I have been sending emails for all my life it seems, and I have learned that the secret to inboxing isn’t as much of a mystery as people might think it is.
Many clients tell me that their campaigns aren't inboxing so they're looking for a new SMTP solution, and my reply is always the same: Before you spend more money trying out different SMTP providers, let’s figure out your core issue.
If your emails were inboxing consistently but today they're all of a sudden going to spam, chances are that just changing your SMTP provider won’t help you. In fact, I’m willing to bet money that they’ll eventually end up in spam no matter what SMTP provider you try.
Fortunately, there are 3 simple things that are most likely the root of your problem, 2 of which are not SMTP related at all. In this article, I’ll explain how to test each of the 3 possible reasons so you can remedy the real problem, not just put a temporary band aid over it.
Follow along and we’ll get to the bottom of this “mystery”.
This should be the first thing you test, and it’s also the easiest. Mailing ISP’s (Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, etc.) have very complex spam filters, but with a little bit of testing you can make sure your content does not trigger them.
Whenever I have an email that’s going to spam, the first thing I do is send a “simple” version of the email to my own Gmail, Yahoo! and Hotmail accounts, just to check if content is actually the issue.
What do I mean by testing with a “simple” email?
If my newsletter contains images, links and lots of other content, I’ll create a bare email template that only contains a few words. Something like “Hey, this is just a test”. No links or images.
Try sending a simple email like that to a few of your own email accounts. If this email ends up inboxing when your previous version was hitting spam, then you know that the issue lies within your content.
On the other hand, if your test email also hits spam, then content is probably not your issue and you can skip ahead to the next section - Your Mailing Domain.
Testing your simple email
A content issue is nothing to worry about, because content is the easiest thing to change about an email.
Remember to test your email on as many ISP’s as you can because if your email ends up in one ISP’s spam folder but inboxes fine with others, you’ll know which particular spam filter you are triggering. Then you can segment your list and send modified emails to the leads with addresses from those more sensitive ISP’s.
So, continue testing your simple email. Add in your original copy - JUST copy - no links or images yet. And as a precaution, remove any spammy keywords such as “free”, “value”, “limited”, “deal”, etc. from your body and subject line. Don’t use all caps (like “HELLO”) on any words either - this is also a big spam trigger.
Now send yourself the email again. If it goes to spam in any of your accounts, keep editing and sending yourself tests until you’re sure you've eliminated any bad copy from both your subject line and body.
Once your copy is spam-free, start adding another variable back into your newsletter one at a time (an image, a link, etc.) and testing each version so you can pinpoint if any of those pieces are setting off a spam trigger.
If your links trigger the filters, try different link shortening services. For example, if you find that your bit.ly links are the culprit, try using a different service such as goo.gl, or use your own custom domain for your links.
Surprisingly, many people find that their emails go to spam because of their unsubscribe link in the footer. An unsubscribe link is required in all emails (transactional emails are an exception according to CAN-SPAM), so you can’t just remove it. If this is the case, your only option is to work with what you’ve got.
You can try to shorten your unsubscribe link with a service like I mentioned above, or change your “Unsubscribe” link text to something else such as “Stop receiving emails from us”.
The key to fixing content issues is testing one variable at a time. It’s a process of elimination. If you remove images from your templates and then your email starts to inbox, it’s obvious that the images were the culprit. If you remove a word like “winner” and then your email inboxes, you’ll know to avoid that word.
It has surprised me many times how changing just one word in a 1-200 word email template can mean the difference between going to spam and finally inboxing.
Your Mailing Domain
If you've tried sending multple versions of your template and no matter what variable you try to alter, your email will just not inbox, the issue could lie within the domain you are trying to send from, or your sender address.
If you have a domain which you used without following proper techniques and etiquette in the past, it could seriously hurt your current and future inbox rates. Certain words in your domain or sender address can also affect your deliverability.
Let’s say your sender address is something like “firstname.lastname@example.org” and in the past month all you did was buy email lists and blast out promotional newsletters offering various deals. First of all, DO NOT use spammy words like "free" in your sender addres or domain.
Furthermore, the email lists you bought were probably full of outdated and non-existing email addresses which could have caused you to have high bounce rates. Also, since these leads were not specifically opted-in to your list, several people probably marked your emails as spam.
An ISP such as Gmail will catch on if emails coming from “@promoworld.com” typically have high bounce and spam complaint rates and come to the conclusion that this is a spammy domain. So, all future emails coming from “@promoworld.com” are more likely to end up being marked as spam by Gmail.
What to do if you think you have a bad reputation with ISP's
First, test and make sure this is the issue. Try to send the exact same email template but with a different sender domain and see if your email still goes to spam or not.
If the same email template with a new mailing domain goes to the inbox then you have found the issue and it’s time to get a new mailing domain. And don’t mess the new one up! Be sure to practice safe mailing techniques.
Remember, if you scrape or buy large email lists, you are bound to get large bounce rates and even some spam complaints which can quickly destroy your mailing domain’s reputation.
90% of the time I can fix inboxing issues by changing email content or setting up a new mailing domain. However, if you have tried testing all sorts of different content and mailing domains and your emails still go to spam, then it’s finally time to look at your SMTP.
Your SMTP and Mailing IP
Your SMTP provider will give you your mailing credentials, including your mailing IP address. In your TEARcloud account you can find your mailing IP in the SMTP > Settings tab.
Your SMTP’s mailing IP is basically an address that lets ISP’s know which server your emails are coming from. It is rare to have your mailing IP blacklisted, but it does happen. Luckily there are ways to fix this.
But first, let’s talk about how you can prevent your IP from being “blacklisted” in the first place. I always recommend starting with a fresh, dedicated IP.
Using a shared vs. a dedicated IP
If you opt for buying a “shared” IP from your SMTP provider it means that you’re going to share that IP with multiple people who use it to send their own emails.
This is an okay and commonly used method, but be aware that problems can arise if just one person using that IP decides to conduct a harmful type of mailing, which could in theory affect everyone else's inbox rates and possibly place that IP on a blacklist.
As a personal pet peeve of mine I only use a dedicated mailing IP. This way I know I’m the only one using that IP and it eliminates any chance of my rep being hurt by something out of my control. Just make sure that you warm up any new IP's first.
If you are using TEARcloud SMTP or any other provider, I highly urge you to upgrade to a dedicated IP. At TEARcloud you are guaranteed to receive a fresh, clean, dedicated IP so there’s no chance of it being blacklisted by anything beyond your control, and you can email with peace of mind.
Removing an email address from a blacklist
Do you think it’s too late? Do you have a sickly feeling deep down inside that your IP has already been ruined? Don’t worry, there is a way you can check your IP’s reputation and fix it.
You can visit the sites below and enter your mailing IP and see if it shows up on any blacklists. If it does, there is usually an option to “request IP to be removed” which automatically removes your IP from the blacklists.
Check your IP here:
In many cases when I've removed my client's mailing IP from a blacklist, they were able to inbox again within just a few hours so it’s not the end of the world if that happens. But, I would suggest asking yourself, “Why did my IP get blacklisted and what can I do to prevent it from happening again in the future?”.
For 11 simple tips on how to keep your sending reputation clean and your emails out of the spam folder, check out this blog post.