Top 10 Reasons Why Your Emails Go to Spam

Picture this: You’ve spent months, maybe years, curating your customer base. You’ve spent hours on end before sending each email newsletter for the past several campaigns, but your average open rate is tanking like a stock market crash. This is hugely concerning because the average open rate in 2020 was only 17.8% and even lower for certain industries. If you’re starting to wonder, “Are my newsletters being sent to the Spam folders of my subscribers?”, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

If you think about it, globally there are millions of companies sending newsletters via email. How many of them are actually making it to their intended inbox? I can tell you, actually:

That’s right, globally the average inbox placement rate in 2020 was 83%. That means one out of every six messages failed to reach the inbox.

How many people are actually going to take the time day after day to sift through their spam folder to see if maybe, just maybe your email was inadvertently diverted there?

I couldn’t find a statistic for that, but my guess would be very few.

For that reason, you must do everything you can to ensure your messages delivered to the inbox of the intended recipient. Fortunately for you, we’ve compiled 10 reasons why your emails go to spam and what you can do about it!

Why Do Your Emails Go to Spam?

Let’s dive in, shall we?

#1: Your Recipients Marked Your Emails As Spam

This is the most obvious reason. We’ve probably all done this. We see a newsletter in our inbox one evening along with how many other emails and to sort them all at once, you just check the most obvious spam-like ones and hit that spam button to get to the nitty-gritty of your busy inbox. You could have Pulitzer-winning content, but you can’t account for the moods of your subscribers.

It’s also possible they forgot they signed up for the newsletter in the first place. I know personally, there are a few companies who have a few sales throughout the year and only announce them via newsletter and their messages end up in my spam folder because only 4 times per year am I reading them. It’s unfortunate for your conversion rates, but there are lots of people who do this.

Regrettably, if enough of your messages are flagged as Spam by your subscribers, it will cause the default spam filters at major email providers like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and others, to send your messages to spam automatically. There’s not much you can do to stop this, unfortunately.

#2 You Don’t Have Their Permission

Online privacy laws like Europe’s GDPR, Canada’s CASL, and Brazil’s LGPD require you have expressed written permission or consent from the person receiving the message. The US CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t require it, but still, you shouldn’t send newsletters or advertisements to addresses who haven’t signed up and you shouldn’t buy lists of email addresses and send bulk blast campaigns. It’s in bad taste and in some cases, flat-out illegal.

It really reminds me of the day when we had to worry about and deal with the fallout of junk faxes. How many junk faxes did you get before the FCC made it illegal?

#3 Your Email Servers Have Poor Reputation

Similar to the way you have a credit score that is based on the way you carry your personal finances, how often you pay things on time, and such, an email server has a “reputation score” for it’s IP address. Major email providers such a Google & Outlook use AI in their email filtering, and part of the intelligence fed into these machine learning algorithms is the ongoing reputation of a particular email server’s IP address. Companies assign an IP risk score to these servers which can be used to analyze user and content quality. These scores are elevated whenever malicious traffic or high spam is detected. This information is continuously monitored by major email providers and integrated into the intelligence feeds at Gmail and Outlook, plus companies like Cylance and Sophos, and even ISPs who use AI-like services, such as Comcast and BT.

This means even non-newsletter-type emails could be sent to the recipient’s spam folder. There’s nothing more tedious than trying to conduct business with someone via email and each message you send is going to their spam folder or customers who chat in because they didn’t get a copy of their order confirmation, but later find it was in their Spam folder.

What can you do about this? Well, you can host your email with a company that cares about maintaining a high IP reputation score! For instance, here at VernalWeb, we’re ensuring your emails always delivered to the Inbox of your recipients.

Best of all, at VernalWeb, this feature is included for you at no extra cost with all our web hosting plans.

