Photo of someone looking at their laptop, reading their email

Avoiding the junk folder and improving email marketing deliverability

Every email marketing provider currently has some risk of emails sent through their software showing in the subscriber’s junk folder. This is because the email software receiving it knows it has come from a marketing platform’s server. While business owners might find this annoying, it’s actually how inboxes are meant to operate. What’s frustrating is when there’s an email you genuinely want being filtered out, but a phishing scam makes it through to your main inbox. There are some things that businesses can do to improve their chances, as well as to educate their subscribers on how to mark their email address as “not junk”. Unfortunately, people can be quite bad at checking their junk folder, and they can’t read your emails if they don’t see them.

Avoiding the junk folder can improve your potential customer’s experience, ensure they get what they wanted, and increase your open rates. It can also mean you don’t qualify for the next tier of pricing plan unnecessarily by having a large number of subscribers who are unlikely to read your emails.

For clarity, the “email marketing provider” is who you’re sending the emails through, while the email software, email app, account, inbox and junk are the items on your recipient’s end. Some email softwares also have other folders like promotions that work in a similiar way, filtering the emails out of the main inbox. These are harder to avoid, but still better than the traditional junk folder. This blog post relates to email marketing messages, and not a one to one communication email.

Educate your subscribers

Letting people know how they can mark your emails as not junk is like a backup plan. It increases the chances of them checking their junk folder, and marking your emails as safe. Even if they already knew how, this message is more likely to prompt them to read it and action the checks, because it’s a less generic confirmation message.

You can often change this by customising your provider’s confirmation message, although not all providers allow for this. You can also redirect your subscribe form to a page on your website with this information, or include it in your incentive email, or welcome sequence.

Since most softwares allow for their users to mark senders as safe, this is the more permanent option than marking the individual email as not junk. This is the part people don’t often know how to do. I find it’s simplest to link people to a help document that walks them through the instructions, since many email softwares will keep their own help docs up to date and they all have their own vocabulary.



Apple Mail

To find more information, people can Google instructions around marking email addresses as safe, or safe senders and the name of their email marketing provider.

Maximise your incentive

Offering a free item in exchange for their email address increases the chances of people signing up, but also of them opening that first email. People are motivated to confirm their subscription and open the email so they can get whatever you’re sending them. This is why it can be beneficial to send that freebie, rather than to reroute people straight to it in a browser. The more they want your freebie, the harder they’ll look. We want them to be motivated to check, because it can take a few minutes for the email to land in their inbox, or junk as the case may be.

If you’re sending them a code they need to type into the website as a password everyone uses to access the same page or to get a discount on their first order, you might choose to put that on an image, instead of as plain text. Emails in the junk folder often can’t download images, so this prompts them to at least mark this one email as not junk. You’re not making anything too difficult for them, but it can serve as a checkpoint.

Photo of someone looking at their laptop, reading their email

Use honest emailing practices

If you were to buy a list, subscribe people without their permission or subscribe people who have their email on their website for example, they are quite likely to mark your email as junk, and possibly give this reasoning when they unsubscribe. It’s also illegal in many places, so there’s that. This can result in your email marketing provider putting you onto a spammy server, or that the email software (e.g. Gmail) places you in the junk folder of other subscribers, reducing your chances of being seen by those who did genuinely sign up. It’s like karma for your email.

It can also help to include a reason for them receiving these emails in the same area as your unsubscribe button at the bottom of your email design. This is particularly helpful when you’ve had people sign up at an event or through another third party so they might not immediately connect the dots given the timing, or if you’ve changed your brand name. For example, “You are receiving this email because you have attended one of my workshops via XYZ.”

Photo of someone looking at their laptop, reading their email

Domain Verification

By having your own verified domain, you’re more likely to be seen as legitimate, over a Gmail or other generic and free email address. Domain email hosting is separate from your web domain purchase and website hosting. You’ll need to purchase email hosting for your domain, then follow the instructions from your email marketing provider to set this up correctly. If you already have a email address, you likely don’t need to make an additional purchase.




To go a step further, you can also set up the following yourself or by hiring an IT professional:

SPF (Sender Policy Framework) specifies which servers are allowed to send email on behalf of your domain. It reduces the risk of a spammer spoofing your email address and landing you on the naughty list of email apps.

DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) adds a digital signature to the emails you send, which then allows the recipient's server to verify the authenticity of the email.

DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance) builds upon SPF and DKIM. It provides a policy that instructs receiving servers on how to handle emails that fail SPF and/or DKIM checks. It also provides a reporting mechanism for email authentication results.

Whether you choose to make any or all of these improvements, I hope you’re able to reduce the friction, and increase the open rate of your email marketing.

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