Emails Going to Spam? 12 Reasons Why and What You Can Do About It


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Worried about your emails going to the spam folder? We’ve got you covered.

In this article, we’re sharing 12 reasons why your emails go to spam instead of the inbox and what you can do to prevent them from doing so in the future.

As you’re about to see, you’ll be able to fix most of these issues all by yourself as they’re directly related either to what’s inside of your email messages or how you build and manage your email lists.

Only a few will require some additional help from your email marketing software provider.

For each element, I’ve also included actionable tips that along with the email marketing best practices will help you build strong email deliverability and get your emails in front of your subscribers’ eyes.

Table of contents

  1. You don’t have the permission to contact your recipients
  2. It’s not clear what your subscribers are signing up for
  3. You’re making it difficult to unsubscribe
  4. Your email frequency is off
  5. You’re not paying enough attention to email list hygiene
  6. Your emails are image-heavy (and text-light!)
  7. You’re linking to suspicious websites (among other things)
  8. You’re playing dirty
  9. You’re not using the right email marketing software
  10. Your email engagement rates are low
  11. You’re sending your email campaigns from a freemail domain
  12. Your mailing IP has a bad history record

1. You don’t have the permission to contact your recipients

There’s nothing wrong in wanting a big email list.

Although our studies show that email marketers with the largest lists tend to have lower average email open rates, you shouldn’t ignore the fact that their potential to generate sales revenue is huge.

But having a big contact list shouldn’t be a goal in itself. And you shouldn’t aim for it at all costs.

Recent regulations like the GDPR or the upcoming CCPA have become stricter about how email marketers handle customer personal information. It’s no longer enough that you give your email recipients the option to unsubscribe.

Before you start sending your email campaigns, you should always make sure that you have the permission to do so.

If you neglect that, you’re not only risking that your emails will be going to spam, but also that you’ll be fined.

That’s why if:

  • you’re still filling your email campaigns with contacts from Outlook, Gmail, LinkedIn, or any other place where you’ve interacted with people,
  • you’re an ecommerce business automatically adding people to your list from the checkout page,
  • you’re using a pre-checked newsletter consent checkbox in your web form,
  • buying or downloading email lists from the ‘reputable sites’…

…you should stop right now.

There are plenty of perfectly good email list building methods out there you could try.

And if you’re unsure whether it’s OK to contact some of the people who’re already in your database, consider running a reconfirmation campaign. By sending an email that’s going to ask your audience to continue and stay opt in, you can be sure that only those who’re still interested in your offer will end up on the list.

Pro tip 1: If you’re finding consent management challenging, check out the GetResponse GDPR fields.

These will help you easily store, manage, and view all the consents that your contacts have given you.

GDPR fields are similar to custom fields that you’re probably already familiar with, but there’s one significant difference: instead of editing your consents, you can only create newer versions.

Thanks to this, you won’t end up overwriting your contacts’ permission settings and you’ll know exactly which version of the consent they’ve given you.

Here’s an example of what you’ll see when one of you contacts gives you their consent, e.g., when signing up through one of your landing pages.

How it looks when a contact has given you consent for marketing communication.

Pro tip 2: If you want to stop your emails from going to spam, make sure to always exclude contacts who haven’t given you the right consent.

This will help you avoid making mistakes when you’re running email marketing campaigns that aren’t dedicated to your entire database.

Here’s how you can do this in GetResponse:

Choosing recepients in GetResponse email database.

To select your target audience, check the box next to the name of the list or segment you want to include or exclude from receiving your message. If the same subscriber is present in more than one list or segment, they’ll receive the email only once.

On top of using lists and segments, you can also use suppression lists, where you can store any contacts that shouldn’t receive your communication. A suppression list won’t be included automatically, so make sure to include it manually when sending your email campaign.

2. It’s not clear what your subscribers are signing up for

Transparency is key, especially when you’re building an email list.

When filling out your signup form, users should be fully aware of what kind of communication they’re going to be receiving in the future.

It’s not alright to advertise one service and send emails about another one unless you’ve specified that in your web form.

Or to say that you’re just collecting submissions for a competition and end up using the email database for marketing communication.

Be crystal clear about what you’re going to talk about in your emails. And then deliver on that promise.

