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131. How to Avoid Landing in the Spam Folder in Your Email Marketing

There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet about what really causes your emails to land in someone’s spam folder so today we’re going to talk about what you really need to know about avoiding the spam folder.

What You’ll Learn

  • Whether or not the email platform you use will affect your email deliverability
  • What is a dedicated sending infrastructure and if you need one
  • What causes emails to go to the spam folder
  • How I improved my email marketing performance

Links Mentioned

Klaviyo

The Lounge: eCommerce Membership

Episodes Mentioned

eCommerce + Email Marketing Benchmarks to Gauge Your Success

Non-Salesy Email Ideas to Send to Your List

Product-Focused Email Ideas for Your eCommerce Business


Read the Full Episode Transcript

Today’s episode is another request from the eCommerce Badassery audience, what should we avoid in our email marketing. 


Specifically, this person replied to one of my emails that had an exclamation mark in the subject line and she had always heard that using those in subject lines could land you in the spam folder. 


So she asked… what do we really need to know about emails to avoid your emails going to the spam folder? And that of course sounded like the perfect podcast episode. 


Now before we get into today’s episode, I need you to do one thing… I need you to release all your pre-conceived notions about spam and the things you should avoid. Now that’s not to say that some of what you heard isn’t true… but there is also a lot of misleading information around the interwebs about this and so I might say something that you immediately think is BS if you already have these other ideas in your head. 


Also note: I’m not a technical email deliverability specialist. I don’t 100% understand how all the things work, but I’ve sent enough emails, tested a bunch of things, and done a lot of research in my day so the information I bring to you is based on my experience and that of those I’ve worked with. 


The first thing I want to remind you of is that rarely is it a specific word, punctuation, or using too many photos that is going to land you in the junk box. Yes, if you overdo it with certain things it can definitely flag you as spammy, but 99% of the time, the reason you are in the junk box is because the people you are sending emails to are not engaging with your content. 


It’s truly that simple. The best way to stay out of the junk box is to send valuable, engaging emails to people who care about what you have to say. 


And just like not every person sees the same results on a Google Search page, or in their social media feeds, just because you end up in the junk box for one recipient doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the junk box for every recipient. 


These days every platform is curating the experience for their users based on their behavior, so if someone continually ignores your emails, but you keep sending to them, they’re going to move you into the spam folder. Or, in the case of gmail they’re going to give a little prompt to the user that says hey, you haven’t opened an email from these people in a while, do you want to unsubscribe?


So I want you to go look at your own inbox and your own junk folder. What email senders are in there? Do you think ALL of their emails are going to everyone’s spam folder? Not likely. 


An example from my own inbox, Amy Porterfield. Her emails often go to my spam folder. And that’s simply because I don’t often open or engage with them. And honestly, it’s not even because what she has to say isn’t valuable. It’s just that I am in a season of doing not learning in my business.

Glossier also goes to my spam folder along with male enhancement emails. Those generally belong there. But you know what doesn’t go to my spam. Emails from my previous job, which for those who don’t know was an adult novelties boutique. Those emails often have inappropriate words in them. But, I engage with those emails, so they keep landing in my inbox.


The other thing I want to clarify is that in Gmail, the promotions tab is NOT spam or junk. That is still landing in the inbox. And I know there are some hacks out there to get you into the primary tab instead of promotions. And there are lots of tips and tricks on how to do this or avoid that to stay out of the promotions folder – but in my experience, this is all a distraction from the thing you really need to do – create better content that your customers give a shit about. 


You’ve all heard the story about the cobbler’s kids who has no shoes right? Well, I was the email marketer with shitty email marketing, up until I finally implemented a better weekly email that brought way more value to my list. And you know what happened? My open rates went up, my click rate went up, and I had multiple people replying to me telling me how much they loved my weekly emails. 


Yes, there is a technical component to email but more than that there’s a human component and in most cases, this is what we’re missing. 
The other thing to remember is that spam filters have become much more sophisticated over the years. Just like Google’s ranking algorithm, they can understand context, so just because you use the word FREE once, or promote a sale, doesn’t automatically flag you as spam. Not even using all images in your email will send you to the spam folder; even though I still don’t recommend that you send fully image emails. 

Ultimately, spam filters are looking at a lot of different variables like: 

  • the engagement of your emails overall, like your average open, click, and spam rates
  • how this particular user engages with your email
  • the code of your email
  • excessive capitalization, punctuation, or dollar signs
  • links to shitty websites
  • lack of an unsubscribe button
  • high bounce rates
  • the reputation of your IP address and sending domain

So, let’s talk through some of these. 


The engagement of your emails overall. There are some specific numbers that email platforms like gmail, yahoo, and hotmail are looking for when they judge your overall engagement. Essentially, they want to see at least a 20% open rate, a 4% click rate, bounce rate .5% of less, and spam report rate, .08% or less. I go deeper into these email marketing benchmarks in episode 19 of the podcast so I’ll put a link in the show notes for that one. 


