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Why Subscribers Mark You as Spam, and How You Can Prevent It

Liviu Tanase
Liviu Tanase

When subscribers mark you as spam, fewer of your emails reach people's inboxes. Here is how to avoid the spam folder so your campaigns can be seen.

How many spam complaints did you get on your most recent email campaign? If this question feels intimidating, fret not: Everyone who sends emails will get a few spam complaints – and the larger your list, the higher the risk. It's part of the game. However, that doesn't mean you can ignore users who express discontent with your messages. The average spam complaint rate is 0.1%, and it's vital to keep it under that threshold.

How do you do that? To find the best approach to spam complaints, it’s important to understand why you get them. So, first, let's see what are some of the reasons subscribers may mark you as spam.

It's the most common reason people hit the spam button: They never consented to receive your emails. They may see you in their mailbox, but they have no idea who you are. Perhaps you've inherited or purchased your email database and these recipients aren't familiar with your brand.

You may have added contacts to your list in a lawful manner. However, if those people don't remember signing up, they'll think you never asked for consent, and they won't hesitate to complain about it.

They forgot they ever subscribed

This happens, too: Someone gets on your email list just to download a content offer or to receive a discount. A little while later, when you email them again, they label you as spam because they forgot they opted in.

Your content looks spammy

Many people can easily distinguish a spam email from a legitimate one. Nonetheless, there are legitimate emails that may come across as spam due to certain aspects. For instance, poorly written copy placed in a broken template doesn't help anyone gain trust.

How to avoid the spam folder

It's every email sender’s goal to reach people's inboxes and see palpable results after each campaign. Although it may seem easy to accomplish that, there are several factors to consider for the highest email deliverability.

Let's take a look at some of the most important best practices to keep spam complaints at bay and land your emails in the inbox.

Avoid purchasing an email list

Especially for businesses that are just starting out, buying an email list may seem like the ideal shortcut. It’s not – in fact, it's one of the riskiest tactics you could adopt and it can backfire big time.

"Don't send mail to users who didn't sign up to receive messages from you," Google advises. "These recipients might mark unwanted messages as spam. Future messages from your server to these users are marked as spam," Google's representatives add. Spam complaints will tarnish your sender reputation and affect your inbox placement. Grow your own list and practice permission marketing. As marketing strategist Seth Godin said, "it’s a privilege (not a right)" to be able to send messages to people who want to receive them.

Weed out known complainers

Some email service providers will automatically remove contacts that have complained about your emails. But by the time they do that, the damage is done. To prevent it, consider running your email database through an email verification system. Such services can spot known complainers and remove them from your list so you can avoid any risks.

Of course, this means you'll diminish your email list. On the other hand, your campaigns will be more efficient when you communicate with people who want to hear from you.

Use an email verification API

Apart from regularly cleaning your list in bulk, you can also install an email verification API on all your signup and registration forms. The API is a piece of software that checks every new subscriber's email address, in real time, and ensures it's valid and safe to add to your list. If the system encounters an email address that has a history of complaining, it prevents it from subscribing.

Getting access to an API is easy – your email validation company should provide you the code you need to install on your forms. What's more, the API will prevent other bad addresses from subscribing, thus maintaining your email hygiene longer and helping you avoid the spam folder.

Just the other day I received an irrelevant email and wanted to unsubscribe. Despite it being from a legitimate company, there was no Unsubscribe link anywhere. That's poor email marketing, and you don't want to be part of that group.

Every person who has subscribed to your emails must have the choice to opt out anytime they wish. If they don’t, they may label you as spam to prevent you from contacting them again. Every spam complaint is a stain on your reputation as a sender.

Make sure subscribers recognize you

What do people see in the "From" section of every email you send? Is it the name of your brand? That's the case for many companies. At some point, though, you may want to run several email marketing programs and send a specific series of emails to each group. Depending on where your subscribers are in the sales funnel, you can personalize your content and make it highly relevant to each list.

Furthermore, you might want to humanize your brand by having your sales representatives write emails on behalf of the company. This will make your messages more efficient, but make sure subscribers can easily recognize who the email is from. For instance, consider editing the "From" section and changing it from "John Smith" to "John Smith from Company."

Email regularly

This is one of the most beneficial habits an email marketer could have. First, it helps you develop a relationship with your subscribers. The more familiar you become as a brand, the more likely they are to choose you instead of your competitors. Also, if you don’t show up in people's inboxes consistently, they may forget about you – and complain by hitting the "Mark as spam" button.

So, to stay top of mind and avoid the spam folder, stick to your sending schedule. A regular sending behavior also keeps your IP warm and supports your deliverability.

Test your inbox placement

Although you may be following best practices, some of your emails may still go to the spam folder. Once you send them, there's nothing you can do about it – actually, you won't even know how many emails went to inbox and how many landed in spam. What you can do is test every email before you send it to see exactly where it goes – and make adjustments.

An inbox placement tester returns valuable insight on how email service providers handle your email. Such tools allow you to send a test email and see your deliverability with popular email providers (such as Gmail or Yahoo) in a matter of minutes. If you see your email landing in spam, you get a chance to adjust it ahead of time, so you can reach more inboxes. Once you're in the inbox, there are no limits to what you can accomplish through email marketing.

Image Credit: Rawpixel / Getty Images
Liviu Tanase
Liviu Tanase Member
Liviu Tanase has founded five companies and has participated in three exits creating quadruple digit-returns. As a holder of master’s degrees in Entrepreneurship and Business Administration, he prides himself in developing results-oriented cultures with strong emphasis on boosting productivity, cutting costs, and fostering efficiency. He is the founder and CEO of email validation company ZeroBounce.