Few things can put a dent in the success of your email campaign like spam filters. Although they save you from countless hours wading through junk mail over time, spam filters can only be so precise, and that means that many legitimate emails get mistakenly marked as spam and never reach their intended recipient’s inbox.
According to ReturnPath, over 20% of marketing emails never reach their intended target, instead ending up in the graveyard known as the spam folder. To put that another way: for every five emails you send, one will disappear into the Bermuda Triangle of emails.
Spam filters pose a serious problem for businesses that rely on email as part of their marketing strategy — losing over 20% of your target audience isn’t acceptable. Thankfully, spam filters sort through emails using specific criteria, so it’s relatively easy to learn what the filters are checking for and make a concerted effort to rid your emails of any suspicious content.
In this article, we’re going to teach you how to avoid spam filters and craft emails that will make it to your recipient in one piece. But first, let’s get a little more context, and learn a bit more about spam itself.
Keep your friends close, but your junk mail closer, as they say.
What is spam?
Spam is one of those amorphous phenomena that few have a clear definition for, but everyone can immediately recognize — you’ll know it when you see it, in other words. Unfortunately, the spam filter built into your email doesn’t have that same intuitive sense of what constitutes spam that you do — if it did, legitimate businesses wouldn’t be sending a fifth of their emails into the abyss.
To better understand how email services filter out spam, we need a definition clear enough that even a computer can understand it. According to Google Dictionary, spam is “irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients.”
Most of this definition is pretty self-explanatory, but the word “irrelevant” could probably use a bit of clarification. Overall, in the context of spam, “irrelevant” means either that the user didn’t request any email correspondence with the sender, the messages have nothing to do with their interests, or both. For example, if you’re allergic to peanuts and receive an email from a website called Peanut Planet saying that you’re the lucky winner of ten truckloads of peanuts, then you’ve just received spam. The fact that you’re allergic to peanuts means that you (likely) didn’t sign up and (hopefully) don’t eat any, so this email is completely irrelevant to you.
How do emails get flagged as spam?
Now that we have a solid definition of what spam is, we can start to unpack that to figure out what email filters are looking for. In other words: how can a computer tell when something is irrelevant, inappropriate, and sent en masse to tens, hundreds, thousands, or even millions of addresses?
Some parts are easier to catch than others. When it comes to inappropriate messages, for example, spam filters can simply scan emails for certain words or phrases that would be inappropriate for most general email correspondences. These could include swear words, sexual terms, or even phrases like “you’ve won.”
That said, nothing is ever so simple. Spam filters account for many different factors and weight them to varying degrees. This way, they can ensure that the email alerting you that you’ve actually won a Tesla in the sweepstakes you entered a few weeks ago doesn’t end up in your spam folder hanging out with all the other free cruises you’ve “won.”
Overall, spam filters check for a few different things:
- Personalization: Spam filters want to see personalized emails flowing into your inbox — this falls under the “irrelevant” part of the definition. If an email opens with “Dear entrant” or something equally non-personalized, it’s more likely to be marked as spam.
- Clean code: Messy code can look suspicious to spam filters. Make sure that all your code is clean and well written, with no unnecessary tags.
- Trusted IP addresses: While spam filters don’t have a registry of all the trusted IP addresses out there, they do have a record of certain IP addresses they don’t trust. If a filter catches someone sending spam, they’ll mark down that IP and flag all their future emails as junk mail.
- Clear formatting and appropriate content: Spam emails are less likely to be clearly formatted and are often designed in a confusing way. If a filter sees an email coming through that looks like garbage, it’s going to assume it’s garbage. As mentioned above, certain types of content are also more likely to get your email flagged as spam.
What are the risks of spam to your business?
Spam can affect your business in two ways: as the sender and as the receiver. According to a survey conducted by Nucleus Research, spam costs companies $712 per employee each year. Its effect on the US economy is enormous: across all US businesses, spam costs $70 billion. That’s nothing to shrug off.
