Email Marketing: How to Avoid the Spam Folder

How to avoid the spam folder

Whether you're an old hat or a newbie email marketer, the spam folder can pose a consistent and formidable blocker for your marketing efforts. A study conducted in 2021 revealed that 43.37% of the total 319.6 billion emails that were sent that year were marked as spam — that’s nearly half! Half of your time and effort is wasting away in some spam folder. 

Well hopefully not for long. In this blog we’ll take a good look at what causes an email to be marked as spam as well as best practices to boost your email deliverability rates — keeping your emails out of the dreaded spam folder. 

What causes an email to be detected as spam?

If your emails are going to spam, the first step to stopping this from happening is understanding what factors cause an email to be recognised as spam. There are many different reasons we could get into here but we’re just going to cover off a few of the big ones. 

Permission Requirements

Have you ever had a promotional email land in your inbox from a brand you’ve never engaged with? It feels invasive right? And it doesn’t exactly inspire trust with the brand in question either.

Successful email marketing starts with getting explicit permission from your recipients. When users willingly subscribe or opt-in to receive emails, it creates a positive relationship because they have indicated that they want to be engaged with.

Without this crucial permission, it’s far more likely that your email recipients will mark your email as spam. 

Low IP Reputation & Low Domain Reputation

 Both the IP address and domain reputation contribute massively to an email's fate. A low IP and domain reputation can signal to email clients that your messages may not be trustworthy, increasing the chances of being relegated to the spam folder. 

Think of your domain reputation as a score given to you by the email provider based on your email engagement rates. The lower your engagement rates, the lower your domain reputation. 

Your IP reputation is a similar type of score given to you by the email provider, however this score is based on activities associated with  your IP address. These activities would include:

  • Spam complaints

  • High bounce rate

  • Email frequency

  • Domain reputation

  • IP history (E.G. if malicious or illegal activity has been detected on the same server) 

Low Engagement

Engagement is a two-way street.

Emails that consistently receive low engagement, such as minimal opens or clicks, signals to email providers that your messages are unwanted or irrelevant, which harms your reputation as a sender and increases the likelihood that your emails will be filtered as spam.

Engagement metrics to monitor include (but are not limited to):

  • Open rates

  • Click-through rates

  • Conversion rates

  • Bounce rates

  • Unsubscribe rates 

Later we’ll explore how the relevance of content ties into the overall engagement metric.

Misleading Subject Lines 

Subject lines are the first impression your email makes.

Misleading subject lines may not directly trigger spam filters however, they do break trust with your customers and are likely to cause the recipient to mark your email as spam themselves. There’s a fine line between creativity and deception and you must tread it carefully if you want to dodge the spam graveyard. 

Examples of misleading subject lines include:

  • Misleading about previous engagements or communications. For example, “RE: Your time off” makes it seem like you were having a previous conversation about this with the brand about this topic. 

  • Misleading about the importance/urgency of the message. For example, “URGENT: Information about your account” when the email is just about a discount you received makes it seem like something that needs to be actioned immediately when it’s not. 

  • Misleading about actions you’ve taken with the brand. For example, “About your order” when you haven’t made any purchases is likely to get you to open the message out of confusion and in extreme cases fear.  

Spam Trigger Words 

These days spam filters are much more sophisticated than they used to be. Certain words and phrases used to immediately trigger spam filters but now, you can get away with using spam trigger words (words and phrases like: completely free, special promotion, act now, no strings attached) — provided you use them sparingly and within context. 

Some common spam trigger words include:

  • Act now!    

  • Don’t hesitate!    

  • Get started now

  • Limited time    

  • Now only    

  • Once in a lifetime

  • Special promotion

  • Urgent    

  • While supplies last    

  • Bonus

Email Best Practices to Avoid Spam

So far, we've unpacked a few of the factors that could sink the ship to better email deliverability. Now, let's shift gears and explore actionable best practices that empower you to steer clear of spam filters and foster meaningful connections with your audience.

Build your own email list & clean it regularly

As previously stated, the foundation of a successful email marketing campaign begins with a high-quality, permission-based email list. Avoid purchasing or renting lists, as this can lead to an increase in spam complaints from recipients. Regularly clean your lists remove inactive or disengaged subscribers, so that your communications have a better chance of being welcomed rather than dismissed. 

Provide a double opt-in

Double opt-in adds an extra layer of confirmation for your email recipients, requiring users to verify their subscription. This not only confirms their interest but also minimises the chances of spam complaints. A double opt in may look like filling out a subscription form and then receiving a follow up email to confirm your subscription. 

Don’t send too many emails but email consistently

Striking the right balance is key. Bombarding your audience with an excessive number of emails can lead to unsubscribes and spam reports. Conversely, irregular communication may result in your emails being overlooked or forgotten. Find the sweet spot that aligns with your audience's expectations and preferences.

Create email content that is targeted and relevant

When avoiding the spam folder, one of the first things you assess should be the relevance of your content. Irrelevant content can lead to low engagement, which contributes to low IP and domain reputation — all red flags for the spam filter. That’s why it’s important to tailor your content to the interests and needs of your audience. By delivering value with each email, you enhance engagement and decrease the likelihood of being marked as spam.

Make sure your sender info isn't misleading

Trust is paramount in email marketing. If your sender information appears misleading or resembles automated, bot-generated content, it raises red flags. For example, an email address like is likely to trigger a spam filter as it looks automated and fake.

Make sure that your sender name and email address clearly represent your brand or organisation. Building trust from the outset sets a positive tone for your email relationship.

Using these best practices not only safeguards your emails from the slippery slope to the spam folder but also creates a more positive email marketing relationship between your brand and its customers. 

Aside from a few common steps, there’s no real “trick” to avoiding the spam folder. Brands that consistently manage to bypass the spam folder do so by maintaining clean and relevant email lists (meaning their email lists are up to date with people who have given permission to be emailed) and providing content in their emails that’s valuable and relevant (a.k.a content that builds trust and boosts engagement rates, which in turn boosts their IP and domain reputation). 

As you work toward saving your emails from the clutches of spam, consider refining your contact management and email strategy. Segment your customers and create relevant up to date contact lists that align with your email strategy. This way you can ensure that your audience is receiving the emails that are most relevant to them, so they engage more with your emails and decrease the likelihood of your emails going into spam. 

Not sure how to start? We can help. 

Contact Management


Related Articles

Personlisation that converts

Email Marketing: How to create Personalisation that converts

Once upon a time, receiving an email from a big brand, addressed directly to you with your name in the opening line was an incredibly exciti...
Building a foundation out of solid content

Inbound Crash Course: Building a Foundation Out of Solid Content

Over the course of our last few posts, Romi and I have been talking mainly about campaigns – the tactical and promotional activity that gene...
Does Apple's iOS 15 Update Affect Email Performance?

Does Apple's iOS 15 Update Affect Email Performance?

Apple’s iOS 15 has been making waves around businesses, and with a big emphasis around customer privacy, it comes at the cost of email perfo...