6 Scary (but Useful) Lessons Lurking in your Spam Folder

6 Scary (but Useful) Lessons Lurking in your Spam Folder (Blog image)
6 Scary (but Useful) Lessons Lurking in your Spam Folder (Blog image)

Once in a while, I rummage around my spam folder hoping to find the latest edition of the Nigerian prince email scam. These fraudulent missives never fail to make me double over with laughter, that I’m almost hoping these scammers would put up some sort of subscription service.

Gizmodo once dissected what was quite possibly the weirdest Nigerian email scam ever, involving a request for $3 million to help a trapped Nigerian astronaut safely return to Earth from a secret Soviet-era space station. That was absolutely priceless.

But, as you may know very well, not all junk mail is funny. In fact, from a B2B email marketer’s perspective, some are downright scary.

The Inescapable Clutches of Spam Filters

The Inescapable Clutches of Spam Filters

Most of the time, it’s pretty easy to spot why messages provoke the wrath of the email gods (e.g., use of known trigger words, inadequate authentication, irrelevant content, etc.). While these are definitely cringe-worthy examples of poor email practices, there’s an even more spine-chilling situation playing out in most spam folders today.

A good deal of legitimate emails now gets snagged in spam traps. In fact, the last time I checked, I found some editions of my favorite newsletter and even a Google Alerts email in the junk folder.

This should scare the living daylights out of all of us doing email marketing. In recent years, ISPs and webmail providers have ramped up their efforts at blocking spam. Unfortunately, this has the unwanted side effect of increasing the false positive rates for many spam filters, resulting in more and more legitimate emails being incorrectly classified as junk.

And, of course, you know what happens when more and more of your emails get flagged as spam. It hurts your sender reputation, which in turn harms deliverability, which leads to further damage to your sender reputation, which again results in more serious deliverability issues—and the vicious cycle repeats ad nauseam.

In short, no one is spared from the clutches of overzealous spam filters—not even email marketers who follow the rules. It seems sticking to tried-and-true email deliverability tactics isn’t going to be enough.

Related: Dissecting the World’s First Spam Email: 5 Timeless Lessons We Learned

Avoiding the Dark Abyss of the Spam Folder

Avoiding the Dark Abyss of the Spam Folder

If email best practices don’t guarantee safe passage for your emails, then what does? The answer lies in the depths of the spam folder itself. If we look more closely at the doomed emails in the junk folder, there’s plenty of lessons they can teach us to save our emails from the same horrible fate.

1. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet that slays all your deliverability fears.

We all know that segmentation and personalization tend to improve email marketing results, and we’re demonstrably better off applying these two things into our campaigns. But the problem arises when we treat segmentation and personalization as the answer to every deliverability issue we face.

While it’s true that relevant emails lead to better engagement (in terms of opens and clicks) and eventually results in lower spam complaints and bounce rates, the path from targeted emails to better overall deliverability isn’t as straightforward.

Don’t get me wrong, segmentation and personalization work, but only when used the right way. As Neil Patel points out, the main reason why most personalization tactics fail is that they’re actually making emails less and less personal. He even suggests a few ways to “de-personalize” your campaigns to achieve true personalization:

  • Drop the old “Hi {first name}” kind of personalization
  • Make sure your emails actually give more than they take
  • Be a real person reaching out to another person
  • Get in the habit of asking and listening

Related: What Personalization Means to Your B2B Customers and How to Implement It

2. Dead email contacts will come back to haunt you.

I totally agree with Digital Marketer’s idea that knowing which contacts to avoid is just as important as identifying which ones to reach out to. Inactive and unengaged email subscribers do have a real impact on deliverability, especially if you continue lumping them together with the rest of your subscribers.

When determining your sender reputation, mail providers and ISPs also factor in mailbox usage rates. This is the ratio of active to inactive contacts on your email list. The lower the mailbox usage, the worse off your sender reputation becomes—and consequently, the lower your deliverability rates get.

Return Path says that low mailbox usage is the third most common cause of low inbox placement, accounting for 19% of email deliverability issues.

The only way to maintain a healthy mailbox usage rate is through proper list hygiene. Marketingprofs recommends regularly checking and removing the following types of email addresses that harm deliverability:

  • Invalid email addresses
  • Spam traps
  • Departmental or role-based email addresses
  • Unresponsive subscribers

Related: Symptoms of an Unhealthy Email Marketing List (and How to Clean It)

3. Your reputation is your best weapon.

In the eyes of ISPs and mailbox providers, your sender reputation is one of the most crucial things that determine whether your emails make it to the inbox or get sent straight to the spam folder. That’s why improving email deliverability is almost synonymous with maintaining a high enough sender score. But how do you take care of your sender reputation?

We’ve already seen that most spam filters consider mailbox usage as a key signal in gauging sender reputation. Other factors include the volume of email send-outs, the level of engagements your emails generate, and the quality/relevance of your email content.

There’s a ton of helpful advice on ensuring high inbox placement rates out there, but some aspects of sender reputation need to be thoroughly covered:

  • Work with a reputable email service provider
  • Make sure your IP is never used for spam (by you or someone else)
  • Let your recipients easily and reliably identify you as the sender
  • Segment by IP and subdomain

4. In most cases, your recipients will be your only allies.

I’d argue that one of the main reasons why legitimate emails end up in the spam folder is that the senders themselves have forgotten that email is supposed to be a two-way conversation. This is a bit unfortunate since, in our struggle against spam, it’s the recipients who are our best allies.

Recipients have the power to tip the balance in your favor by actively opening, clicking, and engaging your emails. They can also destroy your campaign by ignoring or (when push comes to shove) hitting the spam complaint button.

That’s why it’s essential for reaching excellent deliverability results that you not only offer relevant emails but provide a compelling email experience as well.

Opt-in Monster points out some extra steps you can take to set the stage for a genuine, two-way conversation between you and your recipients:

  • Identify yourself clearly with a valid ‘from’ name information and address
  • Align the subject line with the body of your email
  • Instruct recipients to whitelist your emails
  • Ask Gmail users to move your emails from Promotions to their Primary Inbox

5. You only fix symptoms, while the real problem remains unseen until it’s too late.

Let’s say your delivery and inbox placement rates start to trend downward. The first place you check is your list where you find a substantial number of unresponsive contacts. You scrub the list, and results begin picking up again. A few months later, the same trend shows up, and you apply the same fix but this time, things don’t improve.

This is a sign that you’re not really addressing whatever underlying deliverability problems that plague your campaign or strategy.

To make sure that you really reach the root of any deliverability issue you encounter (and not just the visible symptoms), you need to adopt a holistic approach to problem-solving similar to what Return Path recommends:

  • Set up an email feedback loop (FBL), which most reputable ESPs provide
  • Make sure all your sending IP addresses are enrolled in your email feedback loop
  • Develop a strategy for managing bounced addresses
  • Use your bounce logs to identify the source of a block
  • Clarify what recipients can expect from you at the outset

6. Clues that unlock deliverability mysteries are usually hidden in plain sight.

Like everything else in marketing, determining what’s working and what’s not in your email deliverability tactics boils down to monitoring the right metrics. While the exact KPIs to keep track of will depend on your campaign, a few of the core email numbers you need to constantly follow include:

  • Delivery Rate
  • Inbox Placement Rate
  • Soft Bounce
  • Hard Bounce
  • Open Rate
  • Spam Complaint Rate

One crucial thing to keep in mind when measuring your campaign’s deliverability performance is to make sure that each metric is taken in context, not analyzed in isolation.

Related: The Only Guide to Email Marketing Analytics You’ll Ever Need

The Takeaway:  Well, there you have it. Six frightening email deliverability lessons lurking in your spam folder. The main point is that it’s easier for our emails to become ensnared in spam traps than we think, but there are steps we can take to keep our emails from falling down that route as much as possible. If this doesn’t scare you into action, I hope this has (at the very least) gotten your attention.

Happy Halloween, marketers!

Callbox consultation
Avoid the spam folder and lurk no longer. Find out how we can increase your click-through rates. Talk to us
Book a meeting 📅 Talk to sales
Callbox offer image
40 B2B Email Templates For Every Situation
These 40 examples have all been hand-picked from a variety of sources that tested these templates in terms of opens, click-throughs, and replies.