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How to get your emails out of junk and into the inbox

November 17, 2011

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but a real bug-bear of mine is when I’ve spent several hours designing an email for a client, then getting the design signed off, then painstakingly turning the design into a html email, setting up the campaign, firing off a first test to myself and then the despair of seeing my morning’s work turn belly-up in my junk mail folder.
The Horror! After picking up my head from off the desk and drying my eyes, which with me can take anything from 5 to 10 minutes, it’s time to get stuck into an afternoon of “Quincy-like” detective work and “House-style” diagnosis to figure out where it went wrong.
But sometimes when I have got the email to go to my inbox perfectly, I’ll send a test batch around the office for my colleagues to test and even then it may appear in one of their junk mail boxes! Aaaarrggghh! I can’t take it!
This is a problem that we all face when preparing email campaigns, whether we like it or not at some point when we send out a campaign there is a possibility that someone, somewhere is going to receive it in their junk mail box. With that in mind it’s always best to be prepared for when it happens, and here’s a few tips on how...
Subject lines
Subject lines can often be the cause of emails falling into junk mail boxes. Spam filters can sometimes interpret any seemingly harmless subject line as a malicious intent to inconvenience a reader’s day. My first port of call when diagnosing junk mail is to see if varying the subject line will make a difference to the result.
Even if your subject line isn’t the issue that’s causing the mail to “junk” itself, it’s always best to make sure that what you’re sending out is going to entice people to read your email. If your email does fall into junk, the subject line may be that all that can be seen, so I always like to keep in mind that if I were to receive such a subject line in my junk mail, would I be tempted to take the risk and open it?
Text content
As with subject lines, the copy within an email can be at the mercy of the spam filter. More on how spam filters (mis)behave can be read in Alastair Campbell’s intriguingly-named post “Let’s (unintentionally) talk about sex” from last month. http://www.extravision.com/blog/lets-unintentionally-talk-about-sex
Unfortunately there’s no reference list of words and phrases to avoid when writing the content for your campaigns, so testing if your content is the problem can turn into a tiresome game of trial and error.  If you suspect that your email copy could be causing the problem, then the best way to test is to systematically remove sections of the copy and re-testing the email each time until it appears in your inbox. Hopefully using this method you should be able to narrow down the offending word or phrase.
White listing
Encouraging your readers to “whitelist” your domain can improve deliverability. This will thereby ensure that your future emails to go straight to readers inbox. The most effective way to get users to add you to their whitelist is to offer a link at the top of your broadcast (something along the lines of “To ensure that our emails reach your inbox, please add [enter your domain] to your Safe Sender List. Click here to see how”) that leads to instructions on how to do add domains to their Safe Sender list.
Image to text ratios
If your email contains a large ratio of images to text, this may cause your email to start squatting in junk mail folders rather than living it up in inboxes. If your design permits then the most obvious step to take is to try your best to reduce the amount or scale of your images in order to get your email on the right track. Although from time to time your emails design may rely upon being rather image-heavy, the next best thing may be to add extra text, again if possible. A subtle way of doing this could be to add in a disclaimer at the bottom of the email to bump up the word count.
A good idea is to also add Alt tags to your images. If an email does go into junk or the reader has images disabled on their email client, the alt tag is all that is going to be seen of your images. If you have used an image to convey a heading for your email content then the alt tag can display what the titles say, so your user doesn’t miss out! Incidentally there was an interesting blog post back in December by Antony Malone that describes how to make your Alt tags presentable in the aptly-titled Styling your images in case they are disabled, which may be worth taking a look at. http://www.extravision.com/blog/styling-your-images-case-they-are-disabled
Email Preview Services
One of the most efficient methods to test if your email is likely to end up in the junk is to use our email preview service. Signing up with this paid service gives you the opportunity to preview your email across all the most popular email clients, from Outlooks 2002 through 2010, to Lotus Notes, and from web-based clients such as Gmail and Hotmail (all across the major web browsers including IE, Firefox and Chrome). You can also preview how the email will look on mobile devices such as the iphone and Blackberry.
The as well as allowing you to see how the email will look, it will also test your campaign against a variety of major spam filters. This is a great opportunity to diagnose potential issues in your campaigns and help you to calibrate your email in order to avoid falling into their pesky traps! Ask your Extravision Account Manager about this service.
Even though using an Email Preview Service is a great way to test your campaigns, I find that probably the most useful method is to test the email yourself by sending it to as many people on different computers as you can, and across as many different email clients as you can, so that you can see with your own eyes how the email is behaving across the email client spectrum.
All of the above can seem like an awful of work lot to go through in order to appease spam filters, and it is, but sending out a campaign that has a high risk of going into junk is more likely to cause more harm than good. Once your reader has received a campaign that may have quite innocently fallen into their junk box; unless you’ve managed to convince them that it’s worth reading, then you run the risk of losing their trust and that could mean you lose them as a subscriber.
So it’s definitely worth putting the extra effort into making sure that you’ve done everything you can to not only try to prevent the email from going into junk in the first place, but in the event that it does end up there then you’ve done all you can to try to convince your reader that it’s worth taking a look at. 
Let me know if you need any help?

Posted by Steve Bossons
Tip of the month

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