No one likes ending up in the spam folder. It’s a cold, dark place to find your emails. However, when we remove our rose-coloured ‘sender’ glasses, we must acknowledge that the spam folder is a welcome feature to every inbox. Open it, and you’ll see why inbox providers must protect customers from emails like that. How does that spam folder work? What makes you go from trusted sender to spammer? How do you fix a spammy reputation?

What is spam again?

To fully understand the dynamics of the spam folder, it’s crucial to define what spam is. According to Merriam-Webster, spam refers to “unsolicited – usually commercial – messages (such as emails, text messages, or Internet postings) sent to a large number of recipients or posted in a large number of places.” In essence, spam is both unsolicited and sent in bulk.

The ‘unsolicited’ aspect is often apparent to recipients who never signed up for the email list or are unfamiliar with the sender. On the other hand, the ‘bulk’ nature can be challenging to discern but is a critical factor considered by inbox providers.

Importantly, the content within the email doesn’t determine its classification as spam; rather, it hinges on whether the sender has the recipient’s consent to send that specific email. However, spam filters also analyze patterns in unwanted emails, making the distinction not solely about content but also about behavior.

“Spam is an issue about consent, not content.” – The Spamhaus Project

The wide range of unsolicited emails

While we commonly refer to any unsolicited and malicious email as spam, the email industry specifically designates unsolicited bulk emails as spam. Other types of unsolicited or malicious emails have their own labels, such as ‘phishing’ and ‘spoofing’.

The fight against spam emails

Fighting spam is a challenging battle, and inadvertent spammy behavior can have severe consequences for email campaigns. Inbox providers employ various spam filters to safeguard against unwanted, unsolicited, or potentially dangerous emails. These filters use different methods, including content analysis, preference-based learning, rule-based decision-making, and permission-based filtering.

Blacklists are actively maintained to support spam filtering, containing domains and IP addresses that have exhibited suspicious behavior. If an email originates from these flagged sources, the spam filter may preemptively block it.

Spam filtering & reputation

Over time, spam filters develop a reputation for email domains and IP addresses based on historical behavior. This reputation influences the filter’s decision on whether to deliver an email to the inbox. It’s akin to building trust between a sender and a spam filter. Positive interactions, such as recipient engagement and low spam complaints, enhance a sender’s reputation and increase the likelihood of inbox placement for future emails.

However, a poor reputation, often a result of past spammy behavior, can lead to email deliverability issues. It’s crucial for email senders to be aware of their domain’s and IP’s reputation, even if they are not intentionally sending spam.

Spam is different per country

One complicating factor in the battle against spam is that the definition of ‘spam’ varies across countries. While each country has legislation on digital privacy, interpretations of laws like GDPR differ. Understanding the concept of ‘consent’ becomes crucial, as spam filters generally adhere to a global set of rules and best practices established by working groups.

Following these global rules ensures that lawful email practices align with spam filter criteria, reducing the risk of unintentional spam classification.

Know your reputation

Being labeled a spammer doesn’t always imply intentional malice. Factors such as inheriting a domain with a poor reputation, using an IP that was previously flagged, or utilizing software associated with spammers can adversely impact email deliverability. Checking your domain’s and IP’s reputation using tools like Google’s Postmaster Tools, SenderScore, and MultiRBL can provide valuable insights into your standing.

Staying out of the spam folder

Postmaster’s best practices

A valuable but labor-intensive approach to ensure inbox deliverability is to consult the postmaster pages of email providers. These pages often outline specific rules and best practices to avoid spam filtering. Examples include Yahoo’s best practices list, Apple’s postmaster information, and GMX’s postmaster site.

How to be Removed from a Blocklist

Being placed on a blocklist can be a daunting situation, but there are steps you can take to rectify the issue and improve your email deliverability. Here’s a guide on how to get removed from a blocklist:

  1. Identify the blocklist: Determine which blocklist(s) your domain or IP address is listed on. This information is crucial for understanding the specific requirements and procedures for removal.
  2. Investigate the cause: Determine the reasons behind your listing. It could be due to a high volume of spam complaints, suspicious activity, or other factors. Understanding the cause will help you address the root of the problem.
  3. Contact the blocklist provider: Reach out to the organization or service responsible for maintaining the blocklist. Provide them with detailed information about your email practices, the steps you’ve taken to rectify the issue, and any preventive measures implemented to ensure it won’t happen again.
  4. Review and update your practices: Conduct a thorough review of your email marketing practices. Ensure that you have explicit consent from recipients, use double opt-in methods, and implement robust anti-spam measures. Make any necessary adjustments to comply with industry best practices.
  5. Monitor and maintain: After taking corrective actions, monitor your email performance closely. Regularly check your domain and IP reputation using tools like Google’s Postmaster Tools and SenderScore. Implement ongoing measures to maintain a positive sender reputation.
  6. Submit a removal request: Many blocklist providers have a formal process for submitting removal requests. Follow their guidelines and provide all necessary information. Be transparent about the steps you’ve taken to resolve the issue.
  7. Wait for confirmation: Removal from a blocklist is not instantaneous. It may take some time for the blocklist provider to review your case. Be patient and continue adhering to best practices during this period.
  8. Prevent recurrence: Implement long-term strategies to prevent future listings. Regularly audit your email lists, engage in permission-based marketing, and stay informed about industry regulations and best practices.

Remember that prevention is key, and maintaining a positive sender reputation is an ongoing process. By following these steps and consistently adhering to best practices, you can improve your chances of being removed from a blocklist and ensure your emails reach the intended recipients.

Ensuring your emails stay out of the spam folder requires a proactive approach, understanding the intricacies of spam filters, and maintaining a positive sender reputation. By following best practices and staying informed about industry guidelines, you can increase the chances of your emails reaching the intended inbox.