6 Steps for Getting Out of the Spam Folder

email deliverability spam folder tips

You’ve created the most engaging popups. You’ve chosen the best email templates. You’ve tested the perfect balance of photos and text. Maybe you’re even using influencers to endorse your brand or promoting a social media contest. Yet, somehow, your recipients are still marking your emails as spam.

For marketers, trying to get out of the spam folder can feel similar to trying to escape from quicksand—it takes a while, it feels impossible, and you’re not even really sure the best way to do it. But improving your deliverability and getting out of the spam folder isn’t a lost cause.

Find out the steps you need to take in order to address deliverability issues, but first, let’s talk about why it matters. 

What is email deliverability and why is it important?

Simply put, deliverability is the ability to hit a recipient’s inbox. 

It’s not uncommon for marketers to think that the more emails they send, the more revenue they’ll generate. Surely every contact on my list is a potential dollar sign, right? Not necessarily. 

In fact, this kind of bulk-blast mentality will lead you to develop deliverability issues more often than not. In order to be a successful email marketer, you need to pay attention to the signals you’re getting from your audience (such as open rates, click rates, unsubscribes, bounces, mark as spam etc.) and adapt your sending strategy to elicit the highest levels of engagement

If you’ve been emailing your customers for a while and aren’t seeing the results you’d like or are noticing that your communications keep ending up in the spam folder, there may be some foundational issues in your email marketing strategy that you can improve upon.

There are many factors that go into determining how emails are placed within a recipient’s inbox and they may differ between providers. For example, Gmail’s algorithm on determining whether an email is going to be placed in the recipient’s primary inbox is different from what Outlook relies on to make the same decision. 

To add to the uncertainty, neither you nor your email marketing platform has any insight into the specifics behind those algorithms. At this point, you may ask, “Then how do I even know what to do?!” That’s a great question! There are a number of steps you can take to help you go from your customers’ spam folder to their primary inbox. 

And it’s actually fairly straightforward—it all comes down to engaged recipients. If your audience is actively engaging with the content you’re sending them, inbox providers will pick up on that and continue to allow it into the inbox.

If recipients stop engaging, then inbox providers will start to question how keen your audience is to receive the content you’re sending them. If there’s a significant lack of engagement, inbox providers will start to slot emails into the spam folder as all signs point to it no longer being relevant to recipients.

But no matter how you got into your current deliverability hole, these steps should help you get back in front of your customers’ eyes:

Step 1: Take another look at your opt-in process

Make sure you know where the emails in your lists are coming from. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with all the different sign-up form apps that are available, which means you want to ensure you’re keeping track of how people opt-in for your lists. 

Do they have the ability to opt-in at checkout? Is there an embedded or pop-up form on your homepage? What list do those forms submit to? Most importantly, is it explicitly clear to the recipient that they are signing up to receive emails? 

If this process is clear and a positive experience for the recipient, you will have more engaged contacts subscribing to your lists. 

Step 2: Practice good hygiene with list cleaning

A clear opt-in process makes maintaining a clean list easier, but the actual act of cleaning your list is what keeps your deliverability at its highest level. 

It’s important to practice good list hygiene to ensure you’re not emailing contacts who are no longer engaged. If you make an effort to clean out inactive contacts every six months, or more regularly if you’re seeing spam placement issues, you’ll be much less likely to send to spam traps or other contacts who have lost interest in your content, both of which can contribute to degrading your sender reputation. Phasing out these stale contacts is referred to as sunsetting.

If you have a list that you’re sending emails to (and if you’re reading this then you probably do), you should be cleaning your lists at least once a month. As your list gets larger, you may consider doing this every couple of weeks. 

Step 3: Identify your engaged customers

If you’ve been following the steps above and are still experiencing deliverability issues, this could be your missing piece. 

Just because a contact has subscribed to your list doesn’t necessarily mean they’re engaged—this is a common misconception among marketers. A prime example of this is when someone subscribes to a list because they are offered a coupon or discount to do so. Once they receive that initial email and get their code, they may never open another email from you again. 

Similarly, while giveaway opportunities are great ways to build your list, sometimes shoppers might enter just to have their chance at winning with no real intention of interacting with your brand in the future.

Generally, brands end up in the spam folder because they’re not being thoughtful about their email sending program. If you’re not taking the time to understand who you’re sending to and evaluating the signals your audience is sending you in return, then your marketing strategies aren’t going to be as successful as they could be.

