12 Tips for Avoiding Spam Complaints

12 Tips for Avoiding Spam Complaints


You have a folder full of it, but are you certain how emails end up in your spam folder? It’s not just iffy email addresses or blacklisted email accounts (although those are important). They can also be cold emails just like the ones you send. Today we’ll discuss what email spam is and how you can avoid accidentally becoming a spammer.

What is spam?

Spam is a serious thing in the email world. If you have never read the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, you should familiarize yourself with its rules and regulations before starting your next email campaign. 

SpamHaus identifies spam as an email message that is both unsolicited and bulk. In addition, there are two kinds of spam that you need to know the difference between:

  1. Automatic Spam. Automatic spam is when an email that passes through the spam filters of the recipient’s mailbox and is identified as potential spam by the filters and sent directly to the recipient’s junk/spam box. 
  2. Marked Spam. Marked spam is when the recipient (whether knowingly or unknowingly) marks your email as spam and asks for it to be removed from their inbox.

The tricky part of automatic spam is that is where many “false positives” can reside. Depending on the server (MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) and its spam filters, emails that are legitimate can be delivered to your junk/spam box by accident. Accidental deliveries like this happen because the email trips the spam filter, other server users have marked similar emails as spam, or because your message is often deleted without reading. This can adversely affect your spam percentage if your recipients believe their junk/spam box only contains spam, marks them all as such and permanently deletes them. 

To make things harder, how different server’s spam filters work is a secret. This is great for us since it keeps the spammers at bay, but it makes it difficult to tell when your emails could automatically be flagged as spam on accident. In addition, each email marketing service will affect your spam threshold in different ways; some will use both automatic and marked against you, others will only use marked. It’s impossible to tell.

On top of all of this, your spam threshold doesn’t give you much room for error. It is a percentage configured based on the number of spams (marked and/or automatic) against your account out of the total number of emails sent in the campaign. The standard across many email marketing providers is 1/1000 or 0.1%. What this means is if one person out of every one thousand recipients of the one email marks your email as spam, your email account could face repercussions. So, if you send less than 1,000 emails, you can only have one person mark the message as spam or only have one recipient’s account identify it automatically as spam.

Tips to Avoiding Spam Complaints

Recipients will mark emails as spam for a variety of reasons: they don’t know/trust the sender, the content doesn’t apply to them, or they don’t want emails from the sender. But there are ways to email your prospects without being marked as spam. Here are some tips to avoid your email looking like the typical spam email:

  1. Have legitimate return email addresses.  Avoid adding numbers or unnecessary letters—it looks untrustworthy. Also, send your emails from an address connected to you and your agency. For example, “kathy@youragencysname.com” with a reply-to that is similar like “info@youragencysname.com”. These look much more legitimate than having generic Gmail or Hotmail addresses. 
  2. Include your business address. One, it will give your recipients another point of contact, and two, it boosts the legitimacy of your agency. If they can physically visit you, they are more apt to trust you. AgencyBloc automatically puts your agency’s business address in the footer of your email so that it is present in every email campaign you send.
  3. Allow them to opt-out. It’s against the CAN-SPAM law to not include an “opt-out” button. You must make this clear and easy to find. And when they do opt-out, you must honor their decision and cease sending them content. Opt-outs do not affect your overall spam percentage; they simply show you who is not interested in your services. Any email campaign you send with AgencyBloc’s email component will have an unsubscribe link in the footer of your emails to ensure compliance with CAN-SPAM.
  4. Check and Double Check. Your email recipients will quickly lose respect for you if you don’t take the extra time (and use a second pair of eyes) to check that your spelling and grammar are correct. You want to represent yourself in the best light, so don’t just rely on spellcheck. Use your coworkers to double and triple check that everything is good to go.
  5. Exclamation marks are the best!!!!!!! They aren’t. One exclamation mark can go a long way. More than that is overdoing it and is a huge turnoff for your recipients. If you’re really excited, express it other ways with word choice or an image. In addition to that, do not put exclamation marks in your subject line. It will look like spam and be treated as such.
  6. DON’T GET EXCITED WITH ALL CAPS. Just like the exclamation mark, caps are often used to show excitement. In reality, it just looks like you are yelling at your recipients. You can put a word here and there in all caps (or boldface) for emphasis, but including it too often could trip the spam triggers and send your email straight to junk. Also, same as the exclamation mark, do not include all-caps in your subject line.
  7. Color is important. Don’t use hard-to-read colors like red or anything neon. Not only does it look unprofessional, but it’s also unappealing to the eye. Again, here and there as emphasis is okay, but do not use it as the main color. With that, don’t include invisible text (white text on a white background) to create space or design, it will be read as you hiding something and could be identified as an automatic spam.
  8. Stay away from risky words and salesy lingo. Be careful of what words you include in your subject line. Don’t include those phrases you hear on the home shopping network like “pre-approved”, “satisfaction guaranteed”, or “big deal, low price”; in addition, stray away from words like buy, bonus, free, prize, or win as well. These are high-risk words that are often found in spam. Here is a full list from HubSpot of risky, spam-triggering words you should do best to avoid in your subject lines and email copy.
  9. Don’t fatten with keywords. Keywords are great, but too many will look like a buzzword dump. Intermix a couple here and there, just make sure your email has a natural tone, focus and reads like it’s been written by a human.
  10. Links. You need to be extremely careful with how you link and what you link. Make sure anything you link to is not only real but reputable, too. Also, never link with the words “click here” or “check this out” (refer to #7) because they will be seen as spam and treated as such.
  11. Keep your text-to-image ratio in check. Images are a great way to enhance your email, but they’re also a way for spam filters to dump you in the junk. SendGrid suggests that for every image you include, have at least two lines of text. This will help your ratio stabilize and show the legitimacy of your email.
  12. Be mindful of your attachments. If you do need to attach something to your email make sure it’s a file that is supported by the vast majority of computers. These file types include: .jpg, .gif, .png, and .pdf. This will allow those that don’t use the same document creators (i.e. Microsoft Word) or other programs to open your file. You also need to be wary of the size of your images and email; Target Marketing suggests using files that are no larger than 20k (kilobytes) and keeping your emails small and not exceeding 50k to 70k. Practices like this can help you boost deliverability and reduce the chance of being marked as spam. 

The Penalties of Spam

Spam is no joke, and if your spam percentage goes too high, you will have to pay the consequences. The penalties will depend on the system (Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc.) you use and the severity of your spam percentage; but you could suffer an account suspension, an account termination, or federal charges that could add up to thousands of dollars. 

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Allison Babberl

By Allison Babberl on July 26, 2016 in Email Marketing

Allison is the Marketing Content Specialist at AgencyBloc. She creates educational content and designs videos to promote AgencyBloc's resources to help you organize, automate, and grow your insurance agency. Favorite quote: “Conversation is the bedrock of relationships. Without it, our relationships are devoid of substance.” -Maribeth Kuzmeski  More articles


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