So you’ve grown an impressive email list for your business – amazing job!
This means you’re set for life with a marketing tool that can get you a huge return on investment, right?
Growing your email list won’t guarantee your success. You also need to make sure that people are opening your emails… but most importantly, that they are receiving them in the first place.
And if your emails are going to the spam folder, well, that might become an obstacle keeping you from achieving your goals.
How to find out if your emails are going to spam
The challenge with succeeding at email marketing is that you may not know your emails are going to spam folders until you’ve already wasted weeks, if not months, sending high-value campaigns to your subscribers.
Unless you actively make an effort to verify things yourself – or unless one of your subscribers lets you know your email has landed in their spam folder – there is no magical way to know where exactly your emails are landing.
So what are some proactive steps you can take to verify whether or not your emails are going to spam?
1.Keep tabs on your email marketing software reports
First things first: start nurturing healthy list-tracking habits. If you don’t track important email marketing metrics, it will be difficult to notice when something changes that could indicate your emails going to spam.
Important metrics to track over time should include:
- ✔️ Email open rate for newsletters
- ✔️ Open rates for automated sequences
- ✔️ Click-through rate
- ✔️ Deliverability
Keep in mind that your email marketing software may not offer detailed information on deliverability. I use Convertkit’s first paid tier, called the Creator tier, for my own email list, but if I wanted more detailed delivery information, I would need to upgrade to Creator Pro.
Does this mean you absolutely need to upgrade to a premium plan and use a different email marketing service? Not necessarily. In my case, the current global open rate and click-through rate are at 33.44% and 3.75% respectively, which I’m okay with.
However, if I noticed a sudden dip in these values, I’d want to dig deeper into deliverability reports.
Lower open rates and click-through rates don’t necessarily mean your emails are going to spam. It could also mean some of your subscribers are going cold, AKA, not opening your emails, even if they are receiving them in their regular inbox.
If this were the case, solving the problem would require different steps. For instance, a simple re-engagement campaign and list scrub would suffice (more on this later).
However, if your emails truly ARE going to spam, there may be a deeper problem at play that requires a bigger overhaul of your email marketing strategy.
2.Keep track of common email blacklists
Other than tracking your metrics, there are a few other things you can do to verify whether or not your emails are landing in spam folders.
For instance, try keeping track of well-known email blacklists. If your domain is on a blacklist, there is a good chance the email providers your subscribers use may be sending you directly to spam.
Common blacklists to watch include:
- Spamhaus (which runs several lists)
- XBL Exploits Block List
- Barracuda Reputation Block List
Finally, if your emails are bouncing at a high rate, there’s a good chance you may be landing in spam folders as well.
The most common reasons why your emails are going to spam
If you’ve discovered your emails are going to spam, the next step is to figure out why this may be happening – so that you can take the right course of action to fix the issue.
Below are the most common reasons why your emails may be going to spam.
1. You forgot to add your physical address
According to the CAN-SPAM Act, you must include a physical address at the bottom of every email in order to remain compliant.
Failure to do so may result in your emails getting automatically flagged as spam.
Here’s what most compliant marketing emails look like:
This is an easy fix: simply add a physical business address to your emails.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be your home address, or even YOUR address at all. For instance, Convertkit allows you to add their business address if you don’t have an address you feel safe to disclose to your subscribers.
2. You’re sending emails without consent
Did you add someone to your email list after giving them a free lead magnet, without explicitly telling them they would receive marketing emails in addition to their freebie?
If so, you are sending marketing emails without consent, and this makes it more likely that your subscribers are flagging your emails as spam.
At the very minimum, you should include a disclaimer that explicitly states they are giving permission to receive marketing emails. Whether or not they are obligated to check a box with this disclaimer to receive the lead magnet is up to you.
For example, here is a traditional disclaimer that new subscribers need to agree with if they want to receive a free ebook:
Compare this to another form which gives subscribers the choice between joining the marketing list or not:
And if you have no technical skills to recreate an email subscription form like the one above, worry not. You can add a pre-designed opt-in popup to your website within minutes using a template like this one below:
Change the copy and the background image if you want and connect the form to your email marketing software to send new subscribers straight to the list.
Whatever path you choose, you must make sure that you are being clear and explicit about what you’re inviting people to sign up to.
And that brings us to the next point 👇
3. You are misrepresenting your information
According to the FTC, your sending information – which includes your ‘From’, ‘To’, and ‘Reply-To’, and routing information – must be accurate. If this isn’t the case, this means you are misleading your subscribers.
