Keeping your emails out of the spam folder

February 27, 2024
Keeping your emails out of the spam folder

Congratulations! You’ve successfully implemented an email marketing strategy to connect with your clients and prospects. Email marketing is a potent tool for getting a high return on your marketing investment. 

But, wait! 

Just a day after hitting ‘send,’ you receive that dreaded message: “So-and-so didn’t receive the email; it went to spam.” Even worse? Your supervisor got the email in their spam folder, causing some pointed questions about just why you’ve been spending time on this.

Don’t panic just yet. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the top reasons why emails often end up in the spam folder and provide practical advice on how to ensure your emails land securely in your recipients’ inboxes.

Before we get started: We always recommend using an email distribution tool for any emails your firm wants to send. The advice in this post assumes you’re using one.

Email 101 

Real Quick: Before we get granular, let’s brush up on some email basics.

What is spam? 

Spam, in the email world, refers to unsolicited, irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent to a large number of recipients. Today’s email management apps use algorithms to identify potential spam messages and divert them to a junk folder before they hit the inbox. While this is great for email users, it can be a headache for email marketers because the algorithm isn’t perfect and can result in wonderful emails like yours getting dumped in the junk box. 

The entirety of this post will focus on keeping you out of the spam folder. 

What is a healthy sender score, and why is it important?

Your sender score is like your email’s reputation. Think: A credit score, but for emails. It lets your recipients’ inboxes know how trustworthy you are as an email sender.

The better it is, the higher the chances of your emails reaching the inbox. Maintaining a high sender score is crucial for email marketing success. You can check your current score using this free tool. (For our fellow Type As, you’re shooting for a sender score above 80.)

Things that can dock points off your sender score include:

What is CAN-SPAM?

The CAN-SPAM Act sets guidelines for sending commercial emails. Complying with these regulations not only helps you avoid legal trouble but also ensures a better email deliverability rate. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of preventing spam

Now that we have identified some basic terms, we can get into the real point of this post: How to prevent your carefully crafted emails from ending up in spam folders. There’s a lot to cover and some of it is a bit technical, so strap in. 

CAN-SPAM compliance

The federal CAN-SPAM Act sets guidelines for sending commercial emails. Complying with these regulations not only helps you avoid legal trouble but also ensures a better email deliverability rate. To stay in compliance with CAN-SPAM, make sure to:

  • Be clear with who you are: Ensure your “from,” “reply to” and “to” fields are accurate, as well as your company’s contact information in the footer of the email.
  • Use honest subject lines: Your subject line should clearly indicate what the message of the email will include.
  • Give recipients an exit: Provide links for your contacts to unsubscribe. 

Note that many states, such as California, have their own anti-spam consumer protection legislation. It’s best to ensure you comply with the most rigorous elements of all spam laws. The good news is that most email distribution platforms have built-in features to help with compliance. 

Email authentication: put your best foot forward

Email authentication is an inbox’s way of trying to protect its humans, and verifying that senders are who they say they are. 

Basically, email authentication makes sure that your domain is in good standing and works in concert with the emails you are going to send.

There are a handful of protocols that work to authenticate your email, and they all have real cute acronyms:

  • SPF (Sender Policy Framework)
  • DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail)
  • DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentification, Reporting and Conformance)
  • BIMI (Brand Indicators for Message Identification)

Many of these protocols require specific entries in your website’s Domain Name System (DNS) registry. 

Not properly authenticating your emails can even cause your own emails sent through a CRM to be routed to spam. So it’s incredibly important to make sure all your t’s are crossed.

We aren’t IT experts, and don’t pretend to be. However, there are many how-to articles that can walk you through ensuring your email sends are set up for inbox success. Your in-house webmaster or outsourced managed services provider should also be able to advise on this and make the necessary tweaks. Some email distribution platforms automatically configure for some of these (particularly SPF), but it’s best to check with yours to be sure. 

Don’t go where you’re not invited

A great way to keep off the “naughty” list (and stay out of that blasted spam folder) is to only send emails to those who reasonably expect to hear from you. This includes existing clients, prospects already in your pipeline, direct contacts of people in your organization (who, ahem, should already be in your email list…), etc.

It can be very tempting to purchase a list of contacts who align with your prospect lists. But resist!

The more contacts who mark you as “spam” or refuse engagement with your emails, the worse off that sender score is going to be. Mass emailing random people is also a surefire way to run afoul of CAN-SPAM so please don’t do it. 

Get personal

The more personalized you get in an email the better chance it will arrive safely into inboxes (and not be marked as spam by recipients). That means not only using their name at the start, but also ensuring the content is right for them. If they manufacture widgets and you put them on an email list for companies that make whatsits…you’re going to annoy them and they’ll hit that big spam button, which will ding your sender score. 