#4 Your Message Subject Lines Contain Trigger Words

If the subject line of your newsletter or message contains trigger words, the message will automatically be sent to spam. Trigger words are a term for verbiage that is designed or styled to catch the attention of the recipient. You can break down most trigger words into the following categories:

  • Manipulative words or phrases; these include words like, “Urgent!”, “Act Now!”, “Limited Time Offer”, “Call Now”.
  • Outlandish claims and statements; these include verbiage like “Once in a lifetime”, “Money-making”, “All-natural”, “Money back guarantee”, “Earn extra income”.
  • Inappropriate greetings; these include greetings like “Dear <your email address>”, Dear friend, Greetings of the day!, and Dear <wrong name>.
  • Needy and spammy subject lines; this one includes great ones like “Please open me”, “Read please”, “Can we have a minute of your time?”, and my favorite one “Instant weight loss!”.
  • Words that say your email isn’t spam; really you would think people would use this because it is so obvious the effect would be the opposite. Using phrases like “this isn’t junk”, “this isn’t spam”, “not spam”, and “mark this as not junk” certainly won’t get you to the top of many inboxes.

Make life easier on yourself and craft your emails without trigger words. While there’s no surefire way to avoid the spam filters, ensuring your email is on point and the wording you choose isn’t hyperbole. Be your authentic self! Check out this great list of 100 Common Spam Trigger Words from Vision6.

#5 Are you using DMARC, DKIM, and SPF in your DNS?

Okay, if you’re not a techie, you probably think that’s word soup. No worries!

DMARC, or Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance is an email validation system that helps you stop email spoofing. It detects and automatically protects you from techniques used by bad actors in email phishing campaigns.

DKIM is short for DomainKeys Identified Mail and is an email authentication standard created to enable senders to connect their domain name with their email using cryptographic authentication as a way to prove emails sent from this domain are legitimately from that domain. For the average user, an email saying it’s from PayPal, Apple, or Amazon might not obviously appear as a forged email. That’s why it’s important to protect your own domain from these attacks. In short, DKIM is a type of hidden technology that keeps people from sending emails saying they are Amazon and click here to reset your password when really Amazon didn’t send that email.

SPF is short for Sender Privacy Framework and is another technology used to detect and block email spoofing. Similar to DMARC, SPF isn’t only an email validator but also a protocol and provides you with a strong defense mechanism. When there’s an incoming email, the IP address from which the email was sent will be verified against the list of authorized IP addresses in that Domain’s SPF records. Spammers and those sending out phishing campaigns are less likely to use a domain that has a published SPF record.

You can follow our KB article here to setup SPF, DKIM, and DMARC records for your domain.

#6 Are you including an Unsubscribe Link In Your Email?

Seriously, if you aren’t including a link for recipients to unsubscribe from your newsletter in 2021, shame on you! This is a top reason why your messages will be delivered to the spam folder. In the US, the CAN-SPAM Act clearly states your emails must include a clear way to unsubscribe. Additionally, if someone clicks on the link, you must process the request within 10 days and you can’t force the user to jump through a bunch of weird hoops and forms and steps to be removed from your mailing list.

By not giving your users a choice to unsubscribe, or even worse, putting an Unsubscribe link that the user completes, but you don’t remove them from your list (we’re looking at you SiriusXM!), you’re showing your brand may not be 100% trustworthy and authentic. No one wants to forcibly receive product advertisements! It just rubs people the wrong way.

In 2014, Google began shipping an update to Gmail which gave users a link to click to unsubscribe to newsletters without having to look through the tiny print at the end of an email to find the unsubscribe link. Check it out:

Outlook had this feature for a while before Google rolled it out.

To let users unsubscribe while in Gmail, set up one-click unsubscribe. Include one or both of these headers in your messages:

List-Unsubscribe-Post: List-Unsubscribe=One-Click
List-Unsubscribe: <https://your-company-net/unsubscribe/example>

If you include both headers, Gmail uses the one listed first.

When a user unsubscribes using one-click, you receive this POST request:

"POST /unsubscribe/example HTTP/1.1
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Content-Length: 26

Learn more about List-Unsubscribe headers:

These features can also be manipulated if you’re using an email relay service to deliver your campaigns, like SendInBlue or Validity, for example, making it super easy to apply these settings to all of your campaigns automatically!

#7 Are You Sending Attachments With Your Newsletters?

Why? This is a HUGE red flag for almost all spam filters. Files are super easy target vectors for malware, viruses, and other nasty things bad actors can install on a compromised system. Generally speaking, when sending newsletters, you shouldn’t include attachments with them.