Top contributors to spam placement are:

  • Consistently sending emails to contacts who are chronically unengaged
  • A history of abuse and poor sending practices
  • New sending infrastructure elements that were not warmed properly
  • High bounce rates that cause ISPs to question list quality and subscriber acquisition methods


For your actual sends, creating a segment of engaged profiles will ensure only the most interested recipients are getting your emails. Additionally, because these subscribers are more likely to open your emails, your average open rate will increase, which will help email providers identify your address as a legitimate source instead of spam. 

When we’re talking about profiles being engaged, we’re referring to the actions said profile takes when it receives a message from a sender. There are both positive and negative factors of engagement. 

Positive engagement would be opening, clicking, or forwarding an email. Negative engagement would be marking the email as spam. 

What about unsubscribing? It depends. In the eyes of Gmail, an unsubscribe can actually be considered a positive engagement over marking the email as spam. Unsubscribing is typically considered a healthy way for a subscriber to let the sender know they’re no longer interested—as long as you’re not seeing massive unsubscribe spikes.

Something else worth mentioning is that, when we’re talking about engagement, it’s always going to have a relationship to a timeframe of recency. 

For example, if someone opens or clicks an email at least once within the last 30 days, we would consider them engaged as they’ve recently shown us a positive signal. If the last time someone opened or clicked an email was 180 days ago, we wouldn’t consider them engaged. As a rule of thumb, you want profiles to be opening or clicking at least once in the last 90 days, if not more recently.

You may have to start sending to a much smaller segment than you probably imagined, but this will make sure you’re going in the right direction in terms of your deliverability. Over time as your list grows, so will the number of engaged profiles. 

If you’ve been seeing low open and click rates when sending to your full list, adjusting your sending habits to focus on more engaged subscribers will help drive those numbers back up to where you want them, which brings us to the next step.

Step 4: Monitor your metrics

Now you’re wondering how long it takes to achieve good deliverability. You’re probably also wondering what good deliverability even looks like. For reference, this table will help you to determine where your deliverability falls, or you can check out this deliverability performance guide:

Unique Open Rate Unique Click Rate Bounce Rate Unsubscribe Rate Spam Rate
Great 25% or more 2.5% or more Less than 0.4% Less than 0.2% Less than 0.05%
Proficient 15-25% 1.5-2.5% 0.4-0.8% 0.2-0.3% 0.05-0.08%
Room for Improvement 10-15% 1-1.5% 0.8-1.5% 0.3-0.7% 0.08-0.15%
Critical Less than 10% Less than 1% 1.5% or more 0.7% or more 0.15% or more

Regardless of whether you’re constantly hitting the spam folder at “critical” or just have “room for improvement” where you could be seeing better performance metrics, getting to “proficient” or “great” could take upwards of three to four weeks (on average) and, in some cases, longer. 

This may seem like a long time investment for your brand as you’re trying to acquire new customers, but the pay-off will be worth the wait. 

Step 5: Make content adjustments (as needed)

You’ve been sending to your engaged customers now for three or four weeks. You’ve been monitoring your metrics. If you’ve seen your unique open rates increase over 15 percent and your unique click rates hit two percent—great job! You’re on the right track. 

As these numbers go up, your bounce, unsubscribe, and spam rates should decline as a result (or be very low). Maybe you haven’t seen the improvement you’re looking for or still see room for improvement. 

This final piece is listed as the last step, but making sure your content is delivering the right message is really an ongoing process that started even before your first send. Keeping your recipients engaged and interested is a challenge and usually specific to your brand. At the end of the day, nobody knows your customers better than you. 

Continue to A/B test your emails and test out different subject lines or content. Do your customers respond better to images or do they prefer text? Now that you’ve identified your most engaged customers, you may want to continue to leverage segmentation to focus on subsections of your list that may be more interested in one specific product over another. This way, your communication is more targeted and more inline with recipient interests. 

Always think about sending “wanted emails.” In other words, some email content might be great for a certain subset of your engaged audience, but not the entire segment. 

Step 6: Use a dedicated domain (optional) 

By adding a few CNAME records to your hosting provider, you can set up a dedicated sending domain.

This can be helpful in some instances as it adds an additional layer of authentication to your domain. It tells ISPs that your emails should indeed be sent from whatever platform you’re using, and they can trust that the email is authentic. 

Final Thoughts

As marketers, we can be most helpful to our audience and the most successful in our goals and objectives when we’re creating and sending content that’s valuable to people. It’s why things like segmentation and personalization work—because the more you can tailor your marketing to the individual and create authentic experiences, the stronger your relationship with your customers will be. 

Finding that your emails have ended up in the spam folder is never ideal—it signals that you have work to do to make your messaging more targeted. But deliverability issues aren’t permanent. There are always changes you can make to get your brand back in your customers’ primary inboxes.

Interested in learning more about deliverability? Discover how each inbox provider filters emails.

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