Optimizing your email deliverability and avoiding spam

Amir Salehzadeh
May 29 · 3 min read

Is email marketing a priority for your organization? If not, it should be — 89% of marketers said that email was their top performing lead-generation funnel.

With more advanced filtering, it’s important to run a smart email program that sees results.

Email marketing is vital. And when running email campaigns, the desired workflow is simple: We want emails to go right into the recipients’ inbox, get opened, and generate click-throughs. But we can’t analyze much if a good portion of emails is being marked as spam.

Email has an inbox placement rate of about 85%, which means about one out of five emails gets filtered as spam. And increasingly as spam filters become more sophisticated, this figure is going down. Are you or your organization experiencing low open rates? It’s possible your email is not even being delivered to your intended inbox.

Optimizing your email deliverability is a prerequisite in email marketing. Below we share some general tips and best practices which you can use to step up your email program.

First off, here are common reasons emails go to spam:

  • You didn’t get express permission to email. To do so, you’ll need an opt-in form on your site that makes it clear to visitors they are signing up to an email list.
  • Your IP address was used by someone else. This can happen by using email service providers. Stick to tools that have a good reputation (like SendGrid or ActionNetwork).
  • You have low open rates. Top webmail providers look at how many emails are opened and how many are deleted without being opened to filter for spam. (Some quick tips to boost open rates and reduce incidents of spam: a) Segment more and send to active universes only b) Write engaging subject lines c) A/B test on subject lines)
  • You have low mailbox usage. Providers also look at the ratio of active and inactive email accounts on your list. Regularly clean out your email list to avoid this (and also work on raising engagement with your recipients).
  • Your emails have been blacklisted. Check your domain or IP address against major lists like Spamhaus, SURBL, SORBS, and others to make sure you’re not blacklisted!

Google’s filtering algorithms are very smart: if your organization is engaging in questionable behavior, it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to outsmart Google’s filtering algorithms. But if you’re following best practices and running a reputable email program, checking off a handful of tips can dramatically improve your email deliverability.

Email checklist to avoid spam:

  • State why a recipient is receiving your email (e.g. “you are receiving this email because you subscribed to our newsletter/your email was listed publicly on this site”). You should include this in the first welcome email and periodically thereafter.
  • Do not use tracking URLs in your emails; they can be marked by Gmail as spam.
  • Do not use words like “FREE” in your emails because they may trigger the spam filter. Check here for one list of trigger words.
  • Use your company name as the sender to avoid recipients reporting spam for not recognizing you. You can just include a personal name and add your org’s name right after, like: “Name, Company Name”.
  • Do not use too many images. Consider compressing them (including your logos) or not displaying them in full size.
  • If you must use email templates (it’s better to stick with text-based emails), minimize your code with an HTML compressor like this one.

Additional tips on email spam:

  • Transactional emails that provide information about an existing purchase or membership — such as sign up confirmations or password reset emails — are exempt from anti-spam rules.
  • Keep in mind that sending yourself an email to check if it goes to spam does not work, because Google filters for spam (or promotions) based on each individual behavior.
  • An absolute foolproof way to ensure your email doesn’t even make it to the promotions folder is by asking your audience to whitelist you, which is essentially an additional opt-in.

Find this article useful? At A+G Digital, we help Democratic candidates and causes run cutting-edge digital programs. Need help crafting your email marketing campaign or want to chat? Get in touch at amir@agdigital.us.

A+G: Digital Lab for Campaigns

Helping progressive causes, candidates, and organizations run the most efficient and effective digital campaigns possible.

Amir Salehzadeh

Written by

Digital strategist. Politico. Iranian-American.

A+G: Digital Lab for Campaigns

Helping progressive causes, candidates, and organizations run the most efficient and effective digital campaigns possible.

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