You’ve got your emails all ready to go. You’ve got the right amount of content to pull your readers in, all your images are loading right, and you can’t wait to reach all those delicious prospects! You have all your ducks in a row, and you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished! Should be smooth sailing from here on out, right?
As you may have guessed, the answer is, “No.” Even with your emails looking and feeling exceptional, you’ve still got an obstacle that you need to overcome: The spam filter.
We know the spam filter as that thing that keeps all the bad emails away while letting all the good emails hit your inbox uninhibited. It’s the last line of defense between you and things like spammy advertisements, predatory chain letters, and phishing scams. Sure, it can have issues every now and then which can lead to you not getting an eBill you were expecting and your lights going out as a result, but for the most part, as time has gone on, the spam filter works pretty well. It learns. It’s always watching.
So how can you make sure that your beautiful, precious email baby gets to your prospects without being caught? An excellent question, and you’re right to ask it. Let’s take a look!
How Do Spam Filters Work?
To understand how you can best avoid getting snagged by the spam filter, you need to know how they operate. Spam filters used to work by analyzing messages for trigger phrases like,
“Lose weight!” or, “I made $3,000 working for 3 hours!”, and then banishing such messages to the shadow zone, but spam filters are far more advanced now. These days, your email providers will determine where your email goes based on past interactions with your recipients. If the people receiving your email are opening it, replying to it, telling their inbox that what you sent isn’t junk, or moving your message to a folder that’s not spam, then it reflects well on you as the sender. The provider takes note of those tiny moves, and is then better able to determine if it should allow your messages to be sent and delivered without restriction. If people are marking your messages as spam, or they’re deleting them without opening them, then you have some issues. If your emails are getting blacklisted for these or other reasons, then what can you do?
Let Them Control Their Experience
You don’t want people deleting your emails without reading them, and you don’t want them marking your messages as spam, so one extremely proactive step you can take is to put a
“manage preferences” link at the bottom of your emails so your prospects will be able to opt-out of some of your messaging, or just reduce the frequency. You’ll notice that many of the emails you receive on a daily basis simply have an “unsubscribe button,” but we wouldn’t advise going that route. If you want more information as to why, you can read the article we wrote about it right here.
If you give your prospects the ability to adjust settings rather than universally opt-out, they’ll be much less likely to take the negative actions that can trigger a provider’s spam filter.
If they can pick what kinds of emails they get, and when they get them, then it allows them to set their own expectations. If they’re the ones deciding the terms of your email marketing, then they’re going to open more messages and they won’t feel as overwhelmed.
Use Your Own Organic Lists
Many email marketers have made the mistake of buying lists, renting them (yes, that’s a thing), and otherwise obtaining them by less-than-savory means. At face value, it can seem
like a good move! You cut your prep time down and get straight to the good stuff! However, this could not be a worse decision. You really don’t have any way of knowing the status of the email addresses on that list, so if they’re inactive and start bouncing back to you, it throws up flags with providers. It’ll also send your open rates right down the toilet, and you need those to be up. Nevermind that what you’re doing could also be legally actionable. Sending campaigns to people who haven’t opted in is considered a violation of privacy, and spam laws prevent the transfer of email addresses to other lists. Bad news all around.
Don’t be shady. That’s the main takeaway. You have a good product, and people will want to hear about it. Don’t take the shortcuts that can cripple your business before it even gets going.
Keep Your Lists Current
Remember when we said that emails bouncing back is a big ol’ no no? Well that can happen even if you don’t buy an email list from a shady guy named “T-Rex” in the parking lot of
a gas station. If you aren’t monitoring your email lists and keeping them up-to-date, you run the risk of some of the addresses going inactive. People change email addresses all the time for a variety of reasons: new job, they were hacked, they got married and wanted their address to reflect their new name, the list goes on and on. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to respect it.
The fact is, the more you send to these inactive email addresses, the more the providers notice. The goal, if you recall, is to not be noticed in this way. The solution to this problem is simple: be aware of the emails that bounce back saying that your delivery failed, and remove those email addresses from your list. This process is even automated in Pardot, where those bounce backs are suppressed automatically and declared “undeliverable” without you having to lift a finger. Now, when it comes to soft bounces (undeliverable due to full inboxes or server issues), the message can be sent at a later time with presumably more success, but if it bounces back five times, Pardot will mark it “undeliverable”, and prevent your messages from going to that recipient.
As for your inactive prospects, they’re affecting your open rates as well. Even if the addresses are still active, their choosing not to open your messaging does register with the provider. So it pays to know when to say goodbye.
For prospects less than a year old that hasn't been active in 3-6 months, consider crafting a nurturing program to bring them back in. Just a series of 2-3 emails and try to get them with a compelling CTA. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “We haven’t heard from you in a while,” so give that a go. You never know what you can stir up!
If the prospects are 1-2 years old and have been inactive for 6 or more months, then consider sending a “permission pass” email. That message would just be a one-off that asks the prospect directly if they still want to receive emails from you. Simple and direct. If they don’t want to, then it’s one less prospect throwing up flags to the provider. If they do, that message may rekindle their interest!
Finally, if the prospect is over 18 months old, and has been inactive for a year, it’s time to let that one go. Throw that fish back. Cut your losses. Just remove them from your lists. If they’re interested in what you have to offer later on, they can always sign up again. It’s your job to focus on the people that show genuine interest.
That’s basically it. Keep a clean list, and as far as triggering the spam filter goes, it’s one less thing to worry about.
Ask Your Prospects To Let You In
Comparing your business to a vampire isn’t something a lot of organizations will do, but if it hasn’t been made clear, we are not like other organizations.
Sometimes the best step you can take is to simply ask to be let in like a vampire.
In folklore, a vampire cannot enter a home unless it receives a verbal invitation. They often get that by just… asking. When a prospect signs up to receive emails from your organization, consider sending a welcome email that says something to the tune of, “Thank you for subscribing! To make sure our messages aren’t snagged by your spam filter, consider adding this email address to your address book! That way you keep getting all of our important updates!”
It’s a simple way to get your foot in the door! It’s transparent, your email address being added to their address books reflects well with the service provider, and you won’t have to worry about being marked as spam unless you start acting like a spammer, which leads to our next point…
Don’t Act Spammy
All the tips and tricks in the world won’t help you if you’re just gonna act like a spammer anyway. If you’re putting out bad emails, then you’ll be your own undoing.
You can do everything else right, and still find yourself in the junk folder, so just make sure the content you’re sending out is necessary and wanted.
- If you’re including links to a site that isn’t yours, you need to make sure that site is on the up-and-up. Shady sites can send up red flags.
- Even if it’s not the primary means of spam identification anymore, those spammy trigger words like “cash”, “earn”, “free”, and even “this isn’t spam” can be harmful if used in tandem with other red flag behaviors.
- Bad grammar, excessive punctuation (such as overusing exclamation points), and writing in all caps can mess with your deliverability as well. Keep it professional, and double check your work.
- Don’t put too many images. It’s something providers do look at, so don’t feel like you need to fill that space with all kinds of graphics. Messages that are too big will have the same effect. Keep it reasonable.