As an email marketer, getting your email campaign to the recipients’ inbox is the most essential part of what you do. Unfortunately, it’s quite common to see legitimate email senders asking – “Why is my email going to spam?”  

How are your open rates? What can you do to avoid your emails going to spam? In 2018, the global inbox placement rate (IPR), which is the number of emails that arrive in the inbox out of the total emails sent, was 85%. In 2019, IPR suffered a 2% drop leaving it at 83%. Pretty impressive and yet, it also means that approximately one out of five emails you send is either getting flagged as spam by the recipients’ email client or not delivered at all. What can you do to prevent your emails from ending up in the dreaded spam folder?   

“Spam is a waste of the recipients’ time and the sender’s optimism.” – Mokokoma Mokhonoana

As an email marketer, getting your email campaigns to reach the subscribers’ inbox is a number one priority. After all, regardless of the type of email you send, it cannot be successful if it never arrives. Even the best email marketing experts run into the occasional inbox placement issues. Determining how and why your email ending in the spam folder is key to successful email deliverability.

In this article, we’ll cover the following topics:

  1. Why is my email going to spam?
  2. 11 common reasons why emails go to spam
  3. How to avoid the spam folder – best practice

Ready to dive in?

Your subscribers’ inboxes are full of competitors vying for the customers’ attention. Between newsletters, special offers, booking confirmations, purchases receipts, lead nurturing campaigns, promotional and marketing emails, customers’ inboxes are full of more emails that they can read. Still, there is the issue all email marketers must deal with and that’s having their emails fall into the dreaded black hole known as the spam folder. We can ask ourselves “Why is my email going to spam?” daily but to prevent it, we first must understand why it is happening and, most importantly, how to fix it.

Spam is an issue concerning not only content but consent too. Sending unsolicited emails (spamming) has been a problem of global proportions and a huge threat to both users and businesses alike. 

According to my recent research, the world’s Top 5 Spam Countries are – 

1) China – 2,927 live spam issues;
2) The U.S. – 2,529 live spam issues;
3) Russia – 856 live spam issues;
4) Ukraine – 621 live spam issues; and
5) The U.K. – 533 live spam issues.

Further research shows that the world’s Top 6 Worst Spam Support ISPs are – 

1) – 300 reported spam complaints;
2) – 291 reported spam complaints;
3) chinanet-js – 263 reported spam complaints;
4) – 159 reported spam complaints;
5) chinanet-zj – 157 reported spam complaints; and
6) – 140 reported spam complaints (this is certainly affecting their clients’ email deliverability).

Let’s be honest, if your email ends up in the spam folder, you should pretty much consider it a goner. I mean, how many of you take the time to sift through your spam/junk folder? My guess, 0 to 1%. The truth is, there is a lot involved in sending an email campaign successfully. From managing servers through ensuring you implement best practice to knowing the reason why your email is going to spam, sending emails can get very complicated, pretty fast.

Why Is My Email Going To Spam?

“I never got your email” is pretty much today’s modern version of “the dog ate my homework.” Yet, if recipients check their spam folder, they are bound to find not only your email (if it landed there) but also a few other marketing emails they would’ve gladly opened. 

However, as spam filters become more and more sophisticated, the possibility of your email campaign ending in the spam folder is considerably high. If you think about it, spam filters are pretty similar to a sales funnel – 

The Spam Folder: Why Is My Email Going To Spam? | - free email marketing software

As you can see from the image, there is a certain process every email client – Gmail, Outlook, you name it – follows to establish where an email belongs – inbox or spam folder.

No email service provider (ESP) or email marketing expert can guarantee 100% email deliverability. ESPs will deliver your email to the digital equivalent of a post office but they can’t guarantee the mailman (the recipients’ email server) will place the message in the inbox. Of course, there’s the matter of your email campaign ending in the inbox but then, you can’t force the recipients to open it if they think it’s spam now. Worse, they can flag it as such and that would harm your sender reputation and consequently if you are using a professional email marketing service (which you should), potentially other users’ deliverability.

There is no one answer to the question “Why is my email going to spam?”. There is no one-size-fits-all solution either. Every sender’s situation is different, unique. From the misleading subject line and overuse of spam trigger words through bad sender reputation and poor email design to lack of permission, there can be many reasons as to why your email is ending up in the spam/junk folder. But, as an email marketer, you in collaboration with professional email marketing software will play an important role in ensuring email deliverability.

