Inbox placement: 9 tips to help your email get seen

No one launches an email marketing campaign with the hope to land in a recipient’s spam folder. Inbox placement is imperative to a successful campaign.

The simplest description of inbox placement is where your delivered email is delivered for recipients. Did your email appear in the inbox (which is preferred) or the spam folder (which is where unwanted messages end up)?

The term spam itself means unavoidable and repetitive.

While some may assume that only Nigerian prince scams get filtered out, spam messages accounted for 53.95 percent of e-mail traffic in March 2020, according to Statista. Even though this rate has been decreasing since 2012, no one wants to end up as spam.

An email appearing in a user’s inbox is more likely to be seen, opened and clicked than an email in the spam folder. It’s the idea of delivery versus deliverability, where deliverability to the inbox is more likely to have an impact.

How does this happen? Each email provider (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo and so on) has routing and filtering algorithms to determine where accepted emails go, and those algorithms do differ between the providers. An email that goes to spam in Yahoo may end up in a Gmail inbox. In other words, there’s a lot of moving targets in email marketing.

Here are nine tips to help you optimize your inbox placement and get your emails into users’ inboxes.

Your sender reputation matters

You might not realize it, but domains and IP addresses do earn reputations from mail services.

There are a number of factors that weigh in on your reputation, including:

  • Low bounce rate (meaning you have an updated and quality contact list for your emails)
  • Your subject lines (anything spammy is no good)
  • Different content over time
  • Sender authentication (making sure that the email has been sent from the person claiming to have sent it, which can be done with such technologies as SPF, DKIM and DMARC)
  • Abide by the latest email marketing laws (taking into consideration the CAN-SPAM Act in the U.S. versus international requirements depending on where your audience is)
  • Providing a clear and responsive opt-out option (hiding this in any way is not only a violation but can also lead to recipients reporting your email as spam directly to their email provider)

Your sender score is based on a scale of 0 to 100. Having a low sender score (classified as being below 90) leads to rejection by email providers that will prevent your emails from reaching the inbox.

An IP address is the number listed in the domain name system that is used to send email messages on behalf of your domain name. Businesses can use dedicated or shared IP addresses.

Building a reputation is just as necessary for the quality of your IP. 

It is possible to monitor your sending IP and domain reputation with an IP/domain blacklist monitoring service. There are a number of tools available, including MailTester, Talos and Sender Score.

Be aware of spam filters

Email services use inbound and outbound email filters to prevent spam. These spam filters have some metrics and algorithms that assign a numerical score after the filtering process that reflects the probability of the email being spam.

There are three types of email filters:

  • Gateway (typically used by large business and includes Barracuda and Mimecast as examples)
  • Hosted (typically used in businesses that have developed their own method to detect spam based on sender reputation and content and includes Cloudmark as an example)
  • Desktop (configured by the user and includes Outlook with SmartScreen as an example)

Focus on true opt-ins not fast database growth

Any seasoned email marketer knows that there are a number of ways to grow your contact lists fast, such as:

  • Co-registration
  • Renting or buying email lists

But these methods risk sending to truly bad email addresses, which are the people who really don’t want to hear from you. When someone really doesn’t want to hear from you, he or she will be the first to report your email.

If this happens too many times, you could get “bulk foldered” (which means that email providers downgrade your email to the bulk or spam folders of an email account).

Slower, quality growth does require patience and effort, but it will work far better in the long run. Consider:

  • Starting with true email opt-ins (whether on a web form or other direct collection method)
  • Keeping an eye on new subscriber engagement with a welcome campaign

Remove your opt-outs promptly

It’s already been mentioned, but the method of opting out needs to be clear and responsive.

There’s no reason to delay on removing any contacts that have opted out of your emails for any period of time.

Remove them as soon as they opt out. Otherwise, these users are likely to report you as spam the next email they receive from you.

Target your content to segmented audience groups

More, more, more isn’t always better.

You can send fewer, more targeted email messaging to specific groups within your database of contacts.

But the power is in how you segment your audience. It could be by age, gender, where they live, when they last interacted with your business. The possibilities are endless, depending on the quality and depth of your data. 

DailyStory itself features dynamic segmentation capabilities as well when you do decide what groups you want to message specifically.

Speaking directly to different groups is a better, more personalized experience for the recipient of your email.

Remember, every email you send that gets low opens and engagement is a signal to email providers that your content is potentially not good enough to be delivered to inboxes, affecting your inbox placement.

Consistency is critical

Email deployment consistency isn’t just a good rule of thumb for user experience. (Who wants to receive no emails for a month and then three in one day?) It also signals to email services that you’re a quality sender.

Erratic sending schedules are a red flag for both users to forget who you are and report you and providers to be suspicious of you. Spikes in emails sent are especially annoying to users and suspicious to providers.

‘Good content’ is not subjective

If you are monitoring engagement rates of every email sent, you’re going to get a sense of the type of subject lines that led to opens and the type of content that led to clicks. 

So, while “good content” can sound elusive and vague, it really isn’t. Keep experimenting, keep segmenting and targeting and keep evaluating your metrics to see what’s working and what’s not.

Avoid spam trigger words

Spam trigger words and grammar are especially dangerous in your subject line and can immediately shoot your email into spam folders.

In general, avoid using all caps, making spelling mistakes, using one-word subject lines and including exclamation points in your subject line.

Check out this list of 100 spam trigger words, compiled by SimplyCast.

Limit shortened links

Spammers use shortened links often, so try to limit your use of them for better inbox placement.

Otherwise, email service providers could flag your email entirely as spam.

Overall, a lot goes into whether your email ends up in a user’s inbox or spam folder. Stay vigilant about the reputation you’ve already built and be cognizant of email best practices to not only optimize your inbox placement rate but your user experience as well.