When you do that, you’ll see that your unsubscribe, and complaint rates will drop.

And as for your chances of leaving the junk folder – they’ll most definitely increase.

Pro tip 1: Make sure that your web form, the thank you page following it, and your welcome email clearly state what your users are signing up for.

Doing this early in the subscription process improves your chances of building strong relationships with your audience. And, reducing the likelihood of your emails going to spam.

Example of a subscription confirmation page from Further.

Example of a subscription confirmation page from Further. On this page, Further reminds their users about the type of content they’ll receive in the future and how they can make sure they won’t miss out on the content. By doing this, they’re decreasing the unsubscribe rates and improving their deliverability at the same time.

Pro tip 2: If you want to lower your unsubscribe rate, make sure to fill out the name and description of your email lists.

This will help your audience decide which lists they want to stay subscribed to and which ones they want to opt out from.

Here’s what it looks like when a contact clicks the unsubscribe link in one of the emails sent by the GetResponse Marketing Team.

They see all the essential information regarding their subscription. This includes the date of their subscription and the name and description of the list they’ve signed up to.

Unsubscribe preferences.

3. You’re making it difficult to unsubscribe

This one’s among the top reasons why email recipients report emails as spam.

If someone wants to stop receiving marketing communication from a particular sender, the last thing they want to do is to spend extra time looking for a way to unsubscribe.

The moment they find it difficult or lose trust in their request being processed successfully – they report the message as spam or manually move it to their spam box.

In both cases, the marketer is at loss.

Here’s what you should avoid:

  • Burying down the unsubscribe link below the main part of your footer (e.g., by adding empty lines on top of it)
  • Hiding the unsubscribe link (e.g., by changing the copy or writing in a hard to read color)
  • Making your recipients contact you to resign from the newsletter
  • Making recipients log into some form of a panel to unsubscribe or change their mailing preferences
  • Taking unreasonably long to process your users’ requests to unsubscribe

Adding any of the above roadblocks just gets you closer to having your emails marked as spam and having them negatively evaluated by ISPs spam filters.

Here’s one example of an email I received that’s making one of the mistakes I’ve mentioned above. Something you don’t want to do in your own email communication.

Unsubscribe link placement mistake.

Pro tip 1: If you’re worried about your unsubscribe rate being too high, consider offering your subscribers a way to opt down and lower the mailing frequency.

A separate email list or segment will be enough for you to divide your recipients into separate groups, e.g., those who want to receive your emails every couple of days and those who prefer a weekly roundup.

Alternatively, you could also add a short description explaining why the subscriber is receiving your emails and reminding them when or how they’ve signed up for your newsletter.

Pro tip 2: If you’re seeing that your spam complaints are high and you’ve followed the tips described in points 1-3, you could try providing an additional unsubscribe link right after your preheader text.

This may look like a radical move, but it’s better to have more people unsubscribing from your list rather than having them report your messages as spam.

Note: Our observations suggest that people from particular cultures may have a higher tendency to click the ‘report as spam’ button. One of such countries is Russia, which tends to observe the highest average complaint rates as we’ve found in the Email Marketing Benchmarks report.

Moving your unsubscribe link to the preheader may be your best bet if your target audience shows similar tendencies.

4. Your email frequency is off

Emailing too frequently?

People get tired and start ignoring your emails. They stop engaging with your communication, and because of that, internet service providers (ISPs) such as Gmail move your newsletters to the junk folder.

Sending one email every couple of months or so?

People don’t remember you and deliberately ignore your emails (maybe even mark them as spam). Or they accidentally miss one or two and lose the chance of seeing your content for several months straight.

As you can see, neither of these options is good for your email deliverability or your ROI.

The second one’s problematic for yet another reason.

If you have a big email list that you contact only every couple of months, ISPs might get alerted by the sudden email blasts. Such spikes in activity might cause temporary blocks, higher bounce rates, and more emails going to the junk folder.

Pro tip 1: Set the right email frequency by putting together your key email marketing metrics, like the total number of conversions, unsubscribe rates, and bounce rates).

Once you decide on the right email schedule, make sure to communicate it to your audience, e.g., in your subscription form or the welcome email.

Pro tip 2: If you want to increase your email frequency without alerting the spam filters, start by contacting your most engaged subscribers first. Use suppression lists and exclude segments less likely to respond to your email campaigns.