11 Common Reasons Why Emails Go To Spam

Many elements must be taken into consideration regarding whether or not your email will get delivered to the recipients’ inbox. If you try to figure them all out on your own, you’ll probably get a few right but… why waste time when we have the 11 most common ones right here? But, before we dive into the reason why emails go to spam, I’d like to outline the most important thing an email marketer should remember, compliance with anti-spam laws.

First and foremost, it’s crucially important for any email marketer to remember that as the email sender they must comply with anti-spam laws such as the CAN-SPAM Act, CASL, DPA 2018, GDPR, CCPA, PDPA, LGPD, etc. If you don’t, well… the fines are quite hefty, so I advise you to ensure your compliance.

Under all the anti-spam laws, email senders must comply with a series of rules and regulations concerning email content such as – 

a) no misleading or false information in email headers;
b) not using deceptive subject lines;
c) clearly outline advertising messaging;
d) conspicuously identify your business’s physical location;
e) provide a clear opt-out/unsubscribe link;
f) be respectful of unsubscribe requests and process them quickly;
g) be aware of third parties (or others) actions on your business’s behalf and more.

Complying with these rules and regulations is, of course, a legal obligation but also considered best practice. Sending email campaigns with clear intent, truthful content and defined call-to-action will help you improve not only your sender reputation but your recipients’ experience, too. All of which leads to a higher inbox placement rate and consequently, boost in opens and engagement.

Now, let’s focus on the 11 most common reasons why your email is going to spam.

1) You were not given permission to email

In the real world, breaking into someone’s house is illegal, we all know that. The same rule applies in the email marketing world. Thus, blasting emails to users’ inboxes, especially without permission, is a very bad idea – and poor practice, too. However, there is a way to ensure you are on the right side of anti-spam laws. Cue, permission-based email marketing.

To clarify, permission is a verifiable consent from a subscriber which must be obtained before sending email marketing messages. It expresses a person’s explicit agreement to be contacted via email. Normally, permissions are classified into two types – implied and express

According to CASL, implied permissions expire for a) purchase – it’s valid for 2 years; b) an enquiry about a product/service – it’s valid for 6 months. As for express permissions, according to CASL, they do not expire.

Now, to obtain permission you will need an opt-in form (also known as a sign-up form) placed on your website with a clear message to your visitors that they are subscribing to your email list and, potentially, what email correspondence they should expect. 

If you lack explicit permission, you risk your emails not only going to spam but also damaging your sender reputation and even worse, getting a hefty fine for breaching anti-spam laws. 

What is NOT considered explicit permission – 

a) a person signing up for a one-time email but then added to other email lists;
b) borrowing or using shared email lists from businesses within your industry;
c) utilising a pre-checked newsletter consent box in your web form, and
d) buying, downloading or renting email lists from potentially perceived ‘reputable websites’.

If you are doing any of the things listed above, you should stop immediately. It is a poor practice and, as mentioned, a serious violation of anti-spam laws.

2) Lack of a warmed-up reputable IP address and poor sender score

As you know, an IP address is a sequence of numbers listed in the domain name system (DNS) that is used to send email correspondence on behalf of your domain name. Email marketers can utilise dedicated (a specific sender) or shared (used by multiple senders) IP addresses to send emails. You can easily check your IP reputation using this very useful tool.

It’s very important to keep in mind that if your IP address has been used for spam purposes, your emails are most certainly going to be flagged as spam. But rather than try and use a brand new fresh IP, which will also create major delivery issues, you should consider a professional email service provider like EmailOut as they’ll work with you to reach the recipients’ inbox with IPs that have already been warmed-up with reputable senders.

Remember to check the SenderScore of any IPs that your ESP sends from as in most cases you’ll be on a shared IP range meaning that your reputation can be affected by others poor (or good) sending behaviour.

If you find your SenderScore goes beneath 85% you should have a chat with your ESP, if they do not have a plan in place to enhance your delivery, it’s time to move on.

There are a bunch of reasons that an email sender could get labelled with a poor sender score. Common causes include – 

a) high complaint rate;
b) emailing too many unknown or inactive users;
c) getting spoofed or hacked; and
d) getting blacklisted.

The good news is that your sender score is not carved in stone. Hence, you can improve it gradually over time.

3) The mailbox usage and engagement rate are low

One of the most common reasons for low inbox placement is low mailbox usage. Email service providers’ (like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, etc.) spam filtering algorithms review the ratio of active and inactive email addresses on your email list to determine if an email should be flagged as spam. For example, if you are sending email campaigns to a large email list but some of the email addresses are nearing abandonment (in other words rarely or never used email accounts), that will be a huge red flag for spam filters. You can prevent this from happening with a simple, quick periodical email list clean-up. Some of the professional email service providers have such a feature which automatically purges email lists of email addresses that are inactive or have bounced due to other reasons.