Now with the release of iOS15, i’d aim for a 25-30% open rate, because the technology behind that does inflate your open rate. But ultimately, if you’re within these ranges, you’re doing just fine and you really don’t need to worry about this. 


If you’re not hitting these numbers and you do want to increase your metrics, listen to episode 75 of the podcast where I walk you through 7 ways you can improve your email marketing results and increase your revenue.


This is a really great episode because I break down how to tackle each metric individually. Shitty open rate, focus on these things. Crappy click rate? Focus on these instead. 


In fact, I had a Velvet rope call from one of eCommerce membership students and she was struggling with her emails. They weren’t really converting into sales. Her open rate was great, so we knew they were excited to hear from her, but her click rate, not so much. When we looked at the content she was sending, it was very “buy my product” driven. And she sells a higher-end handbag, often in bold prints and colors. I doubt anyone is buying one of those every month. 


So, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to be on her email list, or that they didn’t care – it’s just that the content wasn’t relevant to them. So if you are experiencing something similar, go back to the content and make sure you’re making it more about them than about you. 
Okay, back to the spam thing. 


Here’s the thing. If you are generally hitting these numbers or are close and then you have one email that tanks for one reason or another – is that going to put all your emails in spam? 


No. A screw-up here or there when your overall performance is good, is not going to ruin your reputation. If you continue to have those results, then yes – it could. But if you mess up like me and send an email on Super Bowl Sunday during the game, or during the season finale of one of the most popular shows ever like Game of Thrones and you have an open rate of 7% (true story) as long as you bounce back to your regularly positive results, you’ll be A OK. 

Let’s talk about spam rates too. Because this is a big one. In fact, it probably holds the most weight out of everything on this list. If you have a lot of people reporting you as spam, the email service providers are gonna listen, they’re going to take that as a sign and probably send all your emails to junk. 


In fact, one of my first clients in eCommerce Badassery, before my business was even a business or had a name, was someone whose emails were going into the junk box. Pretty much every single one of them. Even her welcome email. 


When she first reached out to me after seeing me talk about Klaviyo in a facebook group, I thought oh shit – can I even help her. I’ve spent all my emailing years staying out of the junk box – but I’ve never really had to get out of it. 


Since I wasn’t 100% sure what I was walking into and whether or not I could help her, I agreed to take a look, but wouldn’t take any money from her. Instead, I asked for a testimonial if all went well. 


So, I dug into her Klaviyo account and what did I find? That the “expert”, yes I’m using air quotes who set up her account initially either didn’t know what the fuck they were doing or made a huge error that cost this business their email sending reputation. 


You’ve probably heard me talk about this before, and I cover it in detail in my Klaviyo course. But Klaviyo doesn’t treat subscribers and non-subscribers the same way as Mailchimp, which is what most people are used to. 


Everyone with an email address has a profile in Klaviyo, but that doesn’t mean they have opted in to receive marketing from you. In this case, the CEO was unknowingly sending emails to people who hadn’t opted in and was getting a lot of spam reports and overall really shitty metrics. 


The good news is, I was actually able to get her out of the junk box and back in the inbox and she ended up being a client for a long time after that – essentially up until I stopped offering weekly email marketing maintenance and regular sending – and her email marketing program went on to generate a lot of revenue for her. 


Now, you’re never not going to get any spam reports. Some people are just too lazy to scroll down and click the unsubscribe button so they hit the spam button instead. I imagine these are the same people who are rude to service workers. And the platforms understand this, that’s why they give you some leeway, only .08% leeway, but leeway none-the-less. 


One quick note about this, while that percentage is a good metric to keep your eye on, I don’t want you to freak out if once and a while it’s a bit higher. Especially if you have a small email list. Remember it’s a percentage. So if you send an email to 500 people and 1 person reports you as spam, that’s already .2%.


Okay, let’s talk about images in your email. This has long been considered an absolute no-no in email marketing and when Flodesk came on the scene there was a big battle about it on the internet. Okay, maybe I’m dramatizing a little, but it was a huge topic of conversation. 
So… what’s the verdict? Well… honestly, I’m not sure we’ll ever really know unless the email platform tell us one way or another. But instead of thinking of this from a spam or not spam perspective, think of it from the subscriber perspective. 


If your emails are strictly images, what happens if their internet is sucky and it takes a long time to load, if they don’t have images turned on, or if they’re visually impaired and use a screen reader. What would the experience of the email be like for them?
You can totally use images in your emails… I do it. Not only in the emails for eCommerce Badassery but for my clients when I’m setting up their email automations. In fact, sometimes I use Flodesk to create those images so I can take advantage of their layouts, I just treat it like Canva and save the images. 


