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How to Keep Your Email Newsletter from Being Marked as Spam

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Read Time: 8 min
This post is part of a series called Building a Successful Freelance Email Newsletter.
Running a Newsletter for Your Existing Clients: What You Need to Know

Whenever a reader marks your email newsletter as spam, you've got problems. The better classes of email service providers keep track of how many times they're told a particular email newsletter is spam. If the number gets too high, they'll shut down that newsletter. There can even be legal repercussions for sending out newsletters that are considered spam — including a $16,000 penalty for each recipient of an individual piece of spam in the US.

If you're publishing an email newsletter — for marketing purposes or otherwise — you need to make sure that you can minimize the chance it can be mistaken for spam. There will always be occasional marks against you, from people who don't remember signing up for your newsletter or who just want to get it out of their inboxes quickly. But the more you can do to keep those problems to a minimum, the better.

Play By the Rules

There are rules and best practices that make it a lot easier to know what might cause trouble for your email newsletter in the long run. Just by sticking to what a reputable email service provider requires you to do to continue to operate your newsletter, you'll be ahead of the game. Those rules include:

  • Never add someone to your mailing list without their explicit permission: While there's some debate on whether it's necessary to have a double opt-in system (where readers sign up for a newsletter and then confirm that they want to receive it), you never want to add someone to your mailing list who hasn't said that they want to receive it at least once. There are some people who will add every person they meet to their list, which can quickly result in ill will, as well as spam issues.
  • Don't buy lists of email addresses to add to your newsletter: It seems like the first rule should cover this issue, but there are plenty of lists out there for sale. However, it can be illegal to import email addresses that were not correctly obtained, as well as unethical in general.
  • Make unsubscribing from your newsletter very easy: Most email newsletter services offer an automated unsubscribe system so that readers need only click an unsubscribe link to stop receiving a newsletter. Don't be afraid to make that unsubscribe link easier to find. Even if you don't want to lose readers, it's better for them to unsubscribe than to get frustrated and mark your newsletter as spam.
  • Keep a clear brand: You need to always send your email newsletters from the same person or address so that it's easy to tell that they're all part of the same newsletter. If a reader doesn't recognize a name or email address, she may very well assume that it's spam.
  • Avoid selling too hard: Even if you do everything else correctly, your audience may eventually decide to mark everything you're sending as spam because it's the same hard sell, week after week. You've got to send content that ensures that your audience is looking forward to what you're sending.
  • Make it obvious who you are: Most email service providers will require you to associate your newsletter with an actual address (doing so is a legal requirement). However, you can take things a step further and make it very clear exactly who is sending out your newsletter and how your readers can contact you.
  • Go with a reputable email service provider: It's important to use a good tool, rather than the cheapest. Some cheap solutions have bad reputations and can get their users marked as spam accidentally. Good email service providers invest a lot of effort in policing their users, to protect everyone associated with their service. They also provide tools that will assist you with constructing quality emails that will avoid spammy language, which will help you prevent your messages from getting filtered out automatically by email service providers.

Invite Your Readers to Unsubscribe

It may seem counter-intuitive, but asking your newsletter subscribers to hit the unsubscribe button every once in a great while can be good for the safety of your list. Provided those subscribers are opening all of your emails, telling them to unsubscribe if you're not providing them with what they need can help them do so without marking your newsletter as spam in the process.

If someone is so confident that they’re offering a great newsletter each month, clearly no reader will want to miss it.

For many major email newsletter publishers, this approach actually results in no ended subscriptions at all — they've made it a part of their appeal. It doesn't seem likely, but it's a reality. Part of it is just the sheer confidence it clearly takes to make such an announcement. If someone is so confident that they're offering a great newsletter each month, clearly no reader will want to miss it.

This approach is particularly important when you're dramatically changing the content that you send out. If you're going to start sending out something that your readers didn't ask for, it's important to make sure that they know exactly how to get out of it.

Avoid Rebranding Your Newsletter As Much As Possible

Sometimes, you don't have any choice but to change the name on your newsletter — but it's not a step to take lightly. Doing so can mean losing a significant portion of your email list and perhaps picking up some black marks for your brand new name. No matter how many warning emails you send out to your list, some people aren't going to realize that emails from the new name are actually coming from the same person. It's very common for people to mark that new email sender as spam or, in some cases, for it not to get through their email filters.

You may be able to get your email service provider to help you avoid too much of a hit, if you're proactive about working with them. Some will take the history of your list under your previous brand into account when responding to spam reports. You'll need to have a pretty good reputation already, though: if you've been having problems with your list already, you need to resolve those far in advance of rebranding your newsletter.

Take Spam Reports as a Warning

It's rare that you can really resolve a spam report. The process is highly automated and you may not even be able to figure out exactly who said your email newsletter is junk. But if you get a spam report, it's important to be aware of it and to take some action.

You can look for ways to improve your content, make it clearer that you’re a real person and generally make your email newsletter more effective.

Review any emails that caused you problems. See if you can see a difference between those emails and the ones that went before. There can be a few flukes — not every spam report is really meant as such — but look for opportunities to improve, just the same. Even if it turns out to be nothing more than a glitch, the drive to improve your newsletter will never go amiss. You can look for ways to improve your content, make it clearer that you're a real person and generally make your email newsletter more effective. Even little tweaks can have a big impact.

Most email service providers will give you at least a basic analytics dashboard where you can clearly see how many people have signed up for your newsletter, as well as unsubscribed from it and marked it as spam. You don't need to check that dashboard every day, but you need to be looking at it on a very regular basis.

Treat Your Readers as You Would Like to Be Treated

At the end of the day, spam is something that the recipient didn't want. We all get emails that we don't want on a regular basis. So why send something that you know that the recipients aren't going to want? It's tempting to do so, just so that you can get the word out about your freelance services. Sometimes we think that if we can just tell people enough times about what we do, it will sink in.

The reality, though, is that it's more likely to irk a reader than win them over. The best approach to creating an email newsletter is to come up with something that your readers will actually look forward to and then let them decide if they want to subscribe. It's incredibly hard work, but it's the only way to really avoid ever being reported as a spammer.

Write the sort of emails you would be excited to receive. It takes a bit of a mental shift, but the hard work is worth it: you'll be able to build a real relationship with your readers, who will want to work with you as a result.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by buchachon.

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