As for the low engagement rate, here’s what I know. Top email service providers (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo!,etc.) have stated numerous times that two of the main things factoring in email spam filtering are the number of emails opened and the number of emails deleted without being opened. Thus, if you are witnessing a decrease in open or engagement rates then your emails are at a higher risk of being marked/flagged as spam. 

To prevent your emails being marked as spam and increase your open rate, ensure you’re sending your emails at the right time with the perfect, engaging subject line and to the right audience. The best way to achieve this is by using engaging language, keeping your email lists fresh and, last but certainly not least, segmenting your email lists to those that have recently engaged with your campaigns regularly.

4) Misleading subject line

As per the CAN-SPAM Act, it is against the law to intentionally mislead people with your subject line to lure them into engaging with your email. You are required by law to use clear, truthful subject lines. But, truthful and clear language is only the beginning. Since your subject line is your first and unfortunately only chance to make a good first impression, you must ensure you’ve carefully thought it through. 

Why? Well, all my research shows that 47% of recipients open emails based on the subject line alone. Furthermore, 69% of recipients report emails as SPAM based solely on the subject line. Crafting the perfect, effective subject line is an art. The best email subject lines will grab the recipients’ attention, give them a brief preview of the content and make promises the sender must immediately deliver upon within the message. So, your subject line must be – 

a) short, sweet and clear;
b) bare of any clickbait – spammy language, for example; and
c) relevant and piquing the recipients’ curiosity.

Unfortunately, some marketers believe so strongly in the incredible power of email subject lines that they consider –  

a) a misleading email subject line is worth it to get an email opened;
b) a perfectly crafted subject line can make up for the lack of permission;
c) if your email does not get opened it is like it was never sent.

The goal of your email subject line is not only to generate opens but to generate openers which are likely to convert. Thus, none of the above is beneficial to your end goal. Quite the contrary, they are harmful to your email’s overall performance and your sender reputation.

5) Inaccurate or misleading sender information

If you are not providing the accurate and correct sender information ( “From”, “To”, “Reply-to” and routing info), you will not only raise a red flag with your recipients but also violate anti-spam laws.

For example, if you make your email appear like it’s coming from Donald Trump or Boris Johnson that would be illegal not to mention unethical. I know, it’s quite the extreme example but you get my point. My sender information, for instance, would be “Adi from EmailOut” which makes it very clear who I am and who the company is. 

Whichever way you choose to identify who you are, always make sure it’s memorable and consistent. Otherwise, you’re risking the recipient will ignore your email despite being subscribed to your email list and potentially reporting it as spam.

6) No physical address

Businesses and marketers must provide transparency and traceability. Thus, you are legally obligated to include a valid physical address in your emails regardless of the size of your business. It could be your current street address, a P.O. box or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail receiving agency. For small business owners who operate from home and have no desire to broadcast their private address, for example, a private P.O. is an adequate solution and within the legal regulations, if not a little off-putting for recipient trust.

7) No unsubscribe link

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve subscribed to an email list (for whatever reason) but then found yourself disinterested in the content and yet there was no option to unsubscribe? I have and it’s extremely irritating, not to mention that including an unsubscribe link is a legal requirement under anti-spam laws and if businesses do not have a way for subscribers to opt-out they face serious legal repercussions.

Regardless of how valuable and relevant you perceive your email content to be, you are obliged to give your subscribers a way out. If you don’t, at best you’ll get spam complaints. Worst case scenario, you’ll be slapped with hefty fines. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for you.

So, it is not only crucially important to have an opt-out/unsubscribe link in your emails but it is also, as I mentioned, a legal requirement. Remember, when a subscriber requests removal from your email list, you must process the request within 10 business days. You can’t charge them removal fees nor should you force them for any further personal information to process their opt-out request. If you want to gather more details on why they want to unsubscribe, you can place a survey on the page confirming they’ve been removed and perhaps instructions on how to start receiving email communication from you again in future, if they change their mind. Most importantly, never, never, never sell, transfer or distribute the email addresses of the unsubscribers to either another email list or third-party.

8) Spam trigger words

Let’s say you have a reputable IP, near-perfect sender score, on-point subject line and both a physical address and unsubscribe link, why then is your email campaign still ending up in the spam folder? Spam trigger words.

Most (if not all) email service providers (Gmail, Yahoo!, Outlook, etc.) have spam filtering algorithms which are triggered when certain spam words either in the subject line or the email copy are detected. Therefore, it’s vital to know which specific words/phrases you should avoid to prevent your emails ending in the spam folder.