After you’ve managed to successfully engage your best recipients, you can start slowly including those who read your newsletters less eagerly.

High email frequency example.

Some email marketers can get away with having high email frequency. Here, even the name of the newsletter suggests that it’s a daily newsletter update. Be careful with this approach, though, as it can easily backfire. Users can get overwhelmed by too frequent communication. That will result in an opaque churn. Meaning, they won’t unsubscribe from your communication, but by ignoring it, they’ll be affecting your overall email deliverability.

5. You’re not paying enough attention to email list hygiene

Email list hygiene may sound like a funny term. But it’s a process that can have a massive impact on your email deliverability.

Email list hygiene management is about identifying the engaged subscribers, re-engaging those who’ve become unresponsive, and getting rid of those who hold no business value.

And whom do we mean, when we’re saying that they’re holding no business value?

Not just people who are no longer engaging with your communication, clicked the unsubscribe button, or marked your emails as spam.

We also mean those who’ve provided a wrong email address or those who’ve abandoned their mailboxes.

To keep your list clean – and hygienic – you should use confirmed opt-in (a.k.a. double opt-in) and run re-engagement campaigns on a regular basis.

Sending a last resort campaign may work even better, if you put it together with a Facebook or Google Ads campaign.

By doing this, you’ll make sure that your list is clean from misspelled, inactive, or spam trap emails.

If you’re using GetResponse, this process is simple.

You can run Facebook ads directly from your account. Just select the list or segment you want to reach with your Facebook ad, customize your ad, and you’re good to go.

If you’d like to learn about this, read our step-by-step guide to designing Facebook ads in GetResponse.

Pro tip: If your list hasn’t been cleaned in a while or you haven’t processed bounces and unsubscribes before, you should start now.

The best way to do this is to set up an automated re-engagement campaign that’ll send a couple of emails to those recognized by the system as inactive.

GetResponse includes ready-made marketing automation templates that you can use to carry out such a campaign.

Engagement and retention in GetResponse.

Here’s what one of such templates looks like:

A marketing automation template from GetResponse.

If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to choose whether you want to remove such subscribers from your list completely or try retargeting them using another marketing channel.

Bear in mind that there’s no set rule for when a contact should be identified as inactive. This will largely depend on your sales cycle.

In ecommerce, for example, some recipients stay inactive for the larger part of the year, but they’ll check their emails for discount codes and information about promotions around the holiday season.

Automated email results statistics report.

Take a look at this example report for one of our automated emails. We send this email to users right after they’ve filled out the subscription form in the GetResponse Resources. Notice that the bounce rate is almost 3%, most of which is caused by hard bounces (misspelled or non-existent email addresses). Removing these addresses automatically and early into the subscription, will help you ensure your deliverability is unaffected, especially when you’re planning some bigger promotional activities.

6. Your emails are image-heavy (and text-light!)

Email marketing is slightly different from other marketing channels.

Although images do play a big role in it, they can’t dominate your newsletters.

Many email marketers make this mistake: they pack their email templates with images, to make them look nicer, and spend less time coming up with the sales copy.

Here’s one such example from a renowned brand. Notice that even though there’s text in the email body, it’s still part of an image.

An image-heavy email.

This may seem like a good strategy – after all, people like images and can read the text even when it’s part of an image.

But there are two problems.

One is that, unless you provide the ALT text to your image, consumers that use screen readers may have trouble reading your content.

Just like it would be with the following email.

An email without alt text for images.

Second one is that ISPs like Gmail or Outlook see this a bit differently.

Lots of heavy images make heavy emails and ISPs want to process as many emails as possible. By making your newsletters image-heavy, you’re making this process more difficult and resource-consuming. And because of that, they may choose to filter your emails less favorably and place them in the spam folder or even bounce them.

That isn’t to say that all emails that contain heavy images will go to spam. Email marketers with high deliverability and high subscriber engagement can often get away with slightly heavier newsletters.

But I’m going to assume that this isn’t you, since you’re reading this article.

On top of the email weight, ISPs also look at the amount of text that’s visible in your newsletters.

They check the text-to-image ratio to evaluate the quality of your message. That’s because a lot of spammers wants to avoid the text-based content filters.

