Why Are My Emails Going to Spam?

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Lara Bingel
Why Are My Emails Going to Spam?

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Why Are My Emails Going to Spam?

Today, spam filters have become more sophisticated than ever. Email providers protect users by making sure spammers don't get their emails through the spam filter. The increase in spam filters' sensitivity is good news for all of us - as spam filters have saved us from scammers in one way or another. However, it has led to spam policies that grossly decrease the deliverability of cold emailing campaigns resulting from emails landing in the spam folder.

Often, well-written emails (with good intentions) end up in spam folders. Each time this happened to you, a question kept popping up in your mind - why are my emails going to spam?

Well, we've got a comprehensive answer (and solutions) to the above question. Read on!

Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough to make your emails land in the inbox folder. Spam filters are a set of algorithms that categorize emails as spam when specific patterns are noticed. They have no emotions! So stop hurting, grab a cup of coffee and follow me as we embark on a journey to discover how to stop emails going to spam.

Let's face it; emails going to spam are never the email provider's fault or the spam filters'. Your emails go to spam because you fail to observe simple rules.

The two simple rules:

A. Don't Spam

Usually, you land in spam because you are spamming. Avoid breaking spam rules and use a natural sending behavior without content that you would never put into a regular email.

Due to the number of unsolicited emails sent every day, email systems apply filtering solutions (spam filters). These filters make use of some 'rules' or patterns to determine if an incoming message is spam or not. Some of these rules/patterns are: sending behavior, spammy keywords, IP reputation of the incoming email address, suspicious inconsistency, link spamming, and more.

In a nutshell, email providers use these parameters to determine the final destination of your email. Your responsibility is to understand anti-spam laws and what spam filters see as spam.

It's difficult to obey "don't spam" without knowing why some emails are categorized as spam. We'll cover it in detail.

B. Always send cold emails from another domain

For instance, if your main domain (for your regular emails) is yourcompany.com, send cold emails from your company.co or yourcompany.io. Having a separate domain for cold emailing ensures your brand's official emails are delivered at an improved rate.

The practice of using a particular domain for a cold email campaign is to guard your brand's image. People frown at unsolicited emails. As a result, a recipient could flag your cold email as spam. You wouldn't want the domain you use to send sales and outreach emails to be subjected to spam reports.

Hence, the need to use a separate domain for your cold emailing outreach. It's all about reputation, which is a crucial factor in spam filters.

Having talked about spamming, spam filters, and how internet service providers use them to filter emails (that violate spam rules or coming from IPs with a bad reputation), it's time to answer your question - why do my emails go to spam?

Why Are My Emails Going to Spam?

Email deliverability decreases due to some practices that violate spam principles, resulting in bad IP reputation and emails going to spam.

Throughout this guide, you'll come across the terms "deliverability" and "reputation." What are email deliverability and domain reputation?

Domain reputation: This is a measure of a sending domain's performance history - a record of how well your emails perform. ISPs calculate email reputation on a scale of 0 to 100. Email service providers use so many parameters to calculate domain reputation. Some of these factors are the spam report rate, spam traps, delivery rate, open & click-through rate, and more.

How do I check my domain reputation? There are tools you can use to run an email reputation check. Talos Intelligence is one of the reliable tools you can use to check domain reputation.

Email deliverability: This is a measure of the likelihood of an email reaching recipients' inboxes. It depends on many factors, including domain reputation. Some tools can help you run an email deliverability test. One such tool is Spamcheck by Postmark.

Let's take a look at some of the ill-practice and how to stop emails going to spam:

1. Your Sending Behavior Is Not Natural

ISPs see emails that don't depict natural behavior as spam. To avoid this, you have to make your email mimic natural behavior.

Follow these steps:

a. Limit Your Sends Each Day

Sending too many emails in a single day will only land your email in the spam folder. It's good practice to put a daily cap on cold emails. If your email server doesn't do this automatically, then set your limit. Marketing Sparkler suggests sending not more than 200 emails a day.

b. Have a Service Like Mailivery.io Mimic Natural Sending Behavior

Services like mailivery.io can help you mimic natural sending behavior. The use of AI coordinated email distributors such as mailivery increases your email reputation by ensuring your emails get to other inboxes. Your mails will be removed from spam or promotions and marked as trusted. Mailivery sends emails via your email account to inboxes that will give feedback to your emails. Through this process, you can be assured of an increase in your overall interaction rate, and you will be categorized as a natural email user by email providers.  

