In my Small Business, Smart Marketing Workshops, I tell the audience the strategic point of consumer-facing digital marketing should be to get your prospective customer’s email address. Once you’re invited to their inbox, your chances of converting that customer multiply exponentially.
But how can your small business emails avoid spam filters? That question came to me last week from alert reader Emmerey Rose in the discussion on our post about how often you should send your small business email newsletter.
It’s true that sending email marketing in and of itself is often labeled spam both by the recipient and by filters. By definition, when you send one email to multiple recipients without regard to each one’s specific relevance to the message, you’re “blasting” a message. Philosophically, that’s sending emails in a less than one-to-one, personal fashion and therefore can qualify as unwanted.
And when you send messages to a list of people, there are certain triggers email servers look for to know whether or not to mark a message as spam. So what triggers and how can you avoid pulling them and thus avoid spam filters?
Tips to Avoid Spam Filters with your Small Business Emails
Only send emails to people who want them
This is the opt-in rule. Make sure your emails are only sent to people who have opted in to your list, checked a box on a form to agree to receive emails from you or have otherwise explicitly signed up to hear from you. Even adding your personal contacts to your email list is suspect because those individuals haven’t said, in some way, “Yes, I want you to email me your business stuff.”
That doesn’t mean it’s illegal to cold-email someone. In fact, it’s not illegal to buy lists of thousands of people and send them messages. (But there are some legal stipulations you must follow if you do … more in a moment.) But if the person wants your email and opted in to receive it, they’re more likely to not mark it as spam themselves, perhaps open emails from the send address in question and thus send electronic signals to their email servers that this sender is safe and help you avoid spam filters.
Ask your recipients to mark you as safe
Unfortunately, the only sure-fire way to ensure your message gets there is to ask your subscribers to take a manual step themselves to white-list your send address. All they have to do in most email software is select the options around a message (upper right drop-down arrow in Gmail) and either mark the sender as safe or “filter messages like these” and choose to never send them to spam. But, it’s asking them to do extra work to ensure your mail gets through. If you’re content is good enough, they’ll be glad to do it. Some won’t, however, and they may have trouble with your emails if they don’t meet the other requirements on this list.
Meet CAN-SPAM Act Requirements
The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 is an American law administered by the Federal Trade Commission that governs commercial email. If you send mail for a business purpose, especially to a list of people, your email must adhere to these standards:
- Never use misleading subject lines, titles or even reply-to addresses. You can’t misrepresent what you’re sending. Think of it as truth in advertising.
- Always include an unsubscribe link. Some companies leave unsubscribe instructions like, “Just reply with ‘Unsubscribe’ in the subject and we’ll remove you.” Frankly, that’s uncool. Don’t make someone do work to get off a list they may not have subscribed to. Make sure they can unsubscribe at any time. All email marketing platforms should force you to include this feature in your emails. And the unsubscribe link has to work for at least 30 days after the send. So you can’t kill it after a day to avoid people unsubscribing.
- You must include a physical mailing address in the communication somewhere. Again, they need to know who is accountable for the communication. It’s another truth in advertising type measure.
Those are the big ones. These are also the requirements that must be in the email to legally be permitted to send cold emails to those who haven’t opted in. Again, I don’t recommend doing that at all, but the law doesn’t prevent you from doing so. My preference is to always send only to people who have opted in.
Use Templates or Clean Code
If you write your emails in Microsoft Word then drop that text in the email marketing platform of your choice, you may set off spam filters. Why? Microsoft Word documents aren’t intended for the web. While you can turn that word processing document into code without anything more than the copy-paste function, the underlying code is sloppy and verbose.
Basically spam filters see sloppy code as the sign of spammers and people up to no good. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s automatic code generated from copy-pasting is often too sloppy for some filters.
Always use either the templates and text editors in your email marketing platform or a designer who knows the difference to produce your emails.
Scrub Your List Regularly
The more bad emails you have in your list – those for people who have changed accounts, entered the wrong email address or simply entered fake addresses to get through your sign up form without commitment – the more risk you face at not avoiding spam filters.
In fact, I check my list weekly for people (or bots) with suspicious emails. It seems I always get one or two each week with addresses like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Getting rid of suspicious emails means you aren’t pinging those email servers with non-existent emails. Doing so too often can tell that server you are just trying to get into any inbox. That’s not good if you want to avoid spam filters.
Engage Your Subscribers
Much like the first tip of making sure you only email those who ask to be emailed, engaging your subscribers ensures they interact with your emails. Provide interesting content in your emails, ask questions, give them great links and resources to click on. The more they use the emails, the better each email server you send to will know you’re a trusted sender.
Also, remind your subscribers both in the emails and occasionally on social channels to mark your emails as safe, open and respond regularly and help you send signals that tell those filters how reliable you are.
What other methods do you know?
While I did happen to co-author a book on email marketing, those are just the tips I have off the top of my head. I’m sure many of you have learned a trick or two to avoid spam filters over the years. So share them in the comments for us all!
And if you have a question about email marketing or any other type of digital marketing question for small business, please do drop me a line.