But if you are going to use images, make sure you are balancing it out with text. Don’t put EVERYTHING in the image. And if you do have words as images, make sure you use the alt text. Not only is this what will show if images are turned off or broken for some reason, it’s how screen readers read images in your email. In fact, that’s what alt-text was originally created for. And side note: that’s not limited to your emails, you should be using alt text on your website as well. 

And then the last thing I want to cover today is dedicated sending infrastructure. 


You’ve probably heard the terms dedicated sending domain and dedicated IP address, and that should have them if you want to stay out of the junk box. 


You may have even heard them used interchangeably, but they are actually two different things. 


Let’s define them and then we’ll talk more about what that means for your email so you can decide what you should do for your business. 

Your sending domain is the website domain your emails come from. Your IP address is the computer address that your emails are sent from

Your IP address does have a reputation and that reputation does matter but not as much as your sending domain. Email service providers understand that you may switch email platforms and if that happens, you’ll most certainly have a new IP address. 
If your IP address was the only thing that mattered, spammers could easily just keep switching IPs and never get caught for their spammy email tactics. 


Now that doesn’t mean you never want a dedicated IP, typically high-volume senders, those who are sending upward of 100k emails per month (according to SendGrid) would qualify for a dedicated IP address. But even then, it’s not required. 


Your sending domain is where the majority of your reputation is going to come from. If you’re using a dedicated sending domain, this is much less likely to change, so it holds a lot more weight when scoring your reputation. This is why if you have really bad email sending habits, all of your emails could end up in the junk box, like the client I mentioned earlier. The reputation of your domain is heavily (if not completely) influenced by your email engagement metrics. 


Now that you understand the distinction between these two terms, you’ll see that the majority of you do not need to worry about a dedicated sending IP address. 


But you might be wondering about a dedicated sending domain – let’s discuss. 


By default, when you sign up for an email marketing platform like Klaviyo, you are on a shared sending domain. That’s why your emails will say your from name and then via Klaviyo after it.

Most email marketing experts will tell you this is an absolute no-no and you MUST be on your own dedicated sending domain otherwise you will ruin your reputation and automatically be put in the junk box. 


This is half true. Yes, if you are on a shared domain your sending reputation is partially lumped in with everyone else that is also on that sending domain. This is usually the reason why you hear people say, oh I hate “enter email marketing platform here” because all my emails go to junk. It’s not the platform as a whole. It’s a combination of the shared domain and your own personal sending reputation. 


On Klaviyo, they specifically talk about how with their shared domains they are constantly monitoring the performance of their senders and grouping together those with similar sending habits and reputations so that you’re not lumped in with people who can excessively drag down your deliverability. 


And in fact, hosted platforms like this will remove people who are out there spamming people to protect their own reputation. 
So look, being a shared domain is not immediately going to wreck your deliverability. It does however mean that you’re not 100% in control of it. But sometimes, that can actually work in your favor because you are sending from a domain that has a history and a reputation. 
How many times have you heard someone say, oh I switched platforms and my open rate and everything went up? That’s because technically you are on a new sending domain and IP address, and while you’re not starting with a completely blank slate, it is cleared off a smidge.


Ultimately, whether you’re going to be on a dedicated sending domain is a choice you get to make. There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s the one that’s best for you. Just know, that if you do go the dedicated sending domain route, you are 100% responsible for the reputation of that domain and if you fuck it up, it’s going to be really hard to bounce back. 


But you know what, if you focus on sending emails to people that have opted in to receive marketing from you and you’re sending them great content that they want to read, it’s also hard to fuck it up. 


The one really important thing to be aware of, whether you’re switching email platforms and will be on a new IP address, or going from a shared domain to a dedicated domain, you have to warm up those new addresses. 


Typically, you’ll want to start with all of your automations before you start sending campaigns since those tend to get better engagement. And then when you are sending campaigns you’ll want to send those only to your MOST engaged people for the first few weeks. Then you can slowly start layering in more and more of your list. As long as you stay above those email marketing benchmarks I talk more about in episode 19 of the podcast, you’re good to go. 


This is why, if you’re thinking about going from a shared domain to a dedicated domain, I recommend you do that during a slower period in your business. You don’t want to be making that switch during Q4 for instance, because with the warming process you won’t be able to send your offers to as many people without risking your reputation. 


So… what is the moral of today’s episode? What’s the most important thing you should take away from this? Focus on sending great content to people that care about what you have to say. If you do that, you’ll be just fine. 

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Jessica Totillo Coster of eCommerce Badassery eating gelato on stairs in Rome Italy

Hey, I'm Jessica eCommerce & Email Marketing Strategist

I support scrappy female entrepreneurs with actionable steps & strategies to grow and scale the traffic, sales & profit in their eCommerce businesses. Learning from the top experts in the digital marketing & eCommerce industry I love working with female entrepreneurs and teaching the secrets of 7-figure eCommerce businesses.

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