This one is an easy fix as well: don’t mislead your subscribers and lie about who is sending your emails.
4. Your emails contain attachments
Too many viruses and phishing scams use email attachments to harm those who open their emails. As a result, marketing emails that contain attachments are often automatically sent to the spam folder.
If you want to send attachments to your subscribers, you are better off sending them a link instead. That’s why most lead magnets and content upgrades are available via buttons and links instead of being directly attached to emails.
5. Too many images, too little text
In some cases, emails may get flagged as spam if they contain too many images.
If your subscribers use Gmail, these types of emails may land in Promotions instead of spam, which isn’t as bad!
For example, here’s an image-filled email I found in my own spam folder:
And here is another marketing email that landed in my Promotions folder instead of the main Inbox folder:
To avoid this, make sure you have enough text in your emails compared to the real estate occupied by images. For instance, the above email could have had text above the image instead of having it hard-coded copy in the photo.
6. Your emails contain spam trigger words or mislead your subscribers
Are you overusing terms like “100% free”, “save big money”, “double your income”, and other exaggerations? Then you should know that spam filters consider such words ‘spammy’.
This may be enough to send your emails straight to the spam folder.
Misleading subject lines can encourage your subscribers to mark your emails as spam. If they constantly feel you are click-baiting them, why wouldn’t they?
Do your best to avoid overusing spam trigger words. Here is a helpful list of some of these words.
And as for clickbait subject lines? Just don’t!
7. There is no opt-out link available
Consent is not a forever done-deal. Most anti-spam laws, including GDPR and CAN-SPAM, require you to allow your subscribers to remove their consent to receive marketing emails at any time.
If your marketing emails don’t contain an unsubscribe link, more people may be marking your emails as spam.
There are several ways to solve this problem.
First off, just add an Unsubscribe link. Most email marketing tools should add one to your letters by default.
However, you can do even better than that. This is an email that I received from Tarzan Kay recently. Notice what’s at the bottom:
Not only is the usual Unsubscribe link available, but Tarzan has added some new options, too. She realized that not everyone likes receiving several emails a week, or even several emails a month.
In an effort to keep her subscribers happy and avoid getting marked as spam, she added the option to receive weekly OR monthly email recaps instead.
While I don’t have access to Tarzan’s back end, I can guess what is most likely happening here:
As an email subscriber, you get assigned a specific tag depending on which link you click. Let’s call these EmailAnytime, EmailWeekly, and EmailMonthly.
When she sends regular emails, she sets it up so that they DON’T get sent to EmailWeekly and EmailMonthly.
Every week, she sends ONE recap email to all subscribers who are tagged as EmailWeekly.
Every month, she sends ONE recap email to all subscribers who are tagged as EmailMonthly.
I’ve guessed this is what is happening based on what I know about email tags, as well as what she specifies in the email itself:
In addition to doing this, you can give your subscribers the option to unsubscribe from certain topics. For instance, I ran a promotion a few weeks back and made sure to include a link like this one in every email:
This makes it that my subscribers don’t feel trapped in a given promotion. Note that only ONE person fully unsubscribed from my email list, while four people decided to unsubscribe from this promotion, after this email.
You’re probably wondering – what URL should you use to create the Unsubscribe link? I suggest creating a landing page on your website specifically for this purpose. Optionally, you can give an option for your subscribers to opt back in.
8. Some of your subscribers have inactive email addresses
Once in a while, some of your subscribers may stop using the email address they used to opt-in to your list.
If an email address is no longer active, you’ll get bounces every time you send an email.
Why does this increase your chances of getting marked as spam? Spammers who send mass emails to thousands, if not millions of addresses at once often have high bounce rates, since their lists are low-quality.
In an effort to protect their users, email providers are more likely to mark you as spam if you exhibit similar behaviors.
Inactive email addresses aren’t your fault! But they are your responsibility to clean out.
Scrubbing your list once or twice every year can help you clear out inactive email addresses. Which leads us to…
List hygiene is important: how to proactively improve deliverability
Did you know that your deliverability – whether or not people are receiving your emails, and whether or not you’re landing in spam folders – can be influenced by your open rates?
This means that consistently sending emails that don’t get opened, or sending emails that bounce, could mean your deliverability gets decreased over time. In return, this increases your chances of landing in spam folders.
That’s why upkeeping your list hygiene is important.
