Why your marketing emails keep ending up in the spam folder

So you’ve employed an expensive digital marketing agency and bought an overpriced eCRM emailer system, and you’re paying for designers, copywriters, HTML developers and analysts to make you fancy emails to send out in clever A/B test groups to all your supposedly profiled, segmented, fully qualified customers.

You’re doing all that, but you already know that most of the emails are going to end up in the spam folder.

Your digital agency account manager tells you ‘that’s just the way it is with bulk email’.

Unfortunately, your digital agency is wrong. But fortunately the solution is easy.

There are 3 primary ways spam emails are recognised as such in email services such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook/Hotmail:

  1. Being sent from a blacklisted, known-spammy email server
  2. Containing copy that is just written like spam – bad spelling, bad grammar, talking about viagra pills or free money offers, or links designed for ‘phishing’ – tricking people into clicking links designed to make them give up their passwords for their online banking or other systems
  3. Being blacklisted due to a large number of recipients marking the email as spam using Report Spam or Report Phishing features

The first of these won’t be a problem for you if you are using a well-known, white listed emailer such as MailChimp, Exact Target, Neolane (now known as Adobe Campaign), Silverpop etc.

The second shouldn’t affect you at all unless your emails contain complete gibberish or really are trying to steal people’s passwords.

The third hopefully won’t be your problem – just be sure not to add people to your mailing list without permission, not to send them emails every single bloody day and to include easy to use unsubscribe links that don’t mean it’s easier for them to report you as spam than to get off your mailing list.

No, the reason your emails aren’t getting through is not any of those, it’s because you haven’t done the one fundamental thing you need to do – which is to give your emailer permission to send emails on your behalf.

You see, when Gmail or Hotmail or any mailbox system receives and incoming email, it looks at the domain name (e.g. yourbrand.com) that the email has been sent from (after all, you want the email to come from your address, not some third party, because you want your customer to trust the email), and it checks with the server that runs your website, for a list of server addresses that are allowed to send email on behalf of that name.

If the server the email came from isn’t on the list, then your email goes straight into spam without even being tested against the other rules, the only exception being if the recipient has previously whitelisted you.

So probably what’s up is that you haven’t added your emailer to that list. Or maybe you did, but then you changed emailers and forgot to update it. We know of at least one major hotel chain who’s reservation confirmations for years ALWAYS ended up in the spam folder precisely for this reason.

All you need to do to fix it is to update your DNS settings – ask your IT guy or whoever manages your website name (domain name) for you (if you don’t know who to talk to about this, you have bigger problems than incorrectly junked emails), and make sure that the SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record has been set correctly to give permission to your emailer to send emails on your behalf. This alone should be sufficient but there is also a more advanced method you could use in addition to SPF, called DKIM, which not only helps prove that emails aren’t spam but can be used to prove that an email definitely did come from a particular address, and should almost certainly be used if you are involved in any kind of banking or eCommerce line of business. Finally, since you may as well be thorough, there’s an even newer standard called DMARC that allows you to not only specify how genuine emails are to be validated, but also suggests what to do with emails that are not valid – again, important for example if you are a bank and you want all fake emails sent in your name to be destroyed.

You can find information about setting up SPF with the most common emailers at these links:

Finally, don’t do what we’ve known some brands to do – which is leave old SPF records in place years after terminating a relationship with an eCRM supplier. You have no idea if that old supplier has been taken over or bought or their IP addresses changed, and now god knows who could be sending emails on your behalf.