As noted earlier, the reputation of your IP is crucial. To a great extent, your email reputation determines how email providers treat it. As your reputation increases, more of your emails make it to the inbox folder - an increase in deliverability.

c. Only Send Out Emails During Work Hours

Another cold emailing best practice is to avoid sending emails at night or on Saturday & Sunday. Emails sent by such times are deemed as spam. The reason is simple. It's somewhat unnatural to send emails at night and on non-working days. Sort your list to fish out international prospects and email them at the right time and days.

d. For New Accounts, Ramp Up Sending Volume Over Weeks

To make your sending as natural as possible with a new account, increase sending volume over weeks. And remember not to fluctuate too much as it might send a negative behavioral signal and decrease the delivery rate.

e. Send Personalized Emails

Avoid copy and paste. To avoid flagging, personalize every email. Making each email unique to the recipient helps it get through the spam filter. That said, personalization also increases sales engagement.

2. You Did Not Setup DKIM and SPF Correctly

google admin toolbox check mx
Google MX Toolbox

Understanding DKIM and SFP can help improve deliverability significantly. They are essential components of email authentication and play a vital role in protecting email senders and recipients from phishing attacks, spoofing, and spam.

I know you would want to know what DKIM and SPF mean and how they are relevant to email deliverability.

a. SPF

It stands for Sender Policy Framework. SPF is an email authentication rule that defines a process to authenticate an email message coming from an authorized mail server. This authentication process is done to discourage forgery and avoid spam.

SPF is an authentication setup used by receiving mail servers to ascertain if an incoming email is from a source authorized by that domain's administrators.

SPF is published by a domain administrator stating mail servers that are permitted to send email from the domain. When a mail is sent, an inbound mail server compares the incoming email's IP address with the IP addresses allowed to send from the domain as defined by the SPF.

The receiving mail server decides to receive, reject, or flag email messages based on the sending domain's SPF record. You can inspect your SPF record using the SPF Inspector. When you know the servers that are authorized to send messages from a domain, you can create an SPF record for your domain using the SPF builder.

In a nutshell, sending messages with email servers that are not authorized to send on behalf of a domain will always land your emails in the spam folder. Again, when you build an SPF record for your domain, spammers won't use your domain to wreak havoc.

Now you understand what SPF is all about, let's talk about DKIM.

b. DKIM

It stands for DomainKeys Identified Mail. It allows companies to accept responsibility for an email in ways that can be verified by the recipient. This is made possible by using PKC (Public Key Cryptography) to authenticate a message from an approved mail server. The purpose is the same - to spot forgery and get rid of spam.

DKIM works simply. It adds a digital signature to emails. The signature can be authenticated using a PCK (public cryptographic key) found in the company's DNS record. The domain owner creates a cryptographic key, which is added to the domain's DNS record. Each time a message is sent, the outbound server attaches the message's signature - the header.

On the other end, the inbound servers decrypt the signature and match it with the original version. If the values are the same, the email is marked as authentic.

Use Google Admin Toolbox to run DKIM checks. Also, Sparkpost offers a DKIM Validator you can use to verify and validate DKIM. DKIM, when configured appropriately, increases domain reputation and email deliverability. The reason is simple, ISPs know you take responsibility for your messages.

c. DMARC

DMARC stands for Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance. It's a protocol used by SPF and DKIM to verify the authenticity of an email message.

It helps email service providers stay ahead of malicious actors and ensure that only authentic emails reach users' inboxes. It allows email service providers to specify what to do with messages that were not verified using SPF or DKIM. The options are to either block them or send those emails to the spam folder.

This technology helps ISPs to improve their services, and at the same time it provides a fair authentication report. Use a DMARC Record Generator to create a DMARC record. Publishing a DMARC record can boost your reputation.

Implementing SPF, DKIM, and DMARC will secure your emails, improve deliverability, and boost your reputation.

3. Your Recipient List is Not Cleaned Up & Personalized

When your list contains dormant emails, it affects your delivery rate. You might be sending emails to the wrong people. It leads to an increase in bounce rates.

a. Look for Invalid Emails

Truemail dashboard

Clean up your list every time. This practice will help you to get rid of invalid emails. Having many invalid emails affects your deliverability, which in turn leads to a drop in reputation.

Verify emails using services such as Truemail or Bouncer before adding them to your list. When done correctly, it decreases the bounce rate. So, let's say a thing or two about bounce rate.

What is a good bounce rate?

Bounce rate is the percentage of email addresses that never receive an email because the inbound server rejects it. A bounced email hurts on two sides; the target never receives the email, and the reputation of the sender domain is affected. Sending emails to invalid addresses results in hard bounces that bring down your domain's reputation.

The value of a good bounce rate varies from industry to industry. According to Bouncer, a bounce rate under 2% is acceptable. Appropriate measures should be taken when it's above 2%.

However, put measures on the ground to monitor your campaign if the bounce rate is approaching 5%. On the same note, a bounce rate as high as 10% is outrageous.

What Are Good Providers For Validating Your Emails?

Validating email addresses was never easy. There are reliable tools that can help you validate email addresses and build a clean list.

Truemail.io and Clearout.io are email validation and verification services you can use to clean up your recipient list.

b. Personalize Your Emails

Sending a generic email is one of the reasons deliverability depreciates. When you don't personalize emails, spam protocols will notice a repeating pattern and mark it as spam. Individualize your message as much as possible. The more variables you use, the more personal your email.

Here're some examples of variables you could incorporate in your emails:

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Company name
  • Year founded
  • Prospect city
  • Years of experience
  • Competition
  • Industry

The goal is to make sure that each email is unique. Apart from improving deliverability, personalizing cold emails increases engagement and response rates.

Recipients resonate more with emails that mention their names or say something that makes them feel the message was for them alone. Who doesn't want to feel special?

4. You Are Not Using Enough Variants of Your Email

In a cold emailing campaign, it's essential to avoid anything that makes the process look unnatural. For instance, sending hundreds of emails from one variant of your email might hurt the IP address's reputation. Remember point 1 above, sending emails with natural behavior is very important.

a. Try 2 to 4 Versions of Each Email At All Times

Sending messages with 2 to 4 variants of your emails reduces the risk of spam reports or anything that might affect the domain's reputation.

5. You Are Using Spam Words

Listen, if you're genuinely interested in finding the answer to your question (why are my emails going to spam?), you need to understand how to avoid spam words.

Avoid words and phrases that are misleading, manipulative, shady, pushy, and bogus.

The spam filters are very sensitive; they flag emails that contain specific words - spam words. Like we discussed earlier, spam filters have no emotion. They don't know when you make mistakes. Once they spot certain phrases, your email goes to the junk folder instantly.

Avoid using spam words in your subject line. When you use trigger words, your email will most likely get caught in the spam trap. Here's a comprehensive list of spam words compiled by HubSpot.

Autopilot compiled 202 email spam trigger phrases. You'll find the article helpful.

6. Your Spelling is Off

Wrong spelling sends a negative signal to the spam algorithms. The reason being that spammers are known for their inefficient use of the English language. Non-native speakers carry out a significant percentage of spamming, spoofing, and phishing attacks. Most times, they send emails full of grammatical errors.

a. Make Sure to Have Proper Spelling

Proof-read your emails before hitting the send button. Think of it, how do you feel when you read an email with typos? Is it always a turn-off? No one enjoys reading a poorly written piece, no matter how important the information is.

Apart from avoiding getting trapped by spam filters, a poorly written email will decrease your response rates.

7. Your Subject Line is Off

The subject line is the most critical part of your email. How you optimize the subject line determines whether it will get through spam filters or not.

Let's talk about how to stop emails going to spam by avoiding subject line ill-practices.

a. Using Subject Line Not Related to the Content

This is a deceptive approach. And spam filters "frown" at it as much as humans. Don't use misleading subject lines. Your headlines should match up with the content.

Spam filters are sophisticated and will always have an idea of what your content is all about. Your email is most likely to end up in spam if the subject line is not related to the content. If your emails don't require immediate action, don't use "urgent action." It doesn't make sense to use "this will blow your mind' when there is no such thing in your content.

