Wondering how to avoid spam filters and your email going to spam? Here’s a very basic thing to remember: one of the main reasons that spam filters, and even people, may mistake your email for spam is because, in fact, the content of your email makes your email look like spam. Remember that old saw, that “content is king”? Well, content can also be the joker, where the joke is on you. Because if your content is garish or gaudy, or full of lots of big images and little text, then instead of getting the royal treatment, it may go straight to the spam folder.

Some people just don’t believe it – others believe it, but don’t really get it. So let’s go through a little exercise. Think about the number of spam emails you get every day. Or every week. Now, when you look at those emails how do you know that they are spam? We mean besides your spam filter telling you that they are; think about the ones that make it into your inbox. Or, when you are checking what’s in your spam folder, confirming that your spam filter got it right.

Often you can tell a piece of spam just by the subject, without ever opening the email, right? How do you tell? Does the subject say “This is Spam!”? Does it say “Do not open unless you want to read spam”? No, of course not. What is it that tips you off?

How to Avoid Spam Filters Tip #1: Carefully Craft Your Subject Line

The first thing that tips you off that an email is spam, before you ever open it, is the wording of the email subject, isn’t it? People will often spend a great deal of time crafting the content of an email (i.e. the body of the email), and then just slap a subject line on it almost as an afterthought, and send the email off.

But, in fact, it is your subject line that has to do the heavy lifting! It is your subject line that has to get someone to open the email! And it may well be your subject line that is causing people to mistake your email for spam.

But what about that email that you can’t really tell by the subject, you know, the emails that you actually have to open before you realize that they are spam? How many times have you opened an email and instantly decided that it was spam, without actually reading the words? How did you do that?

How to Avoid Emails Going to Spam Tip #2: Spam-Proof Your Content

When you open an email and your gut instinct whispers (or maybe even screams) “This may be spam” before you even read a single word, what is it that causes you to have that reaction? It’s the visual cues, right? Maybe there are lots of links or lots of graphics, or both, with relatively little text. Maybe it’s the very layout of the links. But something gives you that cue.

(Let’s take this opportunity to talk about ‘hero images’. Hero images are those first big images that you see, before any text, when you hit a website’s home page. It’s a web developer term. It is not an email term, and yet many email marketers have imported it into their lexicon. Worse, they have started using hero images in the email they send. If you are doing this stop it! Hero images are for web pages, they do not belong in email! They make your email look like spam, and they hurt your deliverability by throwing the image-to-text ratio out of whack.

So, what about that email that you actually have to start reading before you can tell that it’s spam? Do you really need to read the entire thing, or can you usually tell within the first sentence or two?

There are many, many words that can change your content from royal, to royal pain. Far too many to list here, but examples include:

  • Secrets
  • Learn the Secret
  • Money-Back Guarantee
  • Click Here
  • Response Required
  • Risk Free
  • Be Amazed
  • Here is your new account information

    And generally:

  • Using the name of the recipient in the subject
  • Offers of a full refund
  • Claims of compliance with anti-spam laws
  • Instructions on how to stop receiving your offers

    This is only a tiny, tiny fraction of the list – the tip of the iceberg, really.

    Hopefully by now you get the point, and the point is that people judge whether or not your email is spam based on the content in a number of different ways, at a number of different points. It’s no coincidence that in Drip.com’s list of the 10 reasons your email may be going to the spam folder, half of those ten have to do with content, including “here’s a Large Image with Minimal Text” (people never seem to want to believe us that those hero images are problematic in email).

    The bottom line is:

    If they look at the subject and deduce that it’s spam, they will mark it as spam.

    If they look at the graphics and deduce that it’s spam, they will mark it as spam.

    If they look at the links and deduce that it’s spam, they will mark it as spam.

    And if they look at some of the text and deduce that it’s spam, they will mark it as spam.

    And, by the way, many spam filters operate in much the same way.

    And where does that leave you and your email?

    In the spam folder.

    And don’t, for goodness sake, rely on your users to recognize your email as coming from you faster than they “recognize” it as spam and hit the spam button. Because the odds are good that they won’t recognize it as being from you before marking it as spam. Lots of senders have stories about a user accidentally marking something they’d sent as spam, only to red-facedly apologize later. Unfortunately, that’s rare; it’s much more common that they hit “this is spam” and never look back.

    So, a good rule of thumb is to read the email you are about to send with a very critical eye. Imagine that very email landing in your inbox from someone you don’t recognize – is there a chance that you would think that it was spam? If so, figure out why. And then change it.

    We also have an entire section in our Email Deliverability Handbook (a handy downloadable eBook) dedicated to these sorts of content issues and how to avoid them. You can read more about our Email Deliverability Handbook, and download it, here.

    How to Avoid Spam Filters: Do People Mistake Your Email for Spam?

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