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“Why is my email going to the junk folder?” and “Why is the email I send ending up in the spam folder?” are questions that we get all the time. The thing is, for most people email deliverability is a distant land, where we speak a foreign language. So here is a plain English explanation of one of the reasons that your email may be going to the spam folder. (‘Deliverability’ refers to making sure that the email you send lands in the inbox, and, when it is ending up in the spam folder (or not being delivered at all), what is going on, and how to fix it.)
One of the primary culprits that will cause your email to be placed in the spam folder instead of the inbox is a lack of engagement.
The Problem: People are not interacting with your email
When you send email to someone, they can take several actions with that email. They can open it and read it. They can delete it without reading it. They can click “this is spam” on it. They can completely ignore it, just leaving it in their inbox without touching it.
You need people to be opening and reading your email (and clicking on the links that you include in your email). If people are doing anything else with your email, other than opening it and reading it, this can cause your email to go to the spam folder, not just for those people, but for everyone that you send email to at that inbox provider.
The inbox providers consider the inbox to be prime real estate, and so they are only going to put email in that inbox if they know that their users actually want that email. The inbox providers’ reasoning is that if a large enough percentage of their users to whom you are sending email aren’t reading and interacting with your email, then they are not going to give you access to their users’ inboxes because (by their reasoning) their users clearly don’t really want your email, because they are not interacting with it.
Here is a very simplified example: let’s say that your business is Acme.com, and you send out an announcement to your mailing list, and your mailing list includes 1000 users at Gmail. Let’s say that 950 of those users at Gmail didn’t open that email from you. Now, Gmail is monitoring what each of those 1000 users do with your email; if not enough of them open and read your email, Gmail thinks “Hrrmm…not very many people are interested in what Acme.com has to say, so we have no reason to keep delivering email from Acme.com to the prime real estate of our users’ inboxes, so we’re going to start putting email from Acme.com in the spam folder.” And your email is not just going to go to the spam folders of the 950 people who didn’t open your email, but it will start going to the spam folder for all Gmail users.
While most businesses know enough to care if people are reporting their email as spam, what they often don’t know is that those people who are not opening their email (whether they leave it in the inbox or delete it without opening it) are hurting that business’ email reputation too. In fact, even if nobody ever reports your email as spam, if enough people aren’t opening it regularly you can still end up with your email going to the spam folder.
One of the most important things that you can do with your mailing list is to regularly remove those people who aren’t opening your email! Many businesses don’t want to do this, because they believe that bigger is better when it comes to mailing lists, but that is not the case. The level of engagement is the most important thing when it comes to a mailing list. (For a more in-depth discussion of this see our article Mailing List MR is the Most Important Metric.)
When is it time to say ‘goodbye’ to someone on your mailing list?
How long you should let an unresponsive email address stay on your mailing list depends on several things, including how often you send email to the list generally, and how long it has been since they last opened an email from you. A good rule of thumb is that you should remove them from your mailing list if they have not opened the last four emails that you sent them. Once you have removed them you can try to reengage with them outside of the mailing list; if they also don’t respond to two reengagement outreach efforts it’s time to remove them completely from your life – they will only cause you email delivery heartache, and if they truly want to hear from you at some future point they will reach out to you.
We hope that this explanation of how important reader engagement is to your mailing list delivery has been helpful; if you have any questions you can find us here!