Spam filters are more strict than ever.

Can you blame them? You can barely read a blog post these days without being automatically added to some list and suddenly YOU’VE GOT ACCESS to something you didn’t want and they won’t. stop. emailing. about it.

Yet, for all its maladies, email is still one of the most successful methods for reaching your church weekly (next to text messaging, but I digress). We’re supposed to do a little dance if over 22% of our list opens our emails.  


So, there’s a lot going against you, sure, but let’s not give up! Let’s keep up the good fight! Let’s keep those spam filters from tossing us in the digital dust bins with a few best practices, shall we!

Most of the church communicators I meet don’t actually know about deliverability. That’s one big word sum up a lot of reasons an email provider like Gmail or Yahoo would mark your mass email as spam.

And there are a LOT of reasons. Like, more reasons than there are for Marvel to just keep making movies about superheroes.

But I’m going to give you just 9 (edit: 10) of the biggest reasons your email is ending up in file 13 and one new one. Here they are in no particular order.

(NEW) The URL you’re sending from isn’t verified

So, when you switch email providers, you learn a thing or two. Do you know what SPF and DKIM stand for? I didn’t. It’s your Sender Policy Framework and Domain Keys Identified Mail. You have to go into your domain’s DNS settings and create records for your email provider. Then, when they populate after about 24 hours, you click verify and if everything worked correctly, the email provider can classify your domain as verified and inboxes will let your email through.

Sound complicated? Well, depending on who you’re talking to, it is. I think some mail providers like Mailchimp do this easily. Google your provider and those letters and you’ll find step by step guides to updating your DNS records and verifying your email sender.

Or just pay someone smarter than you to do it. That’s what I’d like to do.

You don’t have permission to email them

You can actually be fined up to $16k for putting someone on a mailing list without their consent. Most will then report you as spam. If they report you for emailing them without permission, there’s only a certain amount of times that can happen before Gmail flags all of your emails as spam. Practice honest practice.

Someone else used your server to email spam

So, say you get a Mailchimp account and some sleezeball spammer dude near you gets one too and Mailchimp uses the same server to send and receive email for you both. Because of sleezeball’s behavior, your whole server could get flagged as a spammer and thus, affect your deliverability. Sucks, I know. If you start to see a lot of bounces or are receiving a lot of spam reports, check with your provider to see what’s up.

Low open rates

So, this is going to sound like weird Terminator/Skynet stuff, but your clients’ inboxes are learning. Gmail is watching to see if your emails are being opened a lot or if they are being deleted outright. If you have low open rates, at some point, Gmail just puts your email/IP address out of its misery, banishing it to the dry places of the spam folder. It’s thinking about its customers’ experience first and you spammy.

Your subject line is deceptive

I’m all for a catchy subject line. It’s the key to getting people to really open you email! But if you are being straight up deceptive, that could get you flagged by both the end user and Gmail. Subject lines like “Hey, I have important information about your dad” or “Your credit is in jeopardy. **Final notice**” are gross.

Too many images

Yep, if you have a lot of images, it increases the size of the email. When Gmail sees a huge email, it thinks, “hmm, that’s either porn or a virus, so let’s kill that one.” The default mode for Gmail users is that images are turned off anyway. So whatever you’re sending, probably isn’t even loading. But either way, the limit for most emails is 24Mb, which isn’t much, so if you get close to that, Gmail is going to flag it as suspicious.

Your reply address, from address, and from name don’t match

Nothing says “I’ve gone phishing” like this one. When your from address and your reply address don’t match, it is a red flag for most email providers because that’s a common practice of spamming called “Phishing.” They mask their actual reply email (because it’s probably a T-1000 looking for John) so you’ll reply and get sucked into their nightmarish funnel.

Bounce with me, yeah, throw your hands up

If Gmail/Yahoo have received a large number of bounces from your address, that’s cause to flag you as spam too. A soft bounce is when you send an email to someone with an out of office reply on or the mailbox is full. A hard bounce is when you send email to an inbox that doesn’t exist. If you get a lot of hard bounces, that’s the practice of a spammer. Let’s try every possible email address and see what works! ←-Said the Devil.

Don’t be the Devil.

You didn’t include your physical address

This may seem like the oddest violation, but it’s actually against CAN-SPAM laws to email someone and not include a physical address in the footer. If you deleted that default footer in Mailchimp, better go put it back because you’re breakin’ the law!

You didn’t include an unsubscribe link

The greatest offense of them all. It is a privilege to be able to communicate with our people via their inbox. We should treat it as such. Having no unsubscribe link is like a dinner guest that comes over, lets himself in, and refuses to go home. This is actually against the law too and will get you fined fast, so make sure you’ve always got a way to opt-out of your list.

To the American church: Our days are numbered on this. We’ve already seen GDPR instituted in Europe and we would be foolish to think that it will not become law here in the near future as well. Start practicing high-standards of marketing now and trust me, your people will thank you for it.

I know there are several other factors that can affect deliverability. Feel free to mention them in the comments below.

In the meantime, I’d love to continue this conversation over in The Seminary of Hard Knocks Facebook group. Thanks for reading!


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