Spam placement. What does it actually mean for you as a marketer? What does it mean for your subscribers? Is there a way out? First of all, let’s see what we are dealing with here:
Your spam placement rate is calculated as the number of emails delivered to the spam folder out of total emails sent. The same elements that block you from getting into the inbox will land you in the spam folder of your subscribers. This includes content-based reasons like content triggers that flag emails as spam, reputation-based triggers like sending patterns and behaviors, or engagement-based triggers based on the actions of your subscribers. After evaluating these elements, the receiving mailbox provider’s spam filtering system will identify your email as unsolicited bulk email, or spam, and will place it accordingly in the spam folder—and that’s not where we are aiming to be.
Spam placement rate by quarter from The 2019 Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability report:
Spam placement from mailbox providers’ point of view
As we already saw, the Spam placement rate is valuable in understanding how mailbox providers and their spam filters classify your emails. The lower your spam placement rate, the more it will signal to mailbox providers that your subscribers trust you and desire your email.
If you are experiencing a sudden increase in spam placement it could indicate an issue with a specific campaign you have sent, or it could indicate a broader issue which is affecting your entire email program. High spam placement is also likely to impact your other engagement metrics as few subscribers interact with the messages that land in their spam folder–and we are going to talk about that in just a minute. To learn more about what prevents your emails from reaching the inbox, download our Ultimate Guide to Email Deliverability.
Spam placement from subscriber’s point of view
As previously mentioned, it’s no surprise that very few subscribers are actively checking their spam folder. How often do you check your spam folder? Some answers we often hear include, “never” or “very rarely”. What would encourage you to check your spam folder in the first place? Expectation. Interest. Relevancy. If your subscribers have signed up to your email program and the content they are expecting to receive is relevant to them, they will go and ‘rescue’ your email from their spam folder.
This is such an important metric to mailbox providers that it even has a name: TINS. The TINS or “this is not spam” rate is an important indicator to mailbox providers because a high TINS rate tells them that the sender is less likely to be sending spam and the subscriber wants to see that email in their inbox. Due to the fact that very few people will take the time out to go into their spam folder and say ‘this is not spam’, you don’t need a significant increase in your TINS rate to reduce a good portion of your spam rate.
What to look out for
Look for general patterns around the date and time of the spam folder placement, keeping in mind that time zones are a factor if you send internationally. As an example, do you see higher spam placement on a specific day of the week or time of the day? Determine if a specific IP address or domain is involved.
Also, check if the spam folder placement taking place at one mailbox provider or multiple mailbox providers? Filtering at only one mailbox provider can help you pinpoint a potential cause. Filtering at multiple mailbox providers may indicate a broader sending reputation issue.
Do you send email for multiple business units or multiple brands? Does the spam folder placement involve one business unit or brand or all business units and brands?
Investigate if there is a specific type of message involved and the activity levels of the subscribers receiving email. Is the message being sent to subscribers that are no longer engaging with your company or email program? Also worth checking if the message relates to a specific list segment such as a prospect or current customer.
Best practices AKA the way out in 5 easy steps
First thing’s first. If you buy or rent lists. Stop now. An email marketers’ goal is to reach as many people as possible to boost their ROI from the email channel. However, buying or renting lists puts you at risk of being labelled as a spammer and will have a damaging effect on your sender reputation. On top of that these lists tend to be riddled with unknown email addresses and spam traps. When it comes to your subscriber list the saying ‘quality over quantity” definitely applies. It is much better for your reputation to have a smaller list of highly engaged users than a large list of unengaged users. In additional to list quality, keep these five tactics in mind.
- Setting expectations from the outset will help in cultivating a positive relationship with your subscribers. Allowing them to sit in the driver’s seat will give them more control over what they want to receive and how frequently they would like to receive it—remember that they are in control of their inbox and not you. A preference center is the key word here and the process should be easy and intuitive.
- Keep it consistent in terms of frequency. Suddenly increasing your volume can result in a drop in inbox placement driven by spam complaints from subscribers. For the less loyal subscribers, an increase in emails from a particular sender will only add to their already busy inbox. This can also apply to your engaged users, they may like your emails but they may not want to receive one every day (unless they agreed to it, of course) and you may risk losing their trust. It all comes down to honoring the preferences of your recipients.
- Keep it relevant. Provide only the types of email the user opted-in to receive. Also, be careful not to embed large amounts of marketing content into newsletters or transactional email. You might get the opposite effect than intended if you just turn all of your content into an advertisement.
- Be clear and consistent with the from, reply-to, and subject lines, so your audience is always clear about who the email is coming from. Build a good reputation and display your brand name and logo to users and make it easy for them to recognize you as the sender.
- Let go of unengaged and uninterested users. Check regularly which users are opening mail, clicking on links, or requesting to be unsubscribed. Send a re-engagement campaign to unengaged recipients and stop sending to them if they do not respond positively.
From the 2012 to 2019 Sender Score Benchmark report, Return Path has noticed an increase in email volume sent from the “good guys” and a significant decrease in emails sent from the “bad guys”. This improvement is largely down to the evolution of spam filtering technology and more focus towards sender reputation by mailbox providers. Mailbox providers have a business to run and like every business they have competition. By constantly changing and improving their filtering algorithms they are creating a better inbox experience for their users. If you want to make sure that your well thought out, beautifully crafted emails are reaching your subscribers’ inboxes, I would encourage you to start thinking about some of the best practices outlined in this blog post and start testing, testing, testing.