Some of the most commonly used spam trigger words/phrases (per category) are –

a) financial (business) – credit card offers, no investment, no credit check, no hidden costs, a full refund, explode your business, etc.;

b) general – chance, here, leave, amazing, cancel at any time, click here, congratulations, for only ($) (£), free, guaranteed, great offer, etc.;

c) marketing – click, click to remove, email harvest, increase sales, month trial offer, not spam, click below, direct email, removal instructions, increase traffic, mass email, opt-in, sale, this isn’t junk, we hate spam, visit our website, etc.;

d) numbers – 4U, billion dollars (or pounds), 50% off, join millions, one hundred percent guaranteed, etc.;

e) offers – financial freedom, important information regarding, mail in order form, no claim forms, no obligation, no gimmick, confidentiality on all orders, giving away, no catch, etc.;

f) call-to-action – get, print out and tax, give it away, see for yourself, sign up free today, etc.;

g) free – pretty much any phrase containing the word ‘free’; and

h) sense of urgency – call free, do it today, apply online, don’t hesitate, great offer, order now, now only, offer expires, new customers only, get started now, call now, order today, special promotion, time-limited, urgent, take action now, etc.

You can use this free tool to check if your email is likely to trigger spam filters.

9) Poor email design

Designing the perfect email is not a small task. You have to think – and worry – about things such as branding, memorable copy, proofreading, call-to-action, responsive design, impactful imagery, avoiding spam filters and so much more. Therefore, you must follow a few guidelines to achieve optimal results.

1) ensure your email is optimised not only for desktop but for small screens as well (i.e. smartphones, tablets, etc.);
2) make sure the formatting corresponds to your brand – colours, fonts, images, tone, etc.;
3) do not overwhelm your email campaign with images – it’s important to have a good image to text ratio;
4) avoid any (and all) spam trigger words in the subject line, header and email copy;
5) make sure you are compliant with all anti-spam laws by including both a physical address and an unsubscribe link to your email campaign;
6) ensure you are using easily understandable language; and
7) always test, test, test.

Before you even start crafting your email, you need to define what type of email you are sending and what goals it will fulfil. For example, welcome email, newsletter, sale/promotional email, order receipts, re-engagement campaigns or cart abandonment. Once you have a clear plan, you can begin the designing process. 

I am certain your emails are good just as they are, however, why not make them great by implementing some email design best practice.

10) Using purchased or rented email lists

With things like building the sales funnel, boosting brand awareness, propelling engagement and crafting valuable content, as an email marketer you already have enough on your plate. Besides, if email marketing is part of your marketing strategy (which, with an ROI of 42:1, of course, it is), you’ve probably been approached by businesses offering you an email list to buy.

As much as buying or renting an email list might sound like a dream come true and the perfect accelerated shortcut for growing your business, don’t be fooled. It is certainly NOT. Trust me, having unengaged subscribers is way worse than having no subscribers at all. It’s not only a huge waste of money but it will most certainly damage your reputation and cost you more than it’s worth. Most importantly, the email addresses on those purchased/rented email lists have never given explicit consent to be contacted via email and using them will violate all known anti-spam laws costing you thousands of pounds in fines.

The only way to be sure your emails will reach the recipients’ inboxes and be read is by having an opted-in email list that has been built (and grown) the right way.

11) Missing Email Authentication

There is no way to ensure 100% email deliverability. However, by implementing email authentication you will not only decrease the chances of your emails ending up in the spam folder but also prevent them from being spoofed.

Email providers like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, etc. are always watching email senders like hawks to ensure the emails they deliver to their users’ inbox are not only relevant but secure as well. Keep in mind that if your email does not pass the required authentication process, it’s highly likely for your email campaign(s) to experience deliverability issues like ending in the spam folder or not get delivered at all.

Now, to prevent any of this from happening and avoid spam filters, as an email marketer you need to make sure you’ve followed four basic email deliverability guidelines – 

1) only ever email people you’ve given you their explicit consent;
2) make sure your email content is always relevant, well-designed, engaging and bare of any (and all) spam trigger words/phrases;
3) never send email campaigns with difficult-to-read or unexpected content; and
4) avoid bombarding your subscribers with gazillion emails per week/month or to send too infrequently – in the latter case, you risk being forgotten.

Aside from a lack of email authentication, these five factors can also impact your email deliverability – 

a) spam complaints;
b) bounces (soft or hard);
c) spam traps;
d) IP address reputation; and
e) domain reputation.