If you need to send an attachment, consider what it is. For example, if you’re a flower nursery and you have an exclusive set of bouquets for sale, featuring Ranunculus, Roses, Eucalyptus, Garden Roses, Veronica, Lisianthus, and Scabiosa in a Ceramic Vase, you might think at first to send an order form as a PDF file to some of your top customers.

Instead, why not get creative and make a form using something like Google Forms, Office Forms, or a Typeform? This would give you more ‘play’ with the form, you can incorporate your own branding, and also optimize the number of responses into something more manageable than your Inbox.

#8 Limit Your Sending Frequency

As a business owner, you’re thinking about your business 24×7. It’s your livelihood, after all, I totally get it. But your customers and subscribers aren’t always thinking about you the same way you think about them. Yes, if you have a popular brand and have a really engaged fan base on social media that’s great, but you probably have a whole other percentage of customers who love your products just as much but don’t engage on social media at all.

Those people probably have more important things going on in their Inboxes and don’t need to hear from you every day, for example. When it comes to receiving newsletters, studies show most users prefer to receive them once a week, with the second most preferred being once a month. And oddly, other studies suggested Tuesday was the best day on which to send out new email campaigns as Tuesdays had a higher open rate than others throughout the year of 2020.

When a new customer signs up to receive your content, ask them how often they want to hear from you. You can further segment these results by people who want weekly messages or just a monthly newsletter. Giving your subscribers exactly what they’re asking for reduces your chances of getting marked as spam!

#9 Are you following “HTML Best Practices”?

If you’ve been on the Internet for a long time, you probably remember when email clients like Eudora could only send/receive the email in plaintext. This made composing email campaigns pretty simple. Of course, nowadays, using plaintext is almost unheard of as it can’t capture the branding or spirit of a company, and there are no engaging images or other visual elements to draw the user into the message.

When using HTML in your newsletters, it’s important to follow some simple ‘best practices’ to ensure your messages don’t end up in the Spam folder. Mailchimp, a company that specializes in transactional email delivery, published a great guide on Email Design Reference here. Some highlights include:

  • Assume images will be initially blocked by email clients, or that certain images — background images, for example — will completely fail to load. This is especially true for users who use Outlook (the application and webmail) and Gmail. By default, those services and apps don’t show the images for emails.
  • Use basic, cross-platform fonts such as Arial, Verdana, Georgia, and Times New Roman. Don’t use Comic Sans!
  • Avoid elements that require Flash or JavaScript. If you need a motion in an email, a .gif is your best bet. (RIP Flash, Dec 31, 2020)
  • Don’t forget about mobile experience! Is your email readable at arm’s length on a small screen? Will the images slow their load time on a mobile device? Are your links easy to press with a thumb?

Keep it simple. Don’t go overboard with elements, unless that’s your thing. We’re looking at you with love LingsCars!

#10 Are You Staying Relevant With Your Subscribers?

Don’t send content just to say hello or provide a friendly reminder that your company exists. Your subscribers don’t care about this. They know who you are, they’ve bought your products and are waiting for you to tell them about more of your products. So do that. If you run an eCommerce store, analyze your trends, see what’s selling and push that with your customers. Find relevant products that may be of interest, for example.

Also, try to make a strong effort to stay on brand. If you’re that shop owner selling embroidered booties for cats and dogs, emailing your subscribers about something totally irrelevant isn’t going to help your click-thru and engagement rates.

If you think it’s been a while since you’ve communicated with your subscribers, why not send a new email with a discount or a promotional code? Run a flash sale, or send an exclusive personalized set of offers to top customers and new customers to your list who may not have made a purchase yet. These types of messages are read as authentic and are more likely to get opened and lead to higher conversions and sales!


To conclude, there are at least 10 good reasons why your emails go to spam, from not staying relevant with your customers to having a poor IP reputation at your email server. No matter the reason, taking care when composing your email campaigns, doing some research on your target audience, and observing some simple courtesy rules will yield the most (and best!) results and maintain that trustworthy reputation your brand has worked so hard to achieve.

By using technologies like DKIM, DMARC, and SPF, you increase the security around your brand and strongly remove the possibility someone would be sending emails impersonating your brand and also ensure your messages are delivered properly.

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