Gmail Spam Filter BluesYou’ve crafted an excellent email: a well-written subject line, great content, and mobile-optimized design. Yet more and more, it seems like the emails you send to contacts with Gmail have lower open rates. Is it all in your head? Sadly, no. Since March 2016, Google has made some changes to their spam filtering algorithms that might be impacting your emails. While Google does not release the precise nature of these changes, some simple best practices can help. What do you need to know to make sure your email marketing efforts don’t wind up in the darkest pit of the spam folder?

Look at Your Emails—Not Your ESP

You may wonder whether your email service provider impacts whether or not your email is labeled as spam. But the real answer lies in your emails and your lists, not your ESP. Whether you use MailChimp, Constant Contact, or another service, your ESP doesn’t determine whether or not your email is deliverable (even though they can offer advice). The same goes for marketing automation platforms. Spam problems typically have to do with issues including the technical aspects of your emails, sender reputation, list hygiene…and, most of all, engagement.

Bad Reputation

With apologies to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, you actually do have to care about your reputation—or at least your domain’s reputation. It can determine whether your emails go in the inbox—or in the spam folder. Gmail (along with other email providers) monitors the amount and the frequency of emails that marketers send. If a large amount of subscribers are flooded with irrelevant emails from a specific domain, the spam complaint rate will rise, as will the number of recipients who will ignore or delete emails.

This matters to your deliverability rate. Your domain is scored based on your level of engagement, bounces, and spam complaints. The better the sender, the better the score, and less likely your email will be marked as spam.

Tidy Up Your Lists

Good list hygiene is a must for avoiding the spam folder. Take every opportunity to re-engage or remove non-engaged subscribers. Removal sounds easy enough: just get rid of invalid, non-responsive, and duplicate email addresses on a regular basis. But how can you re-engage with the rest of your list?

Engagement ≠ Spam

Engagement simply means how your recipients interact with your email: clicking on links, replying, opening, and forwarding are all actions that count. Google’s new algorithm takes that engagement into account. This means you need to give your recipients a reason to re-engage and open your email—but you were doing that anyway, weren’t you? Coupons or contests can be one incentive to get more opens.

You can also try this magic method of engagement: Simply ask!

Remind your recipient to add your email address to their address books (that’s a valuable form of engagement). You can even directly ask them to reply. Simply say you’re worried that your emails may not be making it to their inboxes, and ask them to reply to make sure they continue receiving your emails. A little honesty might be the best policy.

No matter what changes Google puts in place for spam filtering, best practices are always a good idea. Engagement, reputation, and good list hygiene for your critical emails never go out of style. If you’ve tried all of these options, then it may be time to bring in a professional email marketing team to look at the composition of your emails.