Using "RE" or "FWD" when there was no prior interaction will land your email in spam. Don't mislead with your headline. Don't imply what you don't have in the content. Instead, make your subject line concise, real, and compelling.

b. Using Spam Words

As pointed out earlier, using spam triggers in your subject line will always cause your emails to be flagged.

It is no new fact that spam filters are not humans but algorithms. They will automatically respond when triggered. If your choice of words looks like spam, people and spam protocols will treat it as such. The best practice is to avoid misleading words and phrases.

c. Using Uncommon Signs

Uncommon signs trigger spam algorithms. Your purpose is to inform; anything that makes your writing ambiguous and challenging to understand is not welcome.

Stay away from writing subject lines in upper case only.  It's a bit unnatural, and spam filters flag such subject lines. Instead of "THREE WAYS TO GO TO HEAVEN," write "Three Ways to Go to Heaven" or any other format that doesn't involve using upper case throughout.

Avoid unreasonable use of punctuation at all costs. These algorithms are very sophisticated. Your writing should be as natural as possible. Avoid things like "!!!!." Simplicity wins! Overuse of special characters won't get you any more clicks. Writing "money" as "m$ney" won't improve your deliverability. Be careful with the use of symbols.

What about emojis? The proliferation of messaging apps has altered the way we write. Today, we use emojis to communicate. That's good. I use it often but in a casual conversation. That we're acquainted with emojis doesn't mean spam algorithms see emojis as normal. Avoid the use of strange signs like emojis in your subject line.

8. You Are Formatting Too Much

While formatting, avoid extensive formatting. Extensive formatting is one of the reasons your emails are going to spam. To improve deliverability, don't use extensive formatting.

9. You Are Using Unfit Images

Scammers used to take advantage of the image to text ratio to out-smart spam filters. It worked, but a lot has changed. Then, spam algorithms were based primarily on filtering spam keywords. So spammers would send emails with little text and many images. Till date, inappropriate use of images gets you on the wrong side of spam filters.

a. Multiple Images

Unreasonable use of images is against email best practices. Spam protocols might think you are using the old technique of little text and multiple Images. Spammers are known to use multiple images to evade spam protocols. Now, ISPs have upgraded the spam filters; using multiple images is a horrible idea.

b. Links Behind the Images

In social engineering attacks, spammers bury infected links in images. Make sure you don't use unrelated links behind images. When you do that, it sends a negative signal.

No email service provider wants its users to visit infected sites. Make your copy as simple as possible. If you must hyperlink an image, let the link be related to what the copy is all about. We recommend using links that are the same as the sending domain.

c. Size of Images

The size of an email shouldn't exceed 100kb. Anything more than that might push your email to the spam folder. A study by CheetahEmail, revealed that the optimal size of emails is less than 100kb.

You should as well be conscious of attachment. Attachment doesn't add to the size of emails directly, but email attachment's overall size shouldn't exceed 10MB.

Email providers mark emails with hefty attachments as potentially harmful. Each attachment shouldn't exceed 2MB. The right thing to do is to upload files to the cloud and link it to them from your email.

"Why are my emails going to spam?" That was the question that initiated this discussion. Have you seen why your emails go to spam? I know you have learned a lot, but our conversation hasn't come to an end.

So, refill your cup of coffee or reach out for some doughnuts. Let's dive deeper!

10. You Are Using Too Many Links

Using too many links won't improve your click-through rate. Instead, you will leave your recipients more confused. That's if the email makes it to their inbox.

That said, adding multiple links to emails will most likely earn you two places - spam and promotions. Email service providers see messages with too many links either as spam or promotional.

At best, such an email will secure a spot in promotions. In the worst case, the spam folder will welcome it.

a. Use Links From Your Sender Domain

Inbound email ISPs check your reputation score, but they might consider links from other domains as foreign. Including links pointing to another domain might make your email unworthy of the inbox folder. Cold emailing best practices demand that you use links from your sender domain. Even if you want to use external URLs you can use services like switchy.io to redirect to these external domains by first visiting your own domain.

b. Avoid short URLs

Spammers commonly use shortened URLs. Remember, our goal is to make our copy unique and get rid of any spam resemblance. Using short URLs makes your copy resemble spam messages. I'm sure that's not what you want. Malicious links are always shortened to prevent potential victims from seeing their destinations. Don't make spam algorithms suspicious of your domain. Avoid short URLs!

c. Use Few Links in Your Email

Since there is no standard number of links to include in your copy, keeping it as few as possible is recommended. Secondly, we strongly suggest you don't use more than one sender domain link.

