Email Best Practices

Many people are not aware that there are best practices to follow to ensure your emails are not being filtered as spam or junk. If you are finding your emails are not being delivered to their intended targets you may be triggering some spam filters. If your emails aren’t reaching your recipient’s mailbox, your business may suffer. What if your customers aren’t receiving your communications, announcements, or news. By following the best practices below you will significantly reduce the risk your of your emails not being delivered.

Spammy Copy

Don’t use spammy words and phrases in your emails. This means you should avoid phrases such as “BUY NOW! Click HERE to SAVE Money!!!! These phrases have been traditionally associated with spam email and you should avoid placing them in either your subject or body text.  If you do use these types of phrases you will probably trigger a spam filter and significantly decrease the deliverability of your emails.

Interactive Content

Avoid using interactive content, videos, GIF’s or any other type of rich media in your emails. This could cause your emails to be marked as spam. Some things in your email code that could trigger spam filters:

  • JavaScript
  • RSS feeds
  • Forms
  • Messy Code

One of the most common causes of sloppy email HTML is copy-pasting from Microsoft Word. Please don’t do that — when you copy-paste content from Word, it pulls in styling tags and all kinds of other stuff. If you must copy-paste, make sure you’re using Paste as Plain Text. This clears all formatting associated with the text and will produce a clean code chunk for the email.  In Addition, if using HTML format, be sure to check your email source code for any messy HTML or other code before you send to your prospects.

Suspicious Formatting

Unnatural formatting causes filters to believe that the user is trying to hide a message or up to something suspicious. You should avoid unnatural formatting with your text at all costs. Not only can these formatting issues trigger spam filters but It may also annoy the recipient enough for them to mark it as spam anyways. Some examples include:

  • using excessive punctuation!!!??? in your subject line
  • d0ing w3ird th1ngs by combining numbers and letters
  • using too many different font colors
  • using large font sizes (avoid using font larger than 10pt or 12pt)

Image-to-Text Ratio

If you are using too many images, or an image that is way too large, compared to the amount of text in an HTML email may be flagged as spam. By increasing the amount of text, reducing the size & number of the images may help with your deliverability. Most email clients will automatically block images unless prompted to reveal them by the user. This means that even if your email gets to their inbox your images may not. This is why text is so important, this is the only aspect of your email that the user is guaranteed to see if they open it.


Do not use URL shorteners in emails (,, etc)  these services are great for Social Media, however, are frequently abused by spammers. Spammers use these URL’s because it is not instantly clear where the link will actually send the user. Some shortened domains (including have been placed on widely-used block lists which means that emails containing these links will be automatically blocked by many spam filters. You should also avoid linking to multiple domains in a single email. One or two domains is fine however, when you start increasing that to five or six you increase the chances of your email being considered spam.

Missing Information

Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is a tough, relatively new, anti-spam legislation designed specifically to crack down on users who are buying email lists and sending email without the permission of the user. According to CASL here are the 3 things to think about when sending messages;

  1. Think About Who You Are Sending Messages To
    – Did they give consent? Do you have a record of this consent?
    – Did they say ‘yes, please contact me’?
    – Did they publish contact info online or did they give you a business card? (Look closely for any ‘don’t contact’ instructions)
    – This means no automated address generation or collecting!
    – Do you have an existing business or non-business relationship?
    – Customers, clients, associates, donors, supporters, volunteers or members from the past two years.
  2. Think About the Type of Messages You’re Sending
    – Is it sent to an electronic address? E.g., email, SMS, instant messaging or similar platforms.
    – Is it commercial or promotional? Commercial or promotional information including marketing, sales, offers, solicitations or similar activities.
    – Ensure that no part of the message is false or misleading.
  3. Think About What You Must Include
    – Identify your name and business, the name of anyone else on whose behalf you are sending the message, and a current mailing address. Also include a phone number, email address, or web address. Ensure they are accurate and valid for a minimum of 60 days after sending the message.
    – Include details on how to unsubscribe in each message. Action every unsubscribe request within 10 days or less and at no cost to the recipient.

