5 Ways to Avoid the Spam Folder

icon of person throwing email away as spam

Editor’s note: This post is a refresh of “5 Ways to Avoid the Spam Folder,” published January 26, 2016, by Marissa Petteruti.

The dreaded spam folder! If a brilliantly crafted email lands in the spam folder and there’s no one to see it, does it make an impact? Of course not.

The good news is the practices that keep you out of the spam folder aren’t complicated, Before we get to those, let’s have a quick background on spam.

Why does email get tagged as spam?

There are many definitions of what spam is. At Klaviyo, we consider spam to be any unwanted email. Whether it’s batch and blast emails, or just poor segmentation, spam email is untimely and irrelevant.

Understand there are three basic entities directly involved in getting your email tagged as spam: the email service (webmail or email client), the reader, and anti-spam organizations. Let’s take a quick look at how this works for each:

Email service: Each email service has different criteria for deciding what’s relevant to its users. In their efforts to protect frustrated users from a tidal wave of irrelevant emails, they’re not only trying to understand individual tastes, they’re sending more email to spam folders overall. For example, Microsoft spam reports are increasing because the company has recently made significant back-end (implicit junk reporting) and front-end (mobile “report junk” button) changes which affect outlook.com, msn.com, and hotmail.com services.

Email readers: Readers often mark for themselves which emails they don’t want by moving them to spam folders. Over time, even readers who have subscribed to your emails may become uninterested in receiving your emails. Rather than change their subscription preferences, they may start deleting without opening or worse, marking your email as spam.

Anti-spam organizations: In addition to getting legislation like the CAN-SPAM Act enacted, anti-spam organizations create spam traps as an ongoing way to flag spammers. These traps are placed in purchased lists, made from now-defunct email addresses. If your IP gets blacklisted, you’ll hit spam folders across the board for all your sends — so be smart.

Activities that land you in spam purgatory include:

  • Getting caught in a spam trap (usually from purchased lists)
  • Large numbers of people not opening or clicking on your emails (unhealthy lists)
  • High unsubscribe rates (opted-in readers not interested in your content or receiving too much email)

Now that we know what can get your email identified as spam, let’s delve into the tactical ways to stop that from happening.

spam folder countdown

How to avoid the spam folder

There are 5 easy ways to ensure your email gets delivered to the inbox and not the spam folder:

1. Make engagement your goal

You must have the right mindset about your email marketing going in — and that’s focusing on engagement over list size. Yes, list size matters. But if list size is your main focus, you open yourself up to many bad practices that can send you to spam land.

Look at long-term business impact. Our benchmark reports have shown that over a quarter (27%) of our customers’ store revenue can be attributed to email. How can you use email to create an ongoing relationship with customers, building the value of your brand? What’s critical to growing your business is engaging with your subscribers after the 1st transaction.

A good way to measure against your engagement goal is to measure the percentage of subscribers who open your emails. That will let you know if you’re sending relevant information to your list.

So you have your sites set on the right goal – now what?

2. Email to a healthy list

A healthy email list excludes addresses that have hard bounced, unsubscribed, or marked any of your previous emails as spam.

The most important thing you can do to maintain a healthy list is to build the list yourself. NEVER buy lists. Doing so is against the terms of agreement of most reputable ESPs, including Klaviyo. Remember, your goal is not a massive list – it’s an engaged list. Sending email to uninterested people affects your domain reputation, makes you vulnerable to spam traps, and can get you blocked or blacklisted.

Build a healthy email list by having people opt-in or subscribe to receive email communications from you. We recommend you setup a double opt-in. You may have a smaller list, but your unsubscribe rates will be much better.

From a healthy foundation, you can grow your list by making it easy to collect more email addresses with pop up forms, fly out forms, embedded email signups, and post-purchase emails.

Because the stakes are high, you may want to verify the health of your list before you send your campaign to everyone. To do this, you can first send a test campaign to a sample of the list — no more than a couple thousand subscribers. If the test campaign has high open rates, low bounce and unsubscribe rates, and a low “marked as spam” percentage, it’s safe to send to the remainder of your list.