Putting many links in your message doesn't improve performance. It's ideal for showing recipients the next step to take. But showing them too many steps at a time will confuse and consequently lead to inaction.

Don't include two links if one can do the job. It's all up to you!

11. You Are Not Using Unsubscribe Link

Anti-spam laws mandate marketers to give subscribers the option to opt-out of their lists. Not including it in your emails results in the violation of an important rule. Of course, you know, the likes of Gmail don't think twice before dishing out punishment - locking your emails in the digital prison.

Consider following these three best practices:

a. Include an Unsubscribe Link

This is the most popular approach. Businesses make it easy for their subscribers to opt-out by simply clicking a link.

However, some make it a multi-step task. Someone who wants to unsubscribe from your list is probably no longer interested and might lack patience.

Requesting information such as why the person wants to unsubscribe is not always the best. Not everyone has the patience to write a poem on why they wish to unsubscribe. In any case, make the process as simple as possible.

One more thing, make sure the link works. Check it from time to time. There have been situations where people continued to receive emails from a company after hitting the unsubscribe button. That's not fair!

b. Include a note like: Don't want to receive any emails from me anymore? Simply respond to this email with unsubscribe

That's another way of giving subscribers the option to unsubscribe. However, as I pointed above, people who want to stop seeing your email will most likely not be interested in typing a message.

Remember hitting "report spam" is easier than responding with "unsubscribe." We recommend the first option above. Make it easy for them to leave!

c. Spam Complains is #1 Reason You Land in Spam

This is one of the important answers to your question - why are my emails going to  spam? So, give them the option to opt-out. And the best way to do this is to make it as simple as possible. This is not the best time to popup a questionnaire.

12. You Are Not Using a Signature

Apart from SFP and DKIM we discussed earlier, you should take other front-end approaches to add more authority to your emails. Take note of the following:

a. Include a Physical Address

Putting a physical address, just like DKIM, convinces ISPs that you're genuine and takes responsibility for your emails - that's what building domain reputation entails.

b. Include "contact person"

This approach increases natural behavior. It tells both recipients and spam algorithms that real people are behind the email. Consequently, it results in a boost in reputation.

c. Include Personal Information

This is another way to add a signature to your email. Adding genuine personal information to your copy sends a positive signal to ISPs. Why all these? I know it might look demanding. But we do all these to convince the spam filters that we are not spammers (anonymous sender) and deserve a spot in the inbox.

13. Your Email is Blacklisted

When an ISP blacklists your email, your email can't be delivered to its users' inbox. Emails from a blacklisted IP address or domain end up in the spam folder. An ISP blacklists an IP address or a domain when there are spam reports or significant sender ill-practice.  

a. How to Check If You Are Blacklisted

There are a number of ways to check if your IP address or domain is blacklisted. You can do this using a tool like MxTOOLBOX. MxTOOLBOX is a blacklist checker. Use it to find out if your domain or IP address has been blacklisted.

You can also use an email monitor. A built-in monitor runs a blacklist check automatically when you send emails. Mass Mailer is a platform you can use to do blacklist and whitelist monitoring.

The tool does more than that; it can be used to run a number of checks, including reputation and deliverability rate.

14. You Did Not Setup a Custom Tracking Pixel

The tracking pixel is a miniature image that gets added to your emails. It helps you to understand the behavior of recipients and provides information to personalize your cold emailing campaign. When you see data about email open rates and click rates the tracking pixel is responsible for it.

However, it can affect deliverability in two ways. Using a tracking link that is different from your domain is not ideal. Email service providers "frown" at it. Most sales engagement platforms allow you to set up your own tracking pixel. Normally, to do that you have to set a new CNAME record in your DNS settings and route that record to your sales engagement tool. Instead of a generic tracking pixel like “tracking.thesalesengagementoolyouareusing.com” it could for example be “open.yourdomain.com”.