So why is spam so costly? According to the same survey, participants reported that they spent about 16 seconds on average deleting spam messages. That means that you only need to receive about 19 spam emails daily to reduce your productivity by 5 minutes each day. While that may not seem like much, that ends up coming to about 22 working hours spent just filtering through spam over the course of a year. Over a typical 43 year career, that’s about 39 entire days spent just looking through spam.
Receiving spam is a big problem for businesses. But what happens if you get caught sending spam, or if your emails are mistakenly flagged as junk?
To start: sending spam is illegal. Under the US CAN-SPAM Act, businesses caught violating the law are subject to fines of up to $42,530 per email sent. That means that if you send spam to a mailing list of 1,000 different addresses, you can be fined up to $42.53 million. That’s quite a bit more than many businesses can handle, so you could risk losing your business entirely.
However, even if you’re not sending anything that directly violates the FTC’s regulations, you still need to be careful that your emails don’t look like spam to the filters. A single email that gets mistaken for spam can get your IP address flagged, which means that all emails you send in the future could end up in your recipient’s junk mail folder.
If you’re investing in email marketing, you definitely don’t want to be spending money on emails that never make it to their target recipient. Even if you’re not spending money, you’re still spending time crafting emails, and drastically lowering the potential return on the time you’ve spent.
What are the current spam laws?
Spam laws vary depending on the country and region from which the emails are being sent and received in. Let’s take a look at some of the most relevant laws for businesses sending English marketing materials:
As we mentioned, the main spam law in the United States is the CAN-SPAM Act. The seven major tenets of this law are as follows:
- Header information must be accurate: All routing information must accurately detail who is sending the email.
- Deceptive subject lines are not allowed: Don’t send an e-blast informing the receivers that they’ve won a cruise unless you are actually prepared to send every single person on your list on an all-expenses-paid trip around the Carribean.
- Make it clear that your email is an ad: Recipients should be able to quickly differentiate advertisements from personal and business emails in their inbox.
- Include a physical address: All marketing emails must include a valid physical mailing address.
- Provide opt-out instructions: All emails must have clear instructions detailing how the recipient can opt out of your mailing list.
- Process opt-out requests promptly: You must remove a recipient from your mailing list within ten business days of their request. Additionally, all emails must have unsubscribe links that are available for at least 30 days after the email was sent.
- Keep a close eye on contractors: If you hire a marketing agency that ends up sending spam on your behalf, you’ll still be held responsible. You can’t shift the responsibility onto your contractors.
Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) was instituted on July 1, 2014. The law focuses almost entirely on consent, which is broken down into two types: implied consent and express consent. Implied consent means that you can reasonably expect that the recipient consents to receiving your emails due to an established prior relationship. Express consent means that the recipient has explicitly asked for emails to be sent to them, usually by signing up for a mailing list.
The main points of CASL are as follows:
- Ensure that you have consent: Implied consent is valid for up to two years, but it’s only valid for six months following an inquiry or application.
- Do not include misleading or false information: Once again, don’t tell your recipients that you’re the prince of a small country unless you really are and are actually about to give millions of dollars to everyone you send that email to.
- Include accurate contact information: Your email must include your name or business name, a valid physical mailing address, and either a phone number, email address, or website address.
- Include unsubscribe instructions and process requests quickly: Your emails must contain clear instructions that explain how recipients can unsubscribe from your emails. All unsubscribe requests must be processed and fulfilled within ten business days without charging a fee.
The EU has two laws that regulate email marketing: the E-Privacy Directive and the General Data Protection Regulation. The latter builds off the former. Here are the main points you need to know:
- Recipients are required to opt in: Explicit consent is required before sending a marketing email. Implicit consent is not sufficient.
- Include clear identification: You must identify yourself and provide contact information in every email.
- It must be easy to unsubscribe: Every email must have clear unsubscribe instructions.
- Data collection requires explicit consent: You cannot collect a user’s data through implied consent. That means no pre-checked opt-in boxes when filling out a form or other similar tactics.
