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How Can I Avoid the Spam Folder?

If I had a nickel every time I was asked the spam folder question, I would probably be typing this post from a tropical island beach instead of a cold, air-conditioned office building. Folks, I’m here to say that, unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet. The answer is simply that it’s complicated. Every ISP analyzes different signals and weights them all differently.

However, there’s hope to navigating the inbox and the spam folder, and I’ve outlined a few tips below that, when implemented correctly, should help you overcome any deliverability hurdles.

Spam Signals

Gmail looks at thousands of different signals to determine whether a message is spam or not—from things like authentication, sending domain and IP address, to content and engagement. Consider your engagement signals alone in that equation.

While email service providers can only track openers and clickers (and sometimes complainers if the ISP offers a feedback loop), ISPs are tracking much more than that; such as, whether you move a message from the spam folder to the inbox or vice versa. Even whether you just leave it in the spam folder or whether you delete a message without even opening it.

Content Filters

I remember years ago when I first started working at an ESP in 2006 and email filtering was still newer, one of the pieces of advice we’d often give our customers was to avoid spammy words, like “FREE” and to avoid over punctuating like “!!!!!” in their subject line. These were things spammers often did and could be mistaken as spam by ISP filters we’d say.

This may have been true twelve years ago, but it certainly isn’t today. We’ve all seen the subject line of “FREE Shipping!” land in our inbox just fine. Generally, content filters are much more savvy than simply picking out single words to determine whether a message is spam. As long as you’re not actually sending spam, your content shouldn’t look like spam to an ISP and I wouldn’t worry about nitpicking over specific words in your copy like that.

My best piece of advice for staying out of the spam folder

While there is no silver bullet for keeping your emails out of the spam folder, the one consistent piece of advice the SparkPost Deliverability team tells our customers over and over again is to tighten up engagement.

What we mean by that is to only send to those who have opened or clicked on a message you’ve sent within the past X number of days. That number will be different for different businesses/organizations.

For someone who sends to everyone in their database several times a week, it may be best to decrease that number to 15 or 30 days. But if you only send once a week or every other week, then a limit of 60 or 90 days may be more appropriate. If you send this way for a while and boost your engagement rates, you will be building a better domain reputation and IP address reputation, which will help your spam foldering rates decrease now and in the future.

After mailing like this for a while you can consider slowly adding older groups into your mailings. Just make sure to trickle them in rather than blasting a large group. You certainly wouldn’t want to damage a good reputation you worked so hard to build.

While deciding how far back you want to consider someone an unengaged subscriber, don’t go beyond 12 months. You should always be regularly cleaning your list of those who have not engaged within the last 12 months period. If you’re not doing this, you run the very high risk of sending to spam traps and that is one sure fire way to hurt your deliverability.

Again, there’s no magic formula for perfect email deliverability. There are multiple factors in play when talking about inbox placement, but I hope these tips help guide you in the right direction and provide some practical and actionable steps you can take today to improve your mailing program.

If you’re interested in more deliverability methods and best practices, be sure to check out our 10 Steps to Great Email Deliverability guide, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

Christina Hoheisel

Christina has spent 13 years in the email industry developing a wide spectrum of experience from Gmail to VerticalResponse and SparkPost to running the email marketing campaigns for music startup Mappable.

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