Are Your Business Emails Landing in Spam?

According to recent research, 20 percent of all commercial emails end up in the spam folder. Don't let your efforts go to waste. Here's how you can dodge your prospects' spam folder.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Crafting effective emails takes time. You work diligently to create the perfect headline, write rich, meaningful content, and target the right users at the right time and place. In fact, hand-crafted emails take (on average) two days to create, with hours spent on graphic design, copywriting, logic, and analysis.

So what happens when all of that hard work ends up in a black hole?

According to recent research, 20 percent of all commercial emails end up in the spam folder. That’s a problem. Once your email ends in the spam folder, it’s not getting opened. Worse yet, once your email address ends up in the spam folder, your future emails are likely to end up there as well.

You can’t afford to throw away hours’ worth of work and you certainly can’t afford to alienate 20 percent of your entire audience. Don’t let your money and leads go to waste. Here’s how you can dodge your prospects’ spam folder.

Eating Your Spam and Cheese Sandwich

The bulk of this post is going to discuss how to avoid auto-spam flags and customer blacklists. But let’s quickly rip off the Band-Aid – you can’t completely avoid the spam folder. Prospects can add your name to their spam folder at any time, and every email you send after this will end up in the junk pile. That’s ok! If a prospect adds you to the spam folder willingly, they weren’t going to buy your product or service. So, you’re not losing anything.

Unfortunately, you technically have no idea whether they added you to spam or not (more on this next). So, this is where things get tricky. If you don’t know whether you ended up in spam, how can you avoid sinking too much time and energy into emails for that prospect?

Easy. Be smart about your email marketing sequences. Don’t hand-craft every email. With proper lead scoring (which takes intent and previous actions into account) and thorough buyer personas, you can ensure that your pitch-perfect, time-consuming emails are going to people with the lowest possible chance of clicking “This is Spam”.

In other words, winning the war against spam doesn’t only involve bypassing auto-spam filters; you need to have a well-oiled email strategy to prevent wasted resources.

Wham, Bam, No Thank You, Spam!: How to Tell If Your Emails Went to Spam

Gmail has an 83% email placement rate. So, around 1 out of every 6 emails sent ends up in spam purgatory. But how do you know? You obviously don’t get a big red message screaming “spam alert!” when you send out an email caught by filters. So, instead, we have to think of a workaround. Below are two common ways marketers attempt to uncover spam-intensive email campaigns. However, be warned, these methods are not foolproof. There is no perfect way to tell if your emails go to spam or not. Lean heavily into metrics and analytics to uncover discrepancies.

  1. Open rates: Any sub-10% open rate screams spam folder. Many sources consider a 15 – 25% open rate to be “good.” But marketers leveraging sales enablement tools and savvy sequencing strategies often see email rates over 30%. So, if you dip down to 10% (and your campaigns are intelligent and follow best practices), something weird is going on. And that something may be spam triggers.

  2. Curated tools: You can attempt to check against spam via online tools or software. These tools use panel and seed lists — which are opt-in lists email users join when they download free email customization software and tools. In return, these programs get to see placement data for their emails, which they then sell to marketers. Just remember, the majority of your clients likely aren’t on this list, and everyone customizes their spam settings over time on Gmail. These lists are far from perfect and quite often come with a monthly fee.

How would we recommend measuring spam rates? Well… use your marketing muscles. You should be able to tell if a campaign isn’t performing well. If open rates are abysmal, spam may be your issue.

Why Do Emails Land in the Spam Folder?

Let’s cover the most common reasons emails end up in the dreaded spam folder.

1. Trigger Words

Spam filters are super-smart. But they’re also super-dumb. Yes. Google uses some amazing AI and machine learning. But when it comes to certain words, they kick it old school. Certain words (regardless of context) can trigger spam filters. Most of these are obvious. Think of every shady popup ad you’ve ever seen glisten across your screen. Don’t use any of the words those ads used. Here are some example trigger words:

  • You’re a winner!
  • Apply now!
  • Exclusive deal
  • Free prize
  • What are you waiting for?
  • You’re accepted
  • Free money

You get the point. There are other reasons to avoid these phrases (they’re sleazy, cheap, and annoying), but spam filters eat them up faster than a box of Oreo’s at 2 a.m. on Saturday night.