There are four main email authentication methods Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use beyond simply looking at the sender’s email address. All of which I highly recommend for all email marketers to implement (if they haven’t already).

Email Authentication Methods

1) Sender Policy Framework (SPF). SPF is an email authentication method with the main purpose of detecting falsification of the sender address (return-path header) during the delivery of the email. 

2) DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM). DKIM is an email authentication standard focused on detecting fake/fraudulent sender addresses in emails (email spoofing). 

3) Domain Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance (DMARC). DMARC is an email authentication method focused on handling the continuous problem of email spoofing by protecting both the sender and the recipient.

4) Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI). BIMI is an open standard allowing businesses to verify their identity and be easily recognised in recipients’ inboxes.

You can gain further insight into all four email authentication methods as well as how to set up email authentication with EmailOut here.

How To Avoid The Spam Folder: Best Practice

“Why is my email going to spam?” – a question most of us ask quite often and rarely get a definitive answer. Yet, now that I’ve unveiled the 11 most common reasons why emails go to spam, you can easily establish what the problem is (if there is one, of course) and resolve it with ease by implementing best practice and avoiding the spam filters of all the top email providers such as Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo!, etc.

1) Build up your email sending volume step-by-step

Avoid being cutthroat and sending bazillion emails per day or week to gazillion people. Instead, make sure you focus on the more engaged subscribers and scale up your sending volume gradually to avoid damaging open rates.

2) Be consistent

Making a commitment to your subscribers to send them a weekly (or monthly) newsletter means that you are obliged to do exactly that. Don’t send them an email one week and then bombard them with 20 the next. You’ll risk them getting irritated and either unsubscribing or worse, flagging your emails as spam.

3) Honesty is the best policy

Only ever use a person’s email address for the purpose you stated when they signed up for your email list(s). 

4) Play the Internet Service Providers’s (ISPs) rules

You need to get permission from everyone on your list. No exceptions or excuses. Ah, and remember, never buy email lists.

5) Always give your subscribers a way out

If people want to opt-out/unsubscribe, don’t try to prevent them from doing so. You can’t keep them hostage. It’ll harm your sender reputation because they’ll be annoyed and label your emails as spam.

6) Email list segmentation is key

The more relevant each email is to the recipient, the better your engagement, and consequently, your sender reputation and email marketing KPIs.

7) Email list clean-up

Remove dead, inactive and unresponsive emails periodically so they don’t drag down your email campaigns’ performance.

8) Authenticate your domain through the SPF, DKIM, DMARC and BIMI

This helps prove that you’re ‘real’ and also makes it harder for others to spoof your email address. All these email authentication methods also provide an additional layer of security for your emails.

9) Personalisation goes beyond just the first name

By personalising your email campaigns, you will establish familiarity, build a good relationship with subscribers and, also, encourage them to interact with your email (which will show in your open and click-through rates).

10) Ask subscribers to whitelist your emails

Whitelisting is a way for email providers (like Gmail) to allot special privileges to certain trusted senders or domains. Essentially, it allows emails from certain sources – like EmailOut – to be allowed into your inbox.

Final Thoughts

You certainly are not a Nigerian prince looking for someone to share your immeasurable wealth with in exchange for a ‘minuscule’ nominal fee, are you? No, you are a highly-principled, honest email marketer doing your absolute best to connect with leads and nurture your existing subscribers to achieve better results and higher ROI. 

Yet, spam filters are not aware of this. With them, first looks are what your email will be judged on (meaning the subject line and content) and since most people have little patience to deal with any email that even remotely resembles spam, you need to make sure you’re doing everything you know of to avoid those dreadful spam filters and get your email placed in the inbox.

Maybe avoiding spam filters is not at the top of your list when creating an email campaign, however, it can – and will – have a huge impact on your email campaign’s results and your email deliverability if you neglect planning for it. 

So, be a good sender. Be on the lookout for the reasons behind low deliverability rates. Implement all the best practice in this article and enjoy seeing how your email deliverability grows. Furthermore, by utilising all you’ve learned in this article, you will also send ‘positive signals’ to email providers which will ensure all your future email campaigns will end up exactly as intended – The Inbox. 

Now, when you ask “why is my email going to spam?”, you’ll have the best resource available to answer that question. So, are you ready to start improving your email deliverability?

Highly recommended further reading –

1) How to Improve Email Deliverability
2) Email Engagement: Paramount For Email Deliverability
3) How to Improve Your Email Sender Reputation
4) Why You Shouldn’t Use Purchased or Rented Email Lists?
5) How To: Email Personalisation
6) How To: Email Segmentation Examples
7) Email Whitelisting: Why Is It Important?

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