The top 6 reasons your emails go to spam

As an email marketer, you probably assume that spam is only sent by shady scammers looking to prey on victims. But, that’s not the case. Even emails sent by legitimate email marketers can end up in the spam folder.

The truth is, there’s more spam than you think. The chart below shows the global spam volume between 2014 and 2018. In April of 2014, spam was at its peak. Seventy-one percent of emails were considered spam. In April of 2018, spam accounted for 48% of emails, which is considerably less than four years ago, but it still means half of all emails won’t land in an inbox.

So, what causes an email to drop into a spam folder rather than the inbox? There are a lot of factors at play, but there are some common reasons for email banishment. Here’s a look at the top six reasons your emails go to spam along with solutions to improve your deliverability:

1. Sending emails without permission

Sending emails to people without their permission is one of the main reasons your emails go to spam. You need express permission, which means the subscriber voluntarily asked for your emails.

That means you can’t send emails to people who hand you their business card at a trade show because they didn’t give you explicit permission to do so. The same goes for buying a list.

Buying a list of contacts might be tempting, especially if you’re just starting out, but it’s a bad idea. Contacts you’ve paid for don’t know you or your business and certainly didn’t give permission to receive your messages.

Plus, sending emails without consent also violates a recently-passed regulation, GDPR, which requires clear and obvious consent.

Bottom line: sending emails without permission is a hot mess.

Solution: Start a double opt-in process

To make sure your emails land safely in a subscriber’s inbox, get permission – twice. By setting up a double opt-in process, subscribers voluntarily join your list and then receive an email asking them to confirm their decision like this email does from Early Bird Books:

Why the two steps? Double opt-in eliminates doubt.

If a subscriber fills out a form on your website to receive your newsletter and confirms their intent by clicking a link in a follow-up email, it’s clear that he or she wants your emails.

A double opt-in isn’t required. As long as the subscriber has given consent, you’re covered.

However, adding that extra layer is a wise move. Not only are you 100% sure that customers are interested in your product, but you can also segment your contacts by their opt-in commitment (single or double) and market to each group a little differently.

2. Subscribers report your email as a spam

Subscribers can report your email as spam. Originally, this reporting mechanism was meant to give consumers the power to report fraudulent emails or scams, but today’s consumer uses it more frequently.

Now, when consumers get an email they don’t want or don’t remember signing up for, they’ll report it as spam. Thirty-four percent of consumers say they’ve reported an email as spam as a way to deal with their increasingly full inbox.

It’s not exactly fair, especially when subscribers could unsubscribe rather than report you, but it happens.

Complaints can hurt your reputation as well. If too many are filed, your emails will bypass the inbox and land in the spam folder every time.


Solution: Segment and personalize

To stop subscribers from deeming your email as spam, segment your contacts into small groups and send personalized emails to each.

How does that help? Subscribers don’t want their inbox flooded with messages, and segmentation means you’ll likely send fewer, more targeted emails. Instantly, subscribers are happier.

Plus, segmented emails cater to specific niches. For example, if you break your audience down by past purchases, you could send emails that suggest similar products. The email is relevant, and subscribers will respond by opening, clicking and converting.

If subscribers are engaged with your email, they won’t think of reporting you.

3. Using deceptive subject lines

Crafting a must-click subject line grabs attention and encourages subscribers to open your emails. But, misleading subject lines are another one of the reasons your emails go to spam.

Considering how many messages consumers see every day, marketers have to step up their game. Creating attention-grabbing subject lines is a necessity, but some marketers take it too far.

Here’s a snapshot of subject lines from an average spam folder. Several of them confirm orders, but the subscriber never made a purchase from the company, while others make impossible promises of money:


Solution: Be honest

You can create appealing subject lines and still be honest. You can use humor, tease a coupon that’s inside, or personalize the subject line to get the attention (and action) you’re looking for.

Remember, your emails are an extension of your company. Dishonest messages discourage customers.

4. High percentage of ‘spam words’

When you send an email, a spam filter reviews it before deciding if it goes to an inbox or the spam folder. Think of a spam filter as a ‘truth bot’ that checks your email for legitimacy. Since the bot can’t really read and understand the email like a human, it’s configured to spot certain words that are traditionally used by spammers.

If a lot of “spammy words” are found – you guessed it – it’s another one of the reasons your emails go to spam.

Solution: Avoid spam words

Which words are considered spammy? Great question. Here’s a list of spam words you can reference. However, the list is always growing to keep pace with the changing tactics of spammers.

Most of the words focus on deals that are too good to be true or impossible promises. For example, the words “Free money,” “Easy investment,” and “Earn extra income,” are all red flags for spam filters.

Just be honest and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Fortunately, if you’re working with an email service provider like Emma, you’ll also have access to a spam checker that looks for things a spam filter will red flag. Emma’s spam checker looks at your content, language, file sizes and the reputation of links that you’ve included in your email.

You can use the spam checker before you send an email to ensure the best chances of delivery.

5. Your message is full of misspellings or grammatical errors

In some cases, spammers aren’t native English speakers so they don’t have a grasp on proper spelling and punctuation. An email that’s riddled with misspelled words, punctuation that’s out of place, or words that aren’t typically used in everyday conversation are red flags to any spam filter.

Solution: Proofread your messages and use tools to check for accuracy

Whether you speak English or not, everyone makes mistakes. It only takes a few hiccups for a spam filter to drop the axe on your email.

Take the time to proofread your email. Read the last sentence first and work your way up. With the sentences out of context, you’ll force your brain to read what’s written.

In addition, there are several tools that can go beyond a basic spell check. Grammarly, for example, can spot misspellings and grammatical errors, while a tool like the Hemingway Editor takes a more in-depth look at your text and highlights run-on sentences and passive voice.

Run your text through these tools before you send any email.

6. There’s no unsubscribe option

Subscribers should always have a way to leave your list. If a subscriber wants to end their email relationship with you, they can – at any time. It’s the law, actually. The CAN-SPAM Act requires every email to include an unsubscribe link. It must be easy to find, and simple to opt out.

A missing unsubscribe option is another one of the reasons your emails go to spam.

Solution: Add an unsubscribe link

The solution here is fairly simple. You have to add an unsubscribe link. Most links are at the bottom of an email, like this:

If you’re using an email service provider like Emma, an unsubscribe link is automatically added for you. If a subscriber chooses to leave, Emma removes him or her from your list for you. It’s simple.

Wrap up

The definition of spam has changed. Spam isn’t defined as fraudulent emails sent by unsavory characters anymore, now spam is any unwanted email. By understanding the reasons your emails go to spam, you can make necessary adjustments like getting consent, sending tailored emails, being honest, and sending error-free messages every time.

Remember, getting your emails to the inbox is the first crucial step to turning subscribers into customers.

Emma can help you improve your delivery rates with a variety of advanced tools. See how by requesting a free demo.

About the Author

Tyler Sutton is an Email Specialist on the Professional Services team at Emma.

More Content by Tyler Sutton

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