How to Design Emails That Land in the Inbox (and Avoid Spam Filters)

As brands re-strategize their email marketing for 2019, we’re seeing more emphasis being placed on truly understanding email deliverability. A question we’re asked a lot is How do I maintain my sender reputation and avoid landing in spam? The quick answer to that question - always optimize your emails for engagement. The biggest takeaway is that every piece of your email marketing strategy, from your design and content, to your segmentation, go hand-in-hand to ensure your emails land in the inbox.

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, where your goal is to send out an email campaign ASAP to let customers know about your latest products or event tickets. We get it. But it’s important to remember that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo are looking to see if your subscribers want to hear from you. That is the core of your sender reputation - so you should always send emails you know your customers will engage with.

We’ve broken it out into short-term and long-term email tips to send better email and avoid spam filters. Let’s get started!

Short-term Tips to Avoid Spam Filters

If you’re in a rush to design an email and send it out asap, we got you covered. Here are things you can check off before sending that email to avoid spam:

Make Sure Image Sizes Aren’t Too Large

ISPs may flag emails containing multiple large images as risky. A good rule of thumb is to compress images with a tool like TinyPNG.

Having a ton of links in your email affects your spam rating. Make sure you’re focusing your customer’s attention to impactful CTAs, and avoid linking out to too many things (chances are, they’re likely not going to click on more than 3 things). Last tip: avoid using un-reputable link shorteners (your emails will almost always be sent to spam if ISPs catch these).

Related: Why Are My Emails Going to Spam? A CTO’s Perspective.

Avoid Spammy Words In Your Content

An obvious one, but worth mentioning, especially if you run an ecommerce business. It’s ok to use words to promote your seasonal sale or to mention that your email contains a discount code, but be smart about how you’re presenting this content. A good rule of thumb is to avoid words like free, help, fast cash, cheap, winner, and $$$.

Long-term Strategies to Build Your Sender Reputation and Email Deliverability Health

The key to sustaining a healthy sender reputation is to send emails your customers engage with. And we don’t just mean ones they open once in a while. You want quality engagement on a continuous basis to signal to ISPs that your subscribers want to hear from you. Here are ways you can update your email strategy to achieve this:

Design for Engagement: Clicks & Replies

This involves anything from clear and actionable CTAs in your emails to using more interactive visual content like GIFs to capture your customer’s attention. The goal of your emails should always be to encourage an action from your customers, whether that’s to click a button to shop, or to click a button to reveal a discount code. ISPs really like when subscribers respond to your email - try running a contest where an email reply counts as an entry!

Segment Your Customers & Keep Content Targeted

As your list grows, chances are that some subscribers will want to hear about different things than others. Segmenting your list lets you send more relevant and targeted content to all of them. This can be as simple as segmenting your male and female subscribers to send the latest men’s and women’s arrivals if you run an ecommerce store. Or let’s say you run events for a music venue - segmenting by music genre lets you send emails about the latest R&B show to fans who’ve attended concerts in that genre.

Setting up a preference center can make segmenting easier for you - subscribers can explicitly choose what they’re interested in hearing from you. Imagine how much more likely they’ll engage with emails they’ve chosen to receive!

Related: 5 Ways to Segment Your Emails for Better Engagement

Keep your List Healthy

One of the biggest email mistakes we see brands making is sending to their whole list, regardless of whether subscribers have engaged or been inactive for months. Remember, the goal here is to optimize your emails for engagement. If a subscriber hasn’t opened an email in 3 months, do you really think they will this time around? Continuing to send to these inactive subscribers only hurts your sender reputation.

The smart thing to do is to churn your list. Know who your most engaged and active subscribers are - these are your keepers. You’ll want to continue to send them good emails that they’ll engage with. You’ll also want to keep an eye on subscribers who are starting to engage less, and those who are ‘dropping off’. We recommend sending specialized winback emails that are designed with the sole purpose of re-engaging these subscribers. Lastly, churn out subscribers who haven’t been inactive for a while. This is the key to a healthy email list.

Wrap Up

With these tips, you’re on your way to a healthier sending reputation! No more emails landing in spam. If there’s one key takeaway, it’s that the worst thing you can do is continue sending bad emails to your customers. If you’ve been seeing a lull in your email performance, it may be time to revisit your email strategy and start optimizing your emails for engagement. Start sending emails you feel good about, and you’ll see better email deliverability in no time.