Scrub your master list often and segment based on activity to remove defunct email addresses.

Once you have your healthy master list, it’s time to look at how those recipients react to your sends.

3. Pay continuous attention to who wants your emails

We tell people to segment for many reasons. One of them is to avoid spam folders. Email clients, like Gmail, learn from users’ behavior. The more people mark your emails as spam, the more email clients see your IP as one that sends unwanted emails and will begin sending your emails to spam folders across the board.

Before it becomes a global issue, address the individual issues with segmentation.

Once again, focusing on engagement is the key — segment on engagement. Determine what engaged means for you, but a good rule of thumb is anyone who opened an email in the past 6 months. If a subscriber hasn’t opened a single one of your email newsletters in 6 months and hasn’t purchased, you’re being ghosted. Add them to a re-engagement segment and move on.

A major part of engagement is sending just the right amount of communication. So ask new subscribers how often they’d like to receive your emails when they sign up, or in one of your welcome series emails. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to segment by weekly, biweekly, or monthly communication schedules. Take it a step further and let subscribers choose the type of content they’d like to receive, then further segment on those preferences. The key is to send subscribers emails in line with what they signed up to receive.

4. Write good subject lines

Now your master email list is clean, you’ve segmented, and you’re ready to send email. You’re still not in the spam all-clear! What’s good is you’re now in the creation process and here you have total control of the outcome.

Most of us are aware that good subject lines will affect open rates. Are you also aware that bad subject lines can get your email filtered to the spam folder?

The main thing to be aware of with subject lines is that ALL CAPS, aLtErNaTiNg cases, and extensive use of emojis and special characters can trigger spam filters. As with all things, test these guidelines with your audience to find the best approach to your specific targets.

Once you’ve sorted out your subject line, it’s time to look at the copy inside your email.

5. Send the right amount of copy

You need to include some level of copy within your email. Image-only emails trigger spam filters, so test the combination of images and text that work best for your audiences. Email on Acid found that your emails should contain at least 500 characters in order to dodge spam filters. Be sure to include alt-text in case your image doesn’t load.

Too little copy is bad, but you don’t want to write too much either. Besides being a pain to load, many email clients will clip the copy at a certain point. There’s nothing worse than having your email copy stop mid-sentence. If you absolutely can’t cut down further on your copy, look to reduce the size of your images.

Those are our top 5 tips. Let us know in the comments if you’ve discovered other great ways to avoid the spam folder.

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5 comments

  • Excellent post, Marissa, thank you!

  • Great post! Thanks for posting this. I was wondering what software would you recommend for email marketing? I heard good things about MailChimp and GetResponse.

    • Hi Alex, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’d definitely recommend using Klaviyo over MailChimp or GetResponse. We offer far more robust campaign tracking tools and are super intuitive and easy to use! You can sign up for a free account at http://www.klaviyo.com and see for yourself 🙂

  • Many, many years ago i was added to a spammer list. (I don’t know why.). Recently, even though I rarely used email in the interim, a test showed all my emails are still going into spam folders. Ive sent only tiny amounts (under 50 per month, to one or two recipients only) for many, many years. How do I “get off” a spammer list?

    • Hi Thomas,
      Thanks for the question! I don’t have enough information to answer effectively, BUT I can lead you in the right direction.
      I think you mean you’re on a blacklist vs a spammer list. What you need to find out is which inbox provider has you hitting the spam folder, because each provider (gmail, hotmail, etc) has different rules. The solution to your issue depends on which provider and which rules. For example, you might be going into Gmail spam folders because people aren’t opening your emails.
      The good news is Jake Cohen just covered this topic at our recent customer event. See today’s blog post on the NYC customer event which has links to Jake’s presentation on email deliverability. Hopefully once you understand which provider is filtering you into spam folders, and then why, you can solve your issue and get back to the inbox!

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