Secondly, using a public tracking Pixel can land you in trouble as other users might use it to spam, thereby affecting its reputation.

The right thing to do is to set up a custom tracking Pixel. In this case, you are not at the mercy of what others do. Again, When sending a short message, disable open tracking. It improves deliverability.

15. Your IP Address Was Used For Spam By Others

This is another reason well-crafted emails with good intentions land in spam. Your email can be flagged because others have used your IP address for spam.

Google suite changes IP addresses from time to time. There is a need to set up an SPF record. Use SPF record and DKIM to protect and uphold the integrity of your IP address.

16. Your Reverse DNS Is Not Setup

A reverse DNS record provides information about the origin of an email. Inbound mail servers perform a reverse DNS lookup before accepting an incoming email.

Email service providers like Yahoo, Gmail Email, etc., may not accept emails coming from a mail server that does not have a Reverse DNS record in place.

The solution here is simple, set up a reverse DNS record on your mail server. It adds credibility to outbound mail servers and ultimately results in increased deliverability.

17. Domain Age

Domain age contributes to its reputation. The younger the domain, the harder it is to get a good reputation. A new domain will always struggle with reputation scores. The reason is apparent; there are not enough records to determine its reputation.

To solve this problem, you have to be proactive when planning your cold emailing campaign. Buy your domains ahead of time. By so doing, your domain would be around for some time before you start using it for a campaign.

18. You Are Using Too Many Or Uncommon HTML Elements

Creating an HTML email can considerably improve results as it allows you to add images, color, and other elements that make your email visually appealing.

However, things could get wrong when HTML elements are not used appropriately. For sales purposes, we recommend to not use HTML at all. Keep your messages plain text.

a. Signal Mass Email or Promotional Message

Extensive use of HTML elements in your email might make the ISPs consider it a mass email or a promotional email. It will likely lead to your emails going to the promotions folder.

b. Elements of HTML Emails (If You Still Want To Use HTML)

i. Linked Image: this can be a potential source of a problem, especially when the image link points to another domain. As we have discussed earlier, if you must hyperlink an image, do it using the sender domain.

ii. Poor Text to Image Ratio: in an attempt to send a visually appealing email, you could send a message with low text to image ratio. It sends a negative signal as such email is considered harmful by spam filters.

Spammers used this model (poor text to image ratio) to evade the spam filters by avoiding spam words using many images with little text.

iii. Obfuscated Text: if an HTML email contains too many unclear texts, it sends a negative signal — design HTML emails with easy-to-understand texts. Your HTML body shouldn't have more than 5% obfuscated text - that's you can't get rid of it entirely.

iv. HTML Font: MailChimp recommends designing HTML email within 600 - 800 pixels maximum width. Creating an email with normal size and readable fonts improves delivery. Use cross-platform fonts like Georgia and Times New Roman.

c. HTML Tags

To improve delivery, use a well written HTML Tags. The HTML body should be composed of correctly closed and nested tags.

d. HTML Elements

Avoid using unsupported or uncommon HTML elements. MailChimp advises that you avoid features that require Flash or JavaScript. If you must add motion to your emails, consider using a gif.

e. Embedded HTML Elements

When it comes to embedding HTML elements, consider two things. Ask yourself, will these elements load fast? Secondly, how will inbound mail servers see the elements?

Simplicity wins any time, any day. Loading external elements such as an iframe might make your email bulky and untrustworthy. As expected, such an email has a place in the junk folder.

f. Link URL Sizes

When incorporating a link in your HTML email, take note of the following:

i. Use Links with URLs that are of normal length.

ii. Links shouldn't contain URLs other than from the sender domains.

g. HTML Body Link Count

To avoid flagging your email, use as few links as possible. Spam messages are known to contain many links. Don't make your message look like spam.

h. Spammy Language

Avoid using spam phrases in your HTML email.

Conclusion

Guess what? We have come to the end of this great piece. Let's run a quick evaluation. "Why are my emails going to spam?" Is the question still ringing in your head? You know what the solutions are and should have taken away that there are many factors that play an important role.

In a nutshell, domain reputation and email deliverability are the two indicators you should keep tabs on. Among other things, use a service like Mailivery.io to boost both deliverability and your domain reputation.


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