List hygiene is an umbrella term to describe your overall deliverability, percentage of cold and warm subscribers, open rates, and click-through rates.
There are three main ways you can proactively upkeep good list hygiene.
First off, make sure you email your subscribers on a consistent basis.
This doesn’t mean spam your list every day. However, it does mean staying consistent in sending valuable emails your subscribers actually want to open.
So if you want to send daily emails that provide value, do so, and keep doing it. If you send weekly emails, make sure you send emails every week.
But what happens if you ghost your list and stop sending emails for a while? This leads to the second method: re-engagement campaigns.
I’ve been guilty of ghosting my list in the past. This resulted in several cold subscribers – people who haven’t opened my emails in three months or more. If you stop consistently emailing your list, the same thing may happen to you.
For example, when I emailed my list after months of inactivity, my open rate had lowered all the way to 11.2%.
If you experience the same, this doesn’t mean all is lost! You can attempt to re-engage your subscribers.
Give them a reason to open your emails when running a re-engagement. For example, you could run a fun giveaway and make it obvious in your subject line that your subscribers can gain from opening that email. I’d suggest emailing them at least three times during a campaign like this.
Keep in mind that you won’t necessarily see your open rate spike back up until you do the third method: list scrubbing.
Whether or not your open rates drop, I suggest you do a list scrub at least once per year. This involves removing all your cold subscribers from your list.
Yes, you read that right! I am actually suggesting that you REMOVE people from your list.
This is a scary thing to do, especially when a large portion of your subscribers have gone cold. But cold subscribers are unfortunately just dead weight on your list since they only contribute to:
Making you pay MORE for your email marketing service (since most email marketing software chargers per subscriber)
Lowering your open and click-through rates
Hurting your deliverability
Not only do they hurt your overall email marketing strategy, but they don’t contribute anything positive in exchange!
Having a high number of subscribers doesn’t mean anything if most of them never open your emails.
While it may feel good to brag about having a big list, it’s just a vanity metric. Engagement rates matter much more than the size of your list.
However, you don’t have to just delete your cold subscribers without making a last-ditch effort to keep some of them.
Before you scrub your list from all cold subscribers, you can run a list-scrubbing campaign.
Here’s what you can do: first, make sure all your cold subscribers are tagged effectively. Usually, your email marketing software will have an option to automatically track subscribers who haven’t engaged with your content in 90 days or more.
In Convertkit, cold subscribers get sent to a specific Cold segment, like this:
Next, send a series of emails – three is usually a good number – to give your cold subscribers a last chance to stay on your list. Only send these emails to your cold subscribers.
For example, I told my subscribers to click on one link if they wanted to stay on my list and click on another if they wanted to unsubscribe. I warned them that if they took no action – AKA, didn’t click on any link – they would automatically be removed in a specific number of days.
Don’t expect your open rate to be high for this. My first list scrub email had an open rate of 13.5%.
In the background, my automation rules looked like this:
Essentially, my subscribers got tagged depending on which link they clicked. Because I only sent these emails to subscribers tagged as ‘Cold’, those who were removed from this tag no longer received the next email in this sequence.
I also made sure NOT to send the next emails to those who got tagged as Unsub User.
At the end of this campaign, I then unsubscribed all subscribers who were tagged as Unsub User.
Keep in mind that while you run this campaign, you can absolutely keep sending regular newsletters to your other subscribers. Just make sure you don’t send both the newsletter AND the list scrub emails to your cold subscribers.
In fact, I kept sending regular newsletters, and because I was only sending them to warm subs, my open rate was already MUCH better than before.
When you remove your cold subscribers, you should automatically see a spike in your lifetime open rates. I went from a terrible 10% to 32% in just a few minutes just by deleting my cold subscribers!
However, make sure to download your subscriber data before you delete it. Keep those files safely just in case. That way, your data is never truly lost.
Keep tabs on your email list and avoid the spam folder
That’s it – these are the most important factors in staying away from the spam folder!
As a quick recap, here are the most important takeaways:
- Track your key metrics
- Avoid spammy or misleading behavior
- Respect the consent of your subscribers
- Maintain good list hygiene
Here’s a final tip: go through your own personal spam box and see the reasons listed for these emails to land in spam. Then you can compare these emails to yours and see if they have anything in common.
Charlene Boutin is a freelance content writer & email marketing strategist for hire specializing in helping Ecommerce and SaaS businesses increase conversions by growing authentic relationships with their audience. She loves helping business owners tell their unique stories to capture the hearts of more customers.
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