In general, the more text or the higher its ratio compared to images the better.

Additionally, ISPs also compare the HTML and text version of your emails. These have to match, otherwise the message looks suspicious to say the least.

Naturally, this doesn’t mean your emails have to be text-only. Especially given that our studies have shown that emails that contain at least one image tend to have higher average open rates than the plain text ones.

So what should you do, when images need to be part of your email template?

First of all, check whether your email software automatically reduces the size of images you upload into your newsletter.

For example, when you add your own images into your email template in GetResponse, they’ll be cropped and compressed before they’re delivered to your email subscribers. This is different for GIFs, however, which are not being altered.

Alternatively, when saving your files in your image editing software, make sure to use an option that’ll be called “export them for the web” or something along these lines.

And if you’re on a budget or just don’t want to bother your designer, use an online tool called Squoosh. It’s really quick and can help you make your images optimized – both to be used in the email campaigns or on your website in general.

Pro tip: One way to increase your text-to-image ratio is to add more copy into your footer. There, you could explain why your subscribers are receiving the email, who it’s being sent by, and how one can manage their mailing preferences or unsubscribe.

This is in addition to adding the elements that are required by CAN-Spam Act and other regulations. One such element is the impressum, which states the name and physical address of the company sending the email.

Another way you can increase your text-to-image ratio is to add copy (in text, not over an image) into your email introduction and product descriptions. The same goes for creating CTA buttons, which could be coded and styled so that they don’t look much different from what your designer would create.

UX perspective: View entire message example.

This is more of an UX concern rather a deliverability one (so it won’t stop your emails from going to the junk folder), but you might want to take this into consideration. Gmail, which is the most popular email client, will clip emails they consider too large. If you add too much content, a critical part of your message might remain hidden until someone clicks the “View entire message” link.

Bonus:

Learn how to create high-impact email campaigns with this exclusive give:

Increase Your Emails’ Impact

7. You’re linking to suspicious websites (among other things)

Not many email marketers realize this, but when ISPs analyze your email’s content, they also go through your links.

If you’re trying to improve your email deliverability, because your emails are going into the junk folder, here are several things to avoid:

  • Linking to websites that have low reputation
  • Using links that redirect users too many times
  • Using suspicious link shorteners
  • Having small text-to-link ratio
  • Linking to too many different domains

Bear in mind that your links could be hidden in the images that you’re using. If they’re hosted on a website with a bad reputation, you might also get hit by spam filters.

In general, you should check the websites you’re linking to and how many links there are in your email in general. Again, the higher text-to-link ratio the better.

As for the number of domains you’re linking to, what you should be looking for is the so-called domain alignment. In other words, in the ideal world, the domains that are used in your from address, mailing domain, and inside of your email content will all match.

Pro tip: Before hitting the send button, make sure to analyze your emails with a spam checker, like the Spam Assassin tool that’s built into GetResponse.

Spam Assassin tool in GetResponse.

If you use this tool and notice that your score is too high (most filters are set to 5.0), try to identify the element that’s responsible for the higher Spam Score. If you’re unsure which one it is, try cutting out the content of your email one element or section at a time and keep checking if the score’s changed.

This way you’ll be able to locate the section or individual element that’s causing trouble. It could just as well be a single link or part of your copy, so pay attention to all elements within your email template.

If you’d like to reduce your GetResponse spam score further, there’s one more thing that you can do – add the plain text version of your message into your email template.

Why bother adding it?

Because it’s one of the elements, ISPs use to evaluate the authenticity of your email campaigns. It can also be useful for those who prefer to read emails in their non-HTML version.

Besides, this step should reduce your Spam Score roughly by 1.1 point.

And all it takes is two clicks. Just click on the Plain Text option at the bottom of the Email Creator arena and then clicking the HTML to Plain link.

This GIF shows you the whole process.

How to reduce GetResponse spam score by adding the plain text version of the message.

8. You’re playing dirty

Some marketers will do anything to increase their email open rates.

Even if their tactics mean that the recipients are at loss.

What sort of tactics are we talking about? For example, adding phrases like “Re:” or “Fwd:” to their email subject lines.

Adding these elements is meant to trick the subscribers into thinking that your marketing email is just a regular message they’d receive from a friend or colleague.

Naturally, newsletters and other marketing communication don’t work this way.