2. Horrible Headlines

Around 70 percent of email recipients report spam based solely on email subject lines. How horrible would it be if your entire email campaign got destroyed by a few poorly chosen words? We recently wrote an entire post about headlines (which you should absolutely check out!), but we’ll cover the basics here:

  • Avoid over-capitalization
  • Be honest
  • Use the right trigger words
  • Be emotional
  • Sound like a human

3. Poor Targeting

Did you send your emails to verified leads? Look, it’s tempting to down a mug of coffee and smash send on an insanely large email automation campaign. After all, email automation tools make it easy to blast messages across the globe. But you shouldn’t do this. For starters, you’ll annoy a bunch of people who could, one day, become customers. Also, you end up crossing into the hot-as-heck waters of GDPR and opt-in, opt-out guidelines. But, most importantly, you end up in the spam folder.

Use smart targeting. Sunset people with low open rates, use lead scoring, and follow targeting best practices.

4. Attachments

Don’t send emails with attachments. Period. Unless Google knows that email is coming from a workplace, there’s a 99.9999% chance your email gets dumped directly into the spam folder. And for a good reason. Sixty-five percent of malware comes from email attachments. Google knows this. And the spam filter knows this.

5. Graphics Galore

Images rock. They boost open rates, generate emotion, and engage prospects. In fact, emails with images have far higher open and engagement rates. But they can land you in spam purgatory if you don’t watch out. Here’s why: phishers know that Google can’t process images. So, they like to get around spam filters by including their spammy text in images. In turn, Google knows about this little workaround, and pushes image-heavy emails straight to the spam folder.

So what do you do? You use images sparingly. Include them, but don’t let them take over the entire email.

6. Grammar

Check your grammar. Obviously, Google can shoot emails to the spam folder based on a single spelling mistake. You should avoid grammar mistakes for a variety of reasons (it makes you look unprofessional), but spam should be a big one. Double-check your grammar, use tools like Grammarly, and avoid spelling mistakes.

Here’s the great news: Google isn’t going to punish you for missing a comma or a split infinitive. Using both of those incorrectly can actually make your content sound and read better. Spelling is the major issue.

7. Domain Reputation

So far, we’ve discussed the dumber side of email spam algorithms. Time to talk about the smart side. Domain reputation is a measure of every email blacklist, open, non-open, and engagement. As you send out emails, Google, Microsoft, and others start to measure how emails coming from your domain are performing with users. Over time, you develop a domain reputation. The higher you score, the less likely your emails are to end up in spam.

You can attempt to check domain reputation using tools like McAfee and Barracuda — though neither is perfect. In general, follow the practices above, and your domain reputation will be fine. If you haven’t been, it’s worth addressing to maintain and improve your reputation.

How to Avoid Spam, Win Customers, and Generate Value

Alright, now you know what to avoid. So, how do you put it into action?

This part is simple. Craft compelling emails, use smart targeting, leverage sequences, go all-in on sales enablement, align sales and marketing, and create honest headlines with smart trigger words. That’s it! Like anything else in marketing, there’s no quick trick and we’re not going to pretend like there is. 

How do you know if it’s working? You check your open rates. If they’re above 25%, you’re probably not going into the spam folder. Again, you can’t completely eliminate spam from the equation. People can push emails to spam themselves. But if you practice smart marketing, you can minimize their desire to spam your content and avoid the automated spam filter.

Are You Ready to Craft Winning Email Campaigns?

There’s no secret sauce to email marketing. You have to put in the hard work and use the right strategies. Need some help? At Sapper, we help B2B companies manage robust, thoughtful, and effective lead-gen strategies. Contact us to learn more.

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