- You must state what the data you’re collecting will be used for: You cannot add someone to your mailing list just because they entered their email to sign up for your free trial unless you explicitly stated that they would also receive marketing materials.
How can you avoid your emails being marked as spam?
Now for the juicy part of this article: what can your business do to avoid your emails disappearing into the void? Overall, the process isn’t too complicated. You can never be 100% sure that your emails are making it through unscathed, but following these guidelines will help you get as close as possible. Here’s how to avoid emails going to spam:
- Evaluate your data source: Did you buy the list you’re sending to? Or did every person on the list manually opt in? If it’s the former, you need to proceed with more caution, as you likely won’t know precisely how all these addresses were procured. If it’s the latter, you can be very confident that everyone on your list wants to be there, and you can tell your subscribers to unmark the email as spam in case it does end up in the junk pile by mistake. This will prevent your emails from being filtered out in the future.
- Address your subscribers by name: Don’t send out an email where the first line or subject is “Hi subscriber.” Make sure that every email is personalized to some extent and is personally addressed to every subscriber: i.e., “Hi Dan,” not “Hi user.”
- Include your physical address in the footer: Under US and Canadian law, all marketing emails must include a valid physical mailing address somewhere in the email. Adding your address and contact info to the bottom of your emails is the best and least intrusive way of doing this.
- Double opt-in your subscribers: Every time someone signs up for your mailing list, make them confirm their email. This means that after they’ve entered their email address into your signup form, you should send them another email asking them to click a verification link to confirm their subscription.
- Process unsubscribe requests instantly: Even though the US and Canada allow for up to ten business days of processing time, it’s best to immediately unsubscribe anyone who requests to be removed from your mailing list. If someone unsubscribes from your list and continues receiving your emails for ten days, they’re more likely to mark your address as spam.
- Make it clear why the recipient is receiving your email: Don’t make them guess. Clearly state that they are receiving your email because they signed up for your mailing list, ordered a product from you recently, filled out an application, etc. It’s a good idea to add this right next to the unsubscribe link. For example: “You’re receiving this email because you’ve subscribed to the Peanut Planet newsletter. To change your preferences, click here. To unsubscribe, click here.”
- Remove subscribers that haven’t interacted with your emails in the past ten months: If a subscriber hasn’t opened your emails or clicked any links in 10 months or more, remove them from your list. You’re unlikely to convert them, and you run the risk of getting your emails marked as spam eventually. You may even want to consider removing subscribers that haven’t opened your emails for as little as 30 to 60 days.
- Remove inactive emails from your list: Periodically comb through your list and remove any addresses that aren’t active and are nearing abandonment. Sending to a large amount of abandoned or inactive addresses is a red flag for spam filters.
- Avoid spam traps: Spam traps are email addresses that look like they belong to a real person but don’t. They are a tool that internet service providers use to help uncover IP/email addresses that are sending out spam. Since there isn’t anyone behind the email, there’s no way for these emails to opt in to your list. If you end up sending an email to one of these addresses, it indicates that you’re not verifying the emails on your list and are sending to people that don’t want your communications.
- Never send to an email that’s been marked as spam: Never send an email to a suspicious address. If you already have, remove that address from your list and make sure you never send them anything again.
How Ampjar handles spam
It takes a lot of time to understand the best ways to keep your emails out of spam. It takes even more time to implement them, and don’t even get us started on keeping on top of best practices.
We built Ampjar to allow creative, inspiring people to spend their time on what they do best. If you’re the spam-beating superstar in your business, then congratulations you’re one in a million! So for the other 999,999 of you, Ampjar is here to be the spam guru in your business.
We use pre-built templates to help you design your campaigns. So, rather than you starting with a blank email that you build from scratch, we create the perfect spam-beating campaign for you, using your best content from Instagram that you can freely edit.
Our layouts and templates are designed to beat the spam filters using the correct text to image ratios, metadata, the language in the code, personalization, and even the structure of the footer. We do it all for you so you can concentrate on what you do best.
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