Although they do include personalization or a friendly from name, they’re not meant to trick people into thinking that they’re sent in response to their previous email.

How about using ‘spam words’?

You know, words like “buy now” or “free”.

Believe it or not, most lists of “words to avoid” are now obsolete.

Spam filters have evolved so much, they don’t just look at the direct use of common phrases like the ones above. Using phrases like “cheap” won’t move your emails into the spam folder.

Note: this is different for using names of drugs and other similar products.

Still, there are tactics that you should avoid.

Here are a few, shared by our Deliverability Manager, Martin Schwill, for Econtent:

Just what is considered spam these days? In general, the fundamentals still apply. This includes using a low-quality list that has not been cleaned and/or its subscribers have not clearly opted in to receive messages. Also, poor quality messages, inaccurate targeting, and the lack of solid authentication technology, all continue to be key triggers for filtering. Digging deeper into the current state of spam filters, here’s what else the filters are evaluating behind the scenes:

If the message resembles current or known phishing scams.

Hashbusters: These blocks of text, which are sometimes invisible to recipients, are often used in the mail structure itself in an attempt to deceive the filters.

Hiding text in HTML comments or by using fonts, colors, or backgrounds to reduce their visibility.

Incorrect or suspicious code.

The image-to-text ratio.

Pro tip: Now that spam filters have become more complex, your main focus should be on increasing your email subscribers’ engagement. One of the best ways to do this is to use email automation. Automated emails are sent in response to your recipients’ actions and preferences, which is why they generate above average open and click through rates.

9. You’re not using the right email marketing software

I know this sounds like we’re tooting our own horn, but it’s impossible not to mention a critical factor – your email marketing software.

It’s not only the technology that’s enabling you to send emails to thousands or even hundreds of thousands of recipients within minutes. Your email service provider also plays a big role in delivering your emails to your subscribers’ inboxes.

Let’s take our example.

Here, at GetResponse, we manage your IPs reputation, process bounces, unsubscribes, spam complaints, and set up feedback loops.

Thanks to this, we know when an email address is no longer active, is misspelled, or when the recipient wants to unsubscribe. Once we see such addresses, we remove them from your list, so that your deliverability isn’t affected, and you don’t have to pay extra for contacts that hold no value to your business.

We also team up with various ISPs and anti-spam organizations to learn from each other how to better secure our systems and fight spammers and phishers.

As a result, our email deliverability is 99%, as reported by Return Path.

Pro tip 1: One more thing that’s worth pursuing is email authentication. Setting up the SPF and DKIM records will make you recognizable for the ISP. Identifying you means they’ll be sure you’re not impersonating anyone else. It will also help you increase your reputation and make all the good things you do “stick” to your brand. It will also help you get better knowledge about your reputation.

If you’re a GetResponse user and would like to learn more about how you can authenticate your domain using the DKIM, read our help guide.

Pro tip 2: While designing and coding your own emails from scratch works for many out there, one of the common reasons why emails go to spam is that their HTML code isn’t clean.

To avoid that, either hire a developer who’s on top of the email design game specifically (coding for email is very different from coding websites) or use an email creator.

The latter will help you design and edit your email templates freely, without the need to bother your designers. On top of that, you’ll know your emails are designed specifically for all the most popular email clients.

10. Your email engagement rates are low

Spam filters are also looking at how much your subscribers engage in your email communication.

The more your recipients interact with your content, the better your chances of landing in the inbox.

This also means you don’t have to be as cautious as those who are just starting to send email campaigns or those whose emails land in the spam folder.

You can add heavier images into your newsletters, send bigger blasts in one go, or even increase your mailing frequency and still reach the inbox without a glitch.

The opposite is also true. The lower your engagement rates are, the more careful you have to be about how you run your email campaigns. You need to put extra effort to have your emails delivered successfully.

If you’re seeing that your average email marketing metrics are below the email industry benchmarks, there are a few things you should do.

First of all, focus on improving your email list hygiene. As we’ve discussed in point #5, it’s critical to keep your list clean from bad or inactive email addresses. That’s why you should regularly run re-engagement campaigns that’ll reactivate and separate inactive recipients from your most loyal readers.