Personalization also helps keep you out of the dreaded “Promotions” tab in Gmail and other email apps. 

Wrong number, who this? 

Your contact information must be crystal clear. 

This trips up some of our clients when we set them up on an email distribution platform, which is understandable. Why do we need to include so much company information in the footer of an email?

Cause the almighty spam algorithm says so.

Include as much contact information as you can: phone number, street address, website. Make sure that, should an email recipient want to find you, they would easily be able to do so.

Let go of your attachments 

Avoid sending attachments. We’re serious. Don’t do it. This is a surefire way to see an email sent straight to spam jail. 

If there is content the people simply must have, you should upload it to either your website or the email distribution platform itself and link to it in the body of the email. Note that shortlinks can also get you flagged for spam, so always use the full hyperlink. 

You should also be keeping hyperlinks to a bare minimum in general. That’s just good email marketing strategy. You don’t want to send recipients off in all directions from your email. That’s no way to nurture a lead. Instead, think carefully about how you use links and try to just have one main link with a solid call to action that directs people to your website. 

Spruce up your image(s) 

Images are great, but balance them with text to avoid being flagged as spam. 

With the images you do use, make sure they are sized properly to fit in the body of the email. Even better, consider using an email template so that the emails 1) include consistent branding and feel and 2) provide you with clear image expectations.

Speaking of words, be mindful of the ones you choose. Certain phrases are considered “spam-trigger words,” such as “free” or “easy money.” Even phrases like “you won!” will cause a spam algorithm to perk its ears up and potentially route you away from the inbox.

Provide an escape hatch 

Include an opt-out link for recipients to unsubscribe easily. 

It’s both polite and keeps you out of the spam folder. I know! It can feel weird to spend so much time crafting content for your audience, and then setting up an unsubscribe link and option. But it is required by all CAN-SPAM laws. 

Tend your lists like a devoted gardener 

Keep your contact list up to date. 

If someone hasn’t engaged with your emails for over a year, it’s time to remove them from your contacts.

Many marketing teams review the analytics of an email send after that “Go!” button is pushed, and a large sending list can feel like a success. However, the name of the game is quality over quantity. On average, your email list should expect a churn rate of 25-30% each year. Which means that a fourth of your list won’t be around in 12 months to see what you’re up to. 

Only send emails to engaged contacts, and regularly clean out soft and hard bounces from your contact lists to keep your sender score healthy and strong enough to get into that inbox. 

Next Steps

OK. That maybe was a lot to take in at once. Don’t worry. You can take a systematic approach to battling the spam algorithm that incorporates all of the above. Here’s what we suggest:

  • Test your emails to assess their spamminess.
    • There are plenty of online tools that allow you to test the spamminess of your sends. 
  • Ensure your CRM and website are set up for success.
    • Whether you’re using MailChimp, HubSpot, ActiveCampaign, Constant Contact – the list goes on and on – make sure that you have set up all your SPF/DKIM/DMARCs for success.
    • While you’re at it, read all of the help documentation for your CRM about preventing spam, send scores, etc. There will be platform-specific advice you can put into practice.
  • Email only those who want to hear from you.
    • Don’t buy lists. Don’t send to unengaged contacts. And ruthlessly clean your existing lists.
  • Properly structure your email templates.
    • Use an email template to ensure your images are properly spaced and sized for clarity.
    • Make sure you have text and your email is not stuffed with images.
    • While you’re at it, send quality content. No fluff. 
    • No. Attachments. Ever. 
  • Encourage recipients to whitelist your emails.
    • Have contacts add you to their emails, so their inboxes know you are a trusted, wanted contact.
  • Keep a close eye on your email reports and make necessary adjustments.
    • Review your analytics. Understand what causes higher clickthrough and engagement, and what your audience doesn’t want. The more people who engage with your content, the more inboxes will understand that you are legit.

By following these guidelines, you’ll increase the chances of your emails reaching their intended recipients and achieving the marketing results you desire. Happy emailing!

Got a boss or client breathing down your neck because your emails are getting consigned to spam? Reach out to us and we can help (and advise on a solid email strategy while we’re at it.) 


Post a New Comment


Your email address will not be published


  • About the Author
    Shelby Gambrell

    Shelby loves to take a busy client brief, untangle any knots and create an action plan. During her tenure at Reputation Ink, she’s overseen complete overhauls of client websites, new brand releases and other large-scale, multi-pronged initiatives. If you ever need to know the status of a project or a projected turnaround time, Shelby is the Rep Ink’er to contact.

    Read my full bio or connect with me on LinkedIn.

  • About the Author
    Kevin Aschenbrenner

    Kevin is a seasoned PR and communications consultant with more than two decades of experience. His background includes 16 years focused on the professional services sector, particularly law firms. Read his full bio here.

    Read my full bio or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Get INKsights in your inbox