6 Reasons Why Your Emails Go To Spam (And What To Do About It)

Did you know spam makes up 45% of all emails sent?

In fact:

No major industry was able to break the 80% inbox placement mark in 2015.


Source: Return path

Get this:

“One out of every five emails sent either gets filtered as spam or blocked entirely.”


There are multiple factors which play an important role in determining whether or not your emails get delivered to the inbox.

In this post, we’ll explain all of these factors in detail so you can avoid getting flagged and stop your emails from going to spam.


Let’s jump right in!

6 reasons why your emails go to spam:

1. You’re not compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act

Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $40,654.

The CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email.

It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as:

“Any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.”

Activities that violate the CAN-SPAM act include:

  • Deceptive subject lines
  • False or misleading “from” name
  • Not expressing that the message is an advertisement
  • Not telling your recipients where you’re located
  • Not showing your recipients how to opt-out of receiving future email from you
  • Not honoring opt-out requests promptly

Moreover, according to the FTC:

What matters is the primary purpose of the message.

An email can contain three different types of information:

Commercial content, transactional [or relationship] content and other content which contains neither commercial nor transactional [or relationship].

If the message contains only commercial content, then obviously its primary purpose is commercial – it MUST comply with the requirements of the CAN-SPAM act.

If it contains only transactional or relationship content, it may not contain false or misleading routing information, which means it is exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM.

For a more detailed description of these requirements and best practices, check out the full FTC guidelines here


2. You have low subscriber engagement

Engaged subscribers are essential for successful email marketing.

What’s more:

“Webmail providers look at your engagement levels and recipient behavior when determining if your emails should make it to the inbox or not.” (Source: Optinmonster)

So, how do you define subscriber engagement?

It has two categories: Positive subscriber engagement and Negative subscriber engagement.

Examples of Positive engagement include:

  • Clicking through links
  • Opening the message
  • Starring the message
  • The reader enabling images in the preview pane
  • Adding an address to their contacts or address book
  • Moving the message over from the junk folder to the inbox.
  • Moving a message from the promotions tab to the primary tab

Examples of Negative engagement include:

  • Reporting as spam
  • Deleting the message
  • Moving the message to trash
  • Marking messages as read
  • Ignoring messages
  • Not engaging with multiple messages over long periods of time

Before wondering why your emails end up in the junk folder – determine if your recipients are engaged positively or negatively.

Here’s a place to start:

  1. Do some digging to identify the various engagement segments
  2. Ask inactive segments to confirm their continued interest in receiving emails
  3. Create a plan to adjust frequency for the less engaged and creatively re-engage those recipients
  4. Identify a time frame of inactive definition [6-12 months or more] and manually remove inactive users that still not engage  


3. You have low open rates

If you have low open rates, your emails are at a higher risk of being flagged as spam.

Studies confirm:

“Webmail providers look at how many emails are opened and how many are deleted without being opened as a factor in their spam filtering decisions.”

Low open rates could be caused by:

  • Poor subject line copy
  • Lack of segmentation
  • Low subscriber engagement (see above)

Read our post on subject lines for more detailed tips and best practices for improved open rates.


4. You use SPAM-trigger words

SPAM filters can now analyze the context in which you use your words.

Like other types of filtering… Spam filter looks for certain criteria on which it bases judgments.

Words like “free,” “money,” “action” and “reminder” all trigger content-based email spam filters, especially if you’re not added as a contact in your recipient’s email database.

Here’s more of a complete list of email spam trigger words:

email-spam-trigger-wordsSource: Yesware

Want more? See 400 more…

Key takeaway: Keep this list by you as you type your emails to avoid using these words. If there’s a word that you need to use, keep it out or use it at your own risk.


5. You’re not maintaining a good text to image ratio

Recent studies recommend a minimum of 60% text and a maximum of 40% image coverage with at least 400 characters of text.

It is best not to include images at all; however, if you must include images, here are some tips:

  • Do not send image-only emails
  • No more than 3 images an email
  • Optimize your images the best you can as well as using a descriptive (alt text)
  • Test your email in different clients to make sure how it appears
  • Test different image-to-text ratios to determine what works best for you


6. Your HTML emails don’t follow best practices

HTML email is just one giant graphic.

Most email clients block the automatic image downloads by default. This could cause your recipients to delete your email or even mark it as spam.

While branded emails help with engagement and make your brand more memorable…


Source: DesignYourWay

…there are few things to keep in mind when designing HTML email campaigns.

  • 600-800 pixels maximum width. This will make your emails behave better within the preview-pane size provided by most email clients
  • Don’t use obscure fonts. Stick with fonts that work across platforms, like Arial, Verdana, Georgia and Times New Roman
  • Avoid entirely image-based emails. While they look pretty, they perform poorly.
  • Use simple designs and keep mobile users in mind
  • Use descriptive (alt text)
  • Maintain a good text image ratio (see above)
  • Avoid elements that require Flash or JavaScript

Further ways to avoid the SPAM box

  1. Monitor Your Deliverability
  2. Instruct Subscribers to Whitelist Your Emails: This will ensure your subscribers are receiving important emails they signed up for + increase your sender reputation and your inbox delivery rates.
  3. Ask Gmail Users to “Drag” Emails from Promotions Tab to Primary Inbox

Final thoughts:

The reality is:

Most emails never land in your subscribers’ inbox.

They end up being of no value to the sender nor the recipient.

Furthermore, maintaining a high inbox placement rate isn’t getting any easier…

…because spam filter criteria change almost daily and can be impacted by things that you have no control over.

Hopefully, this article has shed some light on possible areas for improvement or key “best practices” that you may be missing out on.

Over to you:

Have you had spam problems in the past? Were you able to improve your deliverability?


Let us know in the comment section below – We’d love to hear your thoughts.

About the author

Nadeem is the battle-tested content writer at Cloudy.

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