The second thing you should consider is lead nurturing. Instead of throwing your new subscribers into the same stream of communication everyone else receives, you should treat them in a more special way. By designing a drip campaign, you can turn your new contacts from complete strangers to active consumers one message at a time.

A big part of your lead nurturing campaigns will be welcome emails. They’re not only great for creating a great first impression but also for engagement and deliverability. They reach an average of 80% open rates and 25% CTRs, and can help you get your customers used to checking your emails in their inbox. You can also use welcome emails to ask your recipients to add you to their safe senders list.

And setting up welcome emails is easy. All you have to do is either set up an autoresponder or a marketing automation workflow that’ll be sent right after a new contact joins your list.

Here’s what this looks like in the GetResponse Autoresponders:

welcome message in getresponse autoresponder.

Last but not least, make sure to segment your audience for all major campaigns. Rather than sending email blasts to everyone who’s on your list, pick the customer segments that are most likely to be interested in your offer.

This way you can exclude those who’ve been already receiving too many emails or would find the content you’re about to promote irrelevant.

Pro tip: Increasing your email engagement rates takes time. If you’re having deliverability issues, be sure to start sending your email campaigns to your most engaged audience.

11. You’re sending your email campaigns from a freemail domain (e.g. Gmail or Yahoo)

When starting their journey with email marketing, marketers often use freemail domains like Gmail or Outlook to send out their newsletters.

Up to a certain point, this works fine. Their emails reach the recipients and the marketer doesn’t need to do any extra work to get them delivered.

But when their list grows, the freemail domain in the from address is often the reason why their emails end up in the spam folder.

The reason for this is that ISPs prefer to see domains that have been registered by an individual sender, whom they can trackback.

Naturally, this is not possible for freemail domains, like Yahoo, Outlook, or Gmail.

This may explain why freemail domains are often abused by people who deliberately want to send out spam.

The good news is that it’s an easy fix.

All you have to do is set up your own company domain or create a subdomain under your existing domain and use it for your email campaigns.

Even if you’re going to use it only in the from address, and not the mailing domain you’re physically sending your messages from, it’s going to help you deliver your message better.

That isn’t to say that changing the from address is going to instantly change things for you. Your from address will slowly build a reputation of its own, so it’s best to gradually increase your sending volumes rather than go for a big email blast right away.

Pro tip: I know I’ve mentioned this before, but using tools like the Spam Assassin will help you identify such common mistakes as the freemail domain in your from address.

By running your newsletters through a spam checker, your chances of reaching the inbox grow considerably higher.

12. Your mailing IP has a bad history record

If you’ve gone through all the aforementioned reasons, fixed them, and your emails are still landing in the spam folder – the chances are that your mailing IP is to blame.

The IP you’re sending your email campaigns through builds a reputation of its own. And this reputation stays with that address for months, even when nobody’s using the IP to run their email campaigns.

This means that if you’ve acquired an IP address (or your email software provider assgined you one), it may have someone else’s reputation still affecting the deliverability.

This isn’t usually a problem, because most email marketing providers use a number of shared IPs to process your campaigns.

In other words, the reputation is built by a number of marketers at the same time. Plus, the email traffic is directed through different channels to make sure the deliverability stays intact.

Having said this, if you’re experiencing deliverability issues and you’re using your own mailing IP, this is something you should explore further.

Note: It’s also possible that your IPs’ reputation gets affected by someone else who’s sending their campaigns from an address within the same class. This is rarely the case, but if nothing else works, you should check out the reputation of addresses within your IP class, too.

Pro tip: To check if your IP is listed on one of the popular blacklists, you can use online tools, like the MXToolBox.

Bear in mind that not all blacklists affect your email deliverability. Some were created only for commercial reasons and aren’t used by ISPs when filtering your emails.

Even if you do find your IP or domain listed on one of them, it doesn’t necessarily mean your emails will go into the spam folder.

Action plan

Now that you’ve learned these 12 reasons why your email campaigns could be going to spam instead of the inbox, it’s time you start improving your email deliverability.

If you’re unsure about any of the factors mentioned above, just reach out to us in the comments and we’ll do what we can to help you out.

And if you’re ready to move your campaigns to an email software provider with 99% deliverability, there’s GetResponse for you :).

Emails Going to Spam? 12 Reasons Why That Happens and What You Can Do About It

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