No one likes having their inbox cluttered with junk. It can be useless junk, like cold solicitations for products or services of no interest to you. It may be dangerous junk, like phishing attempts or other scams. Thankfully our email providers attempt to identify and protect us from these messages.
But because one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, such emails are not blocked entirely but sent to a “spam” or “junk” folder where you can go to find incorrectly-flagged messages. Did you ever wonder what causes some emails to end up in your spam or junk folders when others don’t? More importantly, did you ever wonder why an important email you sent to someone ended up in theirs? It comes down to an email spam score.
Email providers (like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo) have rules and assign numeric scores to incoming messages. These rules incorporate content-based criteria and technical criteria. Score low and your message is destined for the spam folder. Thus, it’s critical to understand factors that help your email spam score.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a universal or straightforward checklist of things to do or not to do to get a good email spam score. (If there were, the authors of the junk would be able to adjust their messages to get through!) Instead, what you have is a lot of secrecy in the arms race between purveyors of junk and email service providers in the battle for your inbox.
Although each email provider has its scoring system, what is spam to one provider will often be spam to the others. As a result, some free public testers can give you a good idea if you are about to send a problematic email. I recommend using Mail Tester when checking spam ratings. Mail Tester will provide you with a unique email address to which you should send your email. Once complete, you can click a button to see an evaluation of that message. Scoring well here doesn’t guarantee your message will make it to the inbox, but it improves your chances significantly.
Getting a low spam score is not just about the content of the message but also about who you’re sending it to and proving it’s really from you. Here’s a checklist of things to look out for when attempting to lower your email spam score.
If you don’t want your email to be judged as spam, make sure it doesn’t read like spam. Subject lines like “Limited time offer!” “Click here!” “Satisfaction guaranteed!” and “Free money!” will make spam meters go off.
Using images in your emails is a great way to improve the appearance and augment the message's text. If your email is primarily image content—or worse, just one big image containing all of your text—you’re hurting your email spam score. Spammers use images to “hide” spammy content from the filters while conveying it to the reader. Because of this, spam filters will treat your message as suspicious if the content is primarily image-based.
This one is for the IT folks managing their organization’s email systems. Email is like traditional mail in that you can write anyone’s name in the “From” address, which can be an effective way to mislead people. Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is a way of declaring which IP addresses are allowed to send an email on behalf of your domain. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) is a way of attaching a signature to an email message that an authorized sender can only do and allows the recipient to detect if the message has been tampered with since it was signed. Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) is a way of declaring that a domain uses SPF and DKIM and that recipients of mail from that domain shouldn’t trust an email that doesn’t come from an expected result IP address or passes a signature check. These are an effective way to increase trust in the legitimacy of a message and, thus, your email spam score.
When you mark an email you receive as spam, that’s doing more than just getting it out of your inbox. It’s also letting your mail provider know it should be more suspicious of emails like this in the future for you and other users. When too many people are flagging messages from your domain as spam, it will hurt your reputation and cause more of your emails to go to spam even if they don’t otherwise get a high email spam score. You can guard against this by ensuring that the emails you are sending are valuable to the recipients, not too frequent and that you provide an easy way for recipients to opt-out of future emails instead of just marking them as spam.
Don’t buy email lists or otherwise attempt to reach out to many people who haven’t first reached out to you. Use an email validation service to test any emails you receive before contacting them. If someone asks not to be emailed again, ensure that you never do. If a message bounces with a permanent error, don’t send messages to that email address in the future.
Check your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Ensure that all of your images include alt text for the visually impaired and the many recipients who have images disabled in their emails for privacy. Test any links you include to ensure they are correct. Open your email in multiple mail clients and mobile devices in light and dark mode to ensure it looks good everywhere.
When people open and engage with your emails, it improves your reputation for future emails. Choose a good subject line and sender name to get recipients to increase the click-through rate (CTR). Personalize the email to the recipient if you can. Include the right amount of good quality content to get the recipient to read to the end and reply or click links in the message. Send it to the right people—those you expect would be most interested in its content.
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Main image by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash