How to keep your marketing email out of the junk box

How to keep your marketing email out of the junk box

Think about the old story of the traveling door-to-door salesman -- knocking on every door possible in the hope someone will invite them in to deliver their pitch and ultimately make a sale.

Like the door-to-door salesman, your marketing emails work in a similar fashion. You send out your email to a territory of “doors” (email addresses) and you want to make sure your email gets through each door so it can deliver its pitch and make the sale.

Ultimately, your email campaign must overcome three main hurdles to reach your target audience:

  1. The technical hurdle
  2. The content hurdle
  3. The personal engagement hurdle

Today, people use a number of tools, or filters, to keep unwanted solicitors from knocking on their door. Some people post “no solicitation” signs, while others might choose to install a camera. Some even go as far as installing a gate around their property, and this example of using a gate as a sort of first line of defense could be considered your first technical filter.

The Technical Filter

While homeowners in the real world may not have a physical gate surrounding their house, email in a digital world will. This digital gate, the technical filter, is your recipient’s email server.

This technical gate uses a variety of checks to identify email messages and their origin, akin to asking to see your driver’s license – “are you who you say you are?” To get past this gate, you need to do two things to identify yourself:

  1. Send emails only from a properly configured mail server (discuss this with your company’s email administrator or use a reputable and trusted mass email delivery service)
  2. Make sure that the server, or service, through which you’re sending your email isn’t on a blacklist. You can check through a website such as this one:

If your email is clear about who it is and where it’s coming from, and you’ve had no “trespassing” issues in the past, you’ll likely be allowed past this technical gate and you’ll be standing at your customer’s front door.

The Content Filter

The salesman knocks, but a camera allows the homeowner to see who’s at the door. Similarly, your recipient’s mail program will have its own version of a camera, the junk filter. This will analyze against certain criteria, classifying some emails as “unwanted” solicitors, and keep them from reaching the inbox.

The criterion used is usually just long a list of rules (more guidelines than rules), and some of these carry a higher penalty than others if violated. So, while creating an email that complies to all criteria isn’t necessary, the more compliant your message is, the more likely it will make to your recipient’s mailbox.

Additionally, these guidelines can vary from one email application to another, and they’re not always the same. Therefore, I’m just going to cover a couple of the basic guidelines to help keep your marketing emails on the up-and-up with most of the email programs out there today.

  1. The first, and most universally important of these guidelines is don’t break the law! In the United States, President George W. Bush signed into law the CAN-SPAM Act in 2003. It establishes several requirements that apply to the sending of any commercial emails. These requirements include providing a working unsubscribe link, never using misleading or false headers, and including your physical mailing address. If you’re sending emails outside of the United States, then the destination’s laws apply to your email campaign as well. You’ll want to read and understand these policies so that you don’t get yourself into trouble.
  1. Consider offering a text-only version of your email to your subscribers, meaning no pictures and no HTML. Many email programs will strip out graphics and even HTML, rendering your email ugly and often distracting from your message. This is a common and easily prevented reason for landing in someone’s spam folder. Not only is this good practice, but it also covers the case where the recipient cannot view HTML emails.
  1. If you do plan to use graphics, be careful not to go overboard. Graphics can be eye catching and flashier than just text, but as the saying goes, “everything in moderation”. Keep your graphics small, both in physical size and in file size, and try to maintain a good balance of text. Emails composed entirely of images could send your email straight to the junk heap!
  1. Monitor your email’s deliverability. A bounced email here and there is normal, but don’t ignore them. Fix or remove those addresses! A high number of bounced emails can have an overall negative impact on your email campaign and even get you blacklisted.
  1. Avoid risky words like free, bonus, buy, purchase, and order. While this can have a lower impact than the points mentioned above, words associated with the language of sales can negatively impact your email’s ability to make it to your recipient. Further adding insult to injury, the overuse of tricks like ALL CAPS or excessive use of exclamation marks!!!, particularly within your email’s subject line, could ultimately end up spelling doom for your email.

The Personal Engagement Filter

So, you’ve managed to keep your marketing email from ending up in junk. But, what if someone sees it and simply deletes it after reading the subject line? Or, what if they open your email and immediately disregard it because it’s too difficult to read or isn’t something of interest to them?

While having a good and strategic email campaign isn’t necessarily the focus of this article, your salesman still needs to get past people’s personal engagement filter to be effective. Many of the points above might be judged simply by a computer algorithm, but they can also apply to your recipient as well. Points like risky sales words and dirty tricks, while possibly having less of an impact against a junk filter, might carry a much more negative impact with your recipient.

Of course, the easiest way to ensure a higher success rate on your email campaign is to email only the people that have given you their direct permission to do so. This typically means that they are genuinely interested in your products and therefore more apt to listen to your message. Spending money to purchase or rent an email list could have undesirable results. Even further, instead of sending the same email to your entire email list, segment your list and target your email to only those who you know will be interested.

Of course, the content of your message as well as the formatting are very important. Be consistent with your message and the brand that your audience already associates with you. Keep your message clear and precise, and promote engagement from your subscribers. Working with an experienced marketing firm can help you refine your message in such a way that you get the most bang for your buck!

Don’t forget the mobile community! We live in an age where everything is available in the palm of our hands and many emails today are read from a mobile device. Make certain that your emails can be viewed on these devices.

Test, test, test! Check out how your email looks in different email clients, devices, and even in web browsers. Test all your links and make sure that your images are displaying properly. Read for spelling and grammar mistakes, and don’t rely just on spellcheck. Mistakes can’t be undone with a sent email and they can make your business look bad.

Finally, track your metrics. Monitor and collect data from your campaigns which will help you get an idea of how well your campaigns are performing. As you create new email campaigns, analyze and compare these metrics. Doing this will allow you to strategize better on the future content you deliver to your customers, keeping them interested and engaged.

CRC Marketing Solutions is a Minneapolis, Minnesota, digital agency that creates and executes ideas for building business.