Email marketing is a hugely powerful and cost effective means of delivering your message. It can help engage with your existing client base, drive traffic to your website, generate new leads and nurture them through the purchase process.
However, before a communication can do any of the above, it needs to be opened by the recipient. And before your email can be opened, it actually has to arrive in the recipients’ inbox. Email deliverability should be an email marketers top priority.
In this age of information overload and mobile devices,people are bombarded with emails wherever they are, many of these messages are out-and-out spam. As a result, anti spam software has evolved to filter out these unwanted messages more effectively. Spam filters work by identifying common ‘rogue qualities’ that appear in unsolicited emails and consigning these messages to the junk folder, along with all the other email ‘scrap’.
Unfortunately for legitimate email marketers, these rogue qualities are all too easy to incorporate in genuine email marketing, often with the best intentions. Below we examine 5 tips to help ensure your message navigates around over enthusiastic firewalls avoids the spam filter, and receives the attention it deserves.
1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness
Not enough emphasis can be put on keeping your email list clean and up-to-date. You absolutely must honour any unsubscribes (it’s the law!). But it’s also important to clean your list of any hard bounces immediately, and repeat soft bounces should be removed after no more than 2 attempts. This is important because a domain’s sending reputation (more on this below) can be harmed by repeat bounces. A small, relevant audience is far more use to you than a large, disengaged contact list. Size certainly isn’t everything when it comes down to email lists, clean well maintained contacts are.
2. Use a dedicated sending URL
Your domain’s sender reputation is considered by email networks and ISPs, and used to determine whether your email lands in inboxes, junk folders or is rejected all together. When you’re sharing a sending domain with thousands of other email marketers – as is the case with many of the popular email platforms – your reputation is reliant on everybody else’s email sending habits. And you can guarantee some of these habits won’t be best practice, to say the least. If you want to check a domain’s sender reputation, there’s a nice free tool from Return Path that gives a great snapshot of a domain’s reputation.
3. Watch your language, and punctuation!!!
There’s a whole list of the obvious words that are likely to trigger spam filters, especially when used in subject lines, like ‘free’, ‘offer’ and ‘guarantee’. Surprisingly, one of the most recent spam trigger words is actually ‘unsubscribe’, and who doesn’t have that somewhere in their marketing emails? Obviously, you have to include an unsubscribe link to be legally compliant but we recommend using the text ‘please click here if you no longer want to receive emails from us’ or something similar. Perhaps just as surprisingly, the word ‘Dear’ at the beginning of an email can also get you parked in the junk yard! We’ve all used that to start an email with before, right? Alternatives to consider should be ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning/afternoon’ etc…
However, it’s not just words that can get your email scrapped. Punctuation is just as important. Avoid over using exclamation marks and keep them out of the subject line wherever possible. A client recently had problems with one of their campaigns landing in Gmail spam folders. After scanning the email for likely culprits, we pinpointed an apostrophe in the subject line which was causing spam filter to treat the email as junk. Sometimes there’s little or no obvious reasoning behind consigning emails to junk so it’s important to be aware of the likely trigger words and look out for any punctuation that could be deemed ‘out of the ordinary’.
4. Keep an eye on your image to text ratio
In order to avoid the junk folder, unscrupulous email marketers often include their spammy keywords within images, where they can’t be detected. To combat this, filters began to block image heavy emails. As a result, legitimate emails with little in the way of text and large images are often viewed suspiciously. Spam Assassin, a popular spam filter used by large corporates, gives the following guidelines on text to image ratio:
- Maximum 40% image coverage
- Minimum 60% text coverage
- At least 400 characters of text
You can increase the amount of text within an email by including plenty of information in the footer. Filters count the number of characters within text and allocate 12 pixels to each character, regardless of the font size. This means you can use lots of small copy in the footer which, in reality, doesn’t take up much space. Another useful method of increasing the amount of text is to make sure there’s a decent amount of alternative text for any images included in the email.
5. Include a plain text version
Including a plain text version of your email means you can be confident that your message can be viewed across devices, browsers and email clients. Not only this, but an HTML email without a plain text version is a red flag to spam filters. This is the sign of an email spammer, who hasn’t spent the time to ensure that every recipient can read their dubious offer. Attention to detail doesn’t feature strongly in the scattergun approach used by your typical spammer.
Ironically, most of the good email service providers make it extremely quick and easy to include a plain text version of your HTML email. Often it can be produced with a click of the mouse and a quick sense check. If your email service provider doesn’t do this, find one that will.
The last word
Email deliverability is both an art and a science but one thing’s for sure – it’s a constantly evolving beast, designed to combat poorly targeted communications. And this benefits everyone with an email address. If your emails are targeted effectively, by maintaining your list, and you’re keeping up-to-date with legislation and best practice, your communications will work for you and avoid the marketing scrap heap.