 20 Email Personalization Tips for Marketing Campaigns.
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, but if you’d prefer your emails to be in the regular inbox, aim for mostly text.
If you do use images, a best practice is to aim for 80% text and 20% images.
Nearly all small business emails need at least one link, so follow these tips:
- Make sure the link relates to the context of the email. It shouldn’t go somewhere unexpected or unrelated.
- Spread your call-to-action (CTA) links out so that you have one near the beginning, the middle and the end.
Avoid spammy words and phrases
While there’s no official list of spam triggers, a glance at the subject lines in 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. Use the word “free” very sparingly, as well as other words like “loan” that may be used legitimately in some cases but are often found in spam messages too.
Thankfully, today’s sophisticated spam filters can often assess the context of trigger words to help determine if an email is likely to be spam. For example, the word “sex” used in the context of selling a product would probably be flagged as spam, but not in the context of “find out the sex of your baby.”
But since every email provider has their own proprietary spam algorithms, there’s no sure way to know what will be flagged and what won’t. You’re playing a game of probabilities, so err on the side of caution when it comes to spam trigger words.
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 email 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, which is defined simply as unsolicited, commercial bulk email.
To add contacts to your email list, you need their permission, either verbally or 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 only 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.
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 ebook download, you still need to ask permission before adding contacts to your general email list.
There are two ways to get around this:
- When they sign up for your event or lead magnet, add an opt-in checkbox allowing them to sign up for your general email list, or
- Add a disclaimer to the original signup form that says that by sharing their email address, they’ll receive additional marketing emails, and they can unsubscribe at any time.
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, and then start sending again.
Make it easy to unsubscribe
It’s understandable that 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. It’s actually required by the CAN-SPAM Act, which is why, 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’re not interested in. Keep your subscribers engaged (and away from the spam button) by segmenting them into different lists.
For example, if your business has three locations, with segmentation, subscribers who select their preferred location won’t be bothered with emails about the other two locations. 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 by offering a discount or asking if they want to be removed from the list.
4. Get the DKIM stamp of approval
Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM) is 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 can also help to solve 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.
5. Set up your SPF record
Here’s the 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 email providers that your emails are 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. You’d set this up through your website hosting provider (like GoDaddy).
If you’re a Keap customer, you can take this extra step if you want to, though Keap is already registered as the actual sender of our customers’ emails as far as email servers are concerned. We have our sending domain properly authenticated, including DKIM, SPF and DMARC..
6. Get an email service provider (ESP) that simplifies email deliverability
Keap is a CRM, ESP and marketing automation software built for small businesses, so we know that most small business teams don’t have the time and expertise to manage the finer points of email deliverability. That’s why we automate many of these things for you.
However, Keap can’t control the content our customers put in the emails they send. That’s where you as the sender have the power to prevent emails from going to spam.
The best rule of thumb: Communicate by email the same way you would in person — respectfully, honestly, reliably and without a lot of hyperbole. Always remember that there’s a human being on the other side of the digital divide. That’s why you want your emails to go into inboxes instead of spam: So they can be read by a real person.
For Keap customers, here are some articles that go into greater detail on this topic:
- Learn more about how to maximize your email deliverability.
- Automated list management for unengaged contacts — Pro/Max | Ultimate
- View or update a contact's email marketability status — Pro/Max | Ultimate
- How your from address affects email deliverability — Pro/Max | Ultimate
- How to avoid content filters — Pro/Max | Ultimate
- Spam complaints (how to prevent emails from going to spam) — Pro/Max | Ultimate
- List hygiene — Pro/Max | Ultimate
- DKIM email authentication — Pro/Max | Ultimate
- Acceptable Use Policy Quick Reference Guide — Pro/Max | Ultimate