Avoiding the SPAM Folder: How to Spot It & How to Stop It

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If you’re anything like our team at Sendlane, you want to spend as much time as possible dreaming up new ideas and creating awesome content. You want to spend as little time as possible thinking about how to actually make sure it lands in the right place, that means hitting the inbox and avoiding the spam folder.

But the hard truth is that any marketer worth their salt has to think about it. Understanding what makes an email hit your recipient’s inbox instead of their spam folder is vital. It can help you maximize the open, click-thru and sales conversion rates for your email marketing campaigns.

Words like “spam,” “phishing” and “xx” may seem like daunting concepts to understand when all you want to do is make sure people see those emails you spent hours designing and writing. So let’s start at the beginning. By getting a handle on just a few key aspects of how your inbox protects itself and avoiding the spam filter, you’ll be able to send every email with confidence that it will reach your audience.


What is Spam?


While real-life Spam is pretty awful (despite that clever jingle), digital spam is equally as undesirable, especially for email marketers. In fact email spam got its name from the (in)famous spiced meat after a Monty Python sketch. The sketch talked about the meat Spam being “ubiquitous, unavoidable and repetitive!”

What we commonly refer to as junk mail, email spamming has steadily increased since the early 1990’s. Right around the time that beanie babies and pagers really hit their stride. This has led to stricter guidelines around commercial email and the advent of the CAN-SPAM Act in 2003.


Why are spam filters important?

First and foremost, spam filters are important because they protect recipients. Email providers like Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo (okay even Hotmail too, if we’re still talking about the 90s) use spam filters to analyze every incoming email. This filters out or outright deletes the ones that seem phishy (pun intended).

And while it may seem like an unnecessary pain to deal with spam filters in your email marketing, they actually exist to the benefit of your business! They keep the bad emails from coming in so that your awesome emails don’t get lost in all the muck.


How do spam filters work?

In the internet-wide travels of your email, it actually goes through four phases before ultimately achieving its desired goal. The goal of course is a sale, a sign-up or even just a new visitor to your website. Before any of that can happen, your email has to be sent, delivered, opened and clicked. The trusty spam filter lives right in between the sending and the delivering.

avoiding the spam folder - Spam Funnel

When email providers first started monitoring for spam, all they could do was look for certain phrases or trigger words – like “no purchase necessary” or “earn extra cash fast.” But as spammers got more clever so did they and now the big names like Google. Now they can actually determine if something is junk mail by looking at the past behavior of the recipient. Specifically:


  1. How often the recipient opens the same type of email

  2. How often the recipient replies the same type email

  3. How often the recipient moves the same type of email into or out of their junk mail folder

  4. How often the recipient deletes the same type of email without opening it

  5. If the recipient adds a specific sender to their address book

From there, providers begin to learn how to filter incoming messages to help users focus on what will be important to them and ignore everything else.


How to Get Through the Spam Filter

So if email providers are determining what’s worth reading before it even lands in your desired recipient’s inbox, how do you get there? How do you break past that spam filter to make sure your email is delivered, opened and ultimately, clicked?


1. Know the Law

When it comes to avoiding the spam folder, first and foremost, make sure you understand best practices around the CAN-SPAM Act. Understanding what is and isn’t allowed will help you know what you can and can’t send. You can visit the the Federal Trade Commission’s website for a full guide (or Wikipedia works too), but here are three quick tips to help you get started:

  1. DO include your mailing address on every email message. Your real-life, USPS designated, physical mailbox address.
  2. DON’T try to get away with headers, subject lines or any other language that aren’t true. Lying is bad all the time, but telling someone that they can list 5 pounds in 5 minutes is just plain illegal.
  3. DO make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your email distribution list. Every email has to have an unsubscribe link that stays active for 30 days. In addition, those who opt-out have to be removed from your list within 10 days.


2. Always Ask Permission

Speaking of honoring that unsubscribe button, you must also ask permission before you send an email to anyone. If you’re worried about getting permission, use Sendlane’s double opt-in option. That just means that when a user clicks to sign up for your distribution list they’ll also get an email to confirm their subscription. We’ve all received these emails. Don’t think you’ll annoy people by doing it. If anything, they’ll probably thank you!

And also – DON’T PURCHASE YOUR LISTS. It’s expensive and extremely deceptive. In the long run it will be way more trouble than it’s worth. Trust us on this one.


3. Segment for Success

Break up your list to send relevant emails and targeted campaigns based on your recipient’s location, age or other key demographics. Experiment with different subject lines or email content for different groups of people. See what people respond to best based on where they live, what they’re interested in or what challenges are unique to them. Not only will this help you get a higher return on your email delivery and open rates, it will keep you safe from spam filters with content that is truly relevant to your desired audience.

We love the two versions of this same marketing email – one’s for him and one’s for her, but both are bound to hit the sweet spot with its intended audience!

avoiding the spam folder - segmented email comparison

4. Create Good Content

It may seem like a no-brainer to create content that your recipients will actually want to read. However, writing good content can actually help keep you out of the junk mail folder too! If people are ready and waiting for your next email because it’s full of stuff they want, it’s a sure bet that you’ll make it past their spam filter. A few good rules of thumb:

  1. Keep your writing simple and to the point. Avoid (at all costs) spammy phrases like “act now,” “as seen on” and “for a limited time.” Here’s an exhaustive list of trigger words to avoid but basically, if you heard it on an infomercial, don’t use it.
  2. Create well-designed email templates and use professional formatting. Enough with ALL CAPS and long lines of exclamation points, please!!!!!!!!!!
  3. Balance images and links with text. Ten images in a two sentence email or a 25 word message with 20 linked words will definitely get sent to junk mail.


5. Sweat the Small Stuff

Before you send your email, take a few minutes to make sure you’ve dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s. A few things to remember include:

  1. A catchy (NOT click-baity) subject line.
  2. A real person’s name in the “From” line – preferably one that recipients will recognize.
  3. An actual reply-to address – using an address like “do-not-reply@yourcompany.com” is spammy. It also cuts you off from your audience selfishly shutting down the lines of communication.
  4. Descriptive text for links rather than the long URL – instead of https://sendlane.com use Sendlane.


While protecting from spam filters should never be the main priority when designing email marketing campaigns, understanding the best practices can have a HUGE impact on their success. With these handy tips and by taking just a few extra minutes to make sure every email is optimized for delivery, your email marketing success can only grow!

Ready to put these tips to the test? Start your free 14 day Sendlane trial!


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Caitlin Haines

Caitlin Haines

Social Media & Content Manager at Sendlane
Born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in San Diego, California, Caitlin has a passion for developing creative marketing content and is primarily responsible for managing the Sendlane blog, planning and executing effective social media strategies and being “in the know” on all new technologies, trends, and applications. When not focusing on increasing Sendlane's social presence Caitlin enjoys spending time with her close-knit family and her boxer, Cocoa.
Caitlin Haines

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