Why Are My Emails Going to the Spam Folder? How Subscriber Complaints Affect Inbox Placement.

Posted by Joanna Roberts on

Many people see email marketing as a one-way communication. Email marketers are sending emails to their recipients, who are then reading and/or deleting with no real dialogue back to the sender. However, it’s important to understand that it is a two-way street as subscribers do have various ways to communicate back to the sender via email activity (opens, clicks), spam complaints and trusted subscriber voting. And these communications from the recipients can negatively affect your inbox placement causing your emails to be delivered to the spam folder.

You’ve heard all about subscriber engagement used in spam filtering and how having an engaged list can help your deliverability. But what does that really mean? On one side, we’re talking about your open and click-through rates. The more subscribers engage on this level with your emails, the more favorable you will look to the internet services providers like Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail, as they will see that you’re sending to a clean and engaged list, and that your subscribers actually want to receive your emails. This shows the internet services providers that you have a clear opt-in process and are sending relevant emails, which will lead to less email in the spam folder and more in the inbox.

But the other side of that is spam complaints. Most ISPs will have a “This is Junk/Spam” button that recipients can easily click on, and these votes will also impact your deliverability. If enough people are voting that your emails are junk/spam, then your emails will begin to be routed to the junk or spam folder. Conversely, if enough recipients are moving your emails from their junk or spam folder to their inbox by clicking on the “This is Not Spam/Junk” button, then this will improve your deliverability and inbox placement.

Note: Many ISPs participate in feedback loop programs that work to notify you of “This is Junk/Spam” votes so you can then remove those complainers from your list(s). If you are not yet signed up for all available feedback loops, contact your Return Path account manager today to get started.

Keep in mind that there are also other ways that a recipient can register a complaint. The first is through emailing the postmaster or spam agency, like SpamCop. These methods are typically used by more savvy recipients, and therefore can take on more weight than the “This is Junk/Spam” marking would.

Another complaint mechanism is the Hotmail Mail Spam Fighters Program, or “sender reputation data” as we typically call it, by Microsoft. Through this program, a panel of trusted Hotmail/MSN users are asked to vote on whether they consider your emails to be spam or not. Enough “This message is Junk Mail” votes and your emails will start to be routed to the junk folder at Microsoft receivers. Conversely, enough “Not Junk Mail” votes from your receivers will decrease emails reaching the spam folder and increase emails reaching the inbox at Hotmail/MSN. Note that this metric is also weighed fairly heavily in Return Path’s certification program, so enough “Junk Mail” votes through SRD can affect your certification status, and thus deliverability at other ISPs as well.

So with all this two-way communication coming back from our recipients, how are you to ensure that this communication stays positive and does not result in your emails being classified as spam or junk mail?

To prevent future complaints from new subscribers, first take a look at your opt-in process. When registering on your site, for example, is it clear that they are signing up to receive emails from your company? Do you have proper disclosure and a link to your privacy policy? Are you clear in setting expectations about the type of emails they will receive, the content of those emails, and how frequently they will receive emails? If any of that is unclear or misleading, make the necessary changes now. Being clear with your subscribers upfront will help to reduce any future complaints as they will understand 100% what they will be receiving from you.

Next, take a look at the emails you are currently sending and compare that to what you promised subscribers at the time of sign-up. Are you still sending the content and at the frequency that was promised up front? If not, it’s time to take a step back and realign. When the email comes into your recipient’s inbox, is it clear who the email is from and is the subject line clear and not misleading? Are you still sending relevant emails to your subscribers, and do your open and click-through rates prove that? If your open and click-through rates have declined recently, that typically means you’re not meeting your subscribers’ needs anymore, which can lead to complaints.

Finally, if the recipient so chooses to unsubscribe, have you made that easy to do? Is the unsubscribe link easy to find in your emails, or is it buried at the bottom of a complicated footer? (And please don’t make your unsubscribe text grey on a grey background … that’s just asking for trouble!) Often, subscribers will hit the “This is Junk/Spam” button simply because it’s easier than trying to find the unsubscribe link. Don’t let this happen to you! If the unsubscribe link is not easy to find, consider moving it to the top of your emails to encourage people to opt-out rather than complain. Also, make sure to test your unsubscribe process every so often (at least once/quarter) to ensure it’s still working properly and unsubscribe requests are being processed within ten days (even better, immediately).

Remembering that email marketing is a two-way communication and really listening to what your subscribers are saying will help you to improve your email deliverability and inbox placement. Recently, we helped Dillard’s, one of the largest retailers specializing in apparel, home furnishings and cosmetics, improve their inbox placement and open/click rates by paying attention to this user feedback and taking appropriate action. You can read more from the case study here .

So marketers, stop blasting emails and start really listening to what your subscribers are saying back to you. Their feedback can be invaluable in improving your email marketing program and overall deliverability.


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About Joanna Roberts

Joanna Roberts is the Senior Product Marketing Manager responsible for Email Optimization product positioning and ensuring our solutions meet the needs of our customers and partners. She has over ten years of experience in email marketing and enjoys working with marketers to optimize their email program strategy. First as an Account Manager, then as a Director on our Channel team, and now in her Product Marketing role, Joanna helps marketers and partners use our Email Optimization solutions to ensure the right message is being sent to the right inbox at the right time.

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