List Management

List management is important. If you’re sending to unengaged prospects who aren’t opening and clicking your emails, mail servers are going to assume you’re a spammy sender. Why, you ask? Because email providers and ISPs are going to notice that your emails are being ignored by recipients and assume you’re sending spam. So, what can you do to look good to mail servers?

  • Have a sunset policy for unengaged prospects. After sending a specific number of emails to a prospect with no engagement, You need to remove them from your mailing list to keep it fresh.
  • Don’t send to old lists! Prospects on these lists probably won’t remember who you are, so they’re likely to mark your message as spam (see Abuse Reports below for more on this). If a user marks your emails as spam you will see a significant decrease in the ability to get your messages delivered. You may also end up sending to a spam trap, which is an email account set up to capture spammy senders and poor permission marketers. If you send to a spam trap you will most likely become blacklisted by one or more of the major spam filter lists.

Abuse Reports

Abuse reports happen when someone marks an email as spam in their email client. Abuse reports are very serious, and even a small number of “mark as spam” complaints can get emails from your sending IP blocked.

Why do people report legitimate emails as spam?

  • Timing: you took too long between collecting the email address and sending an email. your recipients might not remember you.
  • Consent: your email lists aren’t 100% opted-in.
  • Volume: you’re sending too many emails, too often.
  • In-person signups: your prospects signed up at a tradeshow or other event and don’t remember opting in.
  • Partner lists: you’re sending to a partner or co-marketing list, and recipients don’t connect the dots between your emails and the list they initially signed up for.

How do I prevent spam complaints?

  • Email your prospects quickly after they opt in.
  • Use a confirmed opt-in process.
  • Never ever ever ever use a list of emails you have purchased.
  • If your email recipient signed up at an event or tradeshow, remind them of their in person sign up and thank them for opting-in.
  • Ask subscribers how often they want to receive your emails.
  • Ask for permission to email and document it. For example, use a confirmed opt-in process. If requesting permission to email over the phone, send a one-to-one email after the call to thank them for opting in.
  • Never buy lists. This is so important especially with the new CASL legislation, that it needs to be repeated. Just don’t do it!

Why is my email going to spam?

You can take some guesses about why your emails are going to the spam folder depending on where you’re sending the email.


It’s common knowledge that Gmail has the toughest spam filtering in the industry. We don’t have any specific information about why Gmail passes or fails emails, but we’ve noticed that these things tend to trigger Gmail’s spam filter:

  • Bad SPF statement: make sure your SPF is set up correctly.
  • Missing unsubscribe link
  • Missing physical address
  • Your IP’s reputation

A way to test your Gmail deliverability is to do the following:

  • Create a Gmail account and associate the email address with test prospect.
  • Add the prospect to an email test list.
  • Send your email to your test list.
  • If your email goes to the spam folder in the test Gmail account, Gmail will usually provide a reason it went to spam. See this documentation for more help.
  • Use the information that Gmail provides to make necessary adjustments before sending a live email to your prospects.

A Specific ISP

A few things could cause a specific ISP, like Telus, Eastlink or Hotmail, to junk your emails:

  • A bad IP reputation
  • Not having a sunset policy in place for unengaged prospects leads to bad engagement metrics, which makes your email look unwanted and spammy.
  • Not segmenting out your prospects can make you look spammy. For example, if you’re sending tons of emails to Telus email addresses in one day, they’re going to assume you’re spamming. Segment out your most active prospects and send to them first — this helps show ISPs that your emails are legitimate and wanted.

This list is not a guarantee your email may not end up in some spam filter somewhere, however, by following these best practices you will definitely increase the likelihood that your emails will continue to be delivered without delay.

Building Successful Web Strategies

Building Successful Web Strategies