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5 steps to emails that reach the inbox

It’s an email marketer’s deepest, darkest fear.

You work hard to design something beautiful, get your copy just right, nail your CTAs... and then all your hard work gets trapped in the godforsaken twilight zone best known as a spam filter.

If your emails don’t even make it to the inbox, how can you expect them to perform? It’s a serious issue, and as such, it deserves attention. But with the many spam-filtering algorithms out there constantly (and we mean constantly) changing, it can be tricky to determine how to best avoid capture and emerge triumphant in the inbox.

Thankfully, if you’re using Emma, your account has a built-in proof feature that spots potential delivery issues, including:

- Content and language that'll raise your spam score
- File size (a huge file will raise a red flag)
- Reputation problems with the links in your mailing

Our checks are pretty comprehensive, and we have a great reputation with all of the major ISPs out there. That being said, if you aren’t an Emma customer (or even if you just want some extra peace of mind!), here are five things you can do to give your emails the very best chance of reaching the inbox.

1. Ask your recipients to add your from address to their address book or trusted sender list. Of all the steps, this one's the most important – and it has the largest impact. If your name is Charlie, and your recipient tells her email program to accept all mail from Charlie, it'll override pretty much every other setting in place. Your email, regardless of its content, will reach your recipient's inbox every time. Good work, Charlie.

2. Update your organization's Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record and register your ESP as a sender on your behalf. Does that sound like a lot of email marketing jargon? We understand. If you’re an Emma customer, here’s a quick reference sheet to pass along to your system administrator or IT department. If not, contact your ESP for resources on how to do this – all the major players should have them available.

3. Don't let formatting changes outshine your mailing's content. Is wanting pretty things a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it can be a bad thing when it comes to an overabundance of colors and font styles and font types in your email. The significance is two-fold: As Justine Jordan of Litmus said during Marketing United, when everything stands out in your email design, nothing stands out. Plus, excessive design can make for an overly hefty email that gets dragged down into spam land.

4. Avoid words and phrases that can be caught in spam filters. This one’s a little controversial: Experts come down on both sides of the fence as to whether certain keywords affect deliverability. But realistically, the ones people say you should avoid aren’t generally found in smart, relevant email marketing campaigns – so what’s the harm of leaving them out just in case?

You know the ones we’re talking about. Anything that screams FREE, FREE, FREE or shouts OFFER, OFFER, OFFER. Profanity, references to slang words, and body parts are also best left avoided. The web is full of recommended lists for words to avoid, so search, learn, and use them at your own risk.

5. Pay attention to the subject line. We liken it to your mailing's formal gown at a cotillion ball: It announces the email. (We might have gone too far with that metaphor, but don't tell that to your subject line.) Here's a handy guide to creating memorable subject lines that'll get you well on your way.

It’s also important to remember that though email marketers may see spam as one thing, your audience sees it as another. If you fail to serve up relevant content, recipients won’t hesitate to flag your email as spam – even if they invited you into their inbox.

Spam filters are one of the most arcane elements of the email world, but we’re always here to help! If you have a specific deliverability question (related to an individual ISP, or even just in general), let us know in the comments and we’ll consult our experts for the best answer we can provide.