If you use email for marketing purposes, then you’re probably concerned with whether recipients open and interact with the messages you send. In order to make this happen, you need to make sure that your emails end up in the recipient’s inbox. What you don’t want is to have your emails classified as spam.

In most cases, emails that are classified as spam go directly to the recipient’s spam folder, where they wither and die without ever being seen. In the early days of email, internet service providers (ISPs) and email services weren’t so good at detecting spam. Messages from legitimate companies could get classified as spam because they’d be addressed to many recipients or sent in bulk.

That’s when email whitelists became common. Brands could ask clients and customers to add official email addresses to their whitelist in order to avoid getting plunked into the spam folder. This required the user to manually go in and change settings on their email account.

Are Whitelists Still Necessary?

These days, there are whitelists that ISPs and email services use to filter spam on a higher level. Not many individual people concern themselves with whitelists and their counterpart, blacklists, which mark all incoming messages from a specific sender as spam.

But simply getting added to a whitelist, whether on the micro level with individual recipients or on the macro level with ISPs and email services, isn’t necessarily enough these days. Email filtering technology is a lot more sophisticated, and popular email services like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail rely on algorithmic filtering rather than whitelists to determine what is and isn’t spam.

There are some whitelists that you can get on for free and others that require payment. The free ones may be worth your time but the paid ones less so. It’s more effective to avoid spammy behaviors and other red flags that trigger an email service’s filters. Following best practices for legitimate marketing emails is a more robust step than simply signing onto a whitelist.

Anti-Spam Best Practices

So what do those best practices look like in action? Fortunately, most businesses already implement these processes. If you aren’t sure whether you have the right measures in place to avoid being classified as spam, then consider the following:

  • Appropriate address usage: You may have noticed that businesses tend to have different email addresses for different types of messaging, all from the same domain. For example, you might get an order confirmation from orders@example.com, and then get your shipping notice from noreply@example.com. Doing this is a good idea because sending too many emails from the same address can make you look like a spammer. Be sure to consistently use the same kind of messaging for each designated address. Don’t start sending promotional emails from your order confirmation address.
  • Message segmentation: In addition to using the appropriate addresses, you’ll want to avoid trying to sneak in promotional material where it doesn’t belong. The goal of most spam is to get people to buy something, so if you add promotional content to a shipping notification email, for example, that may look sketchy to some spam filters.
  • Proper formatting: Emails need to have the right metadata and structural formatting to appear legitimate. Using an email marketing automation platform like MailChimp, HubSpot, Constant Contact or others can help with this. They’ll take care of formatting and metadata issues to enhance legitimacy.

At this point, taking these steps can be more important than just getting on a whitelist. Specific email services might not even recognize whitelists made for other services or ISPs, but the industry best practices tend to be fairly uniform across the board.

Avoiding User Flagging

Remember that avoiding the spam filter isn’t necessarily enough to make your email campaigns a success. You still need to create compelling subject lines, relevant copy and effective calls to action. And if recipients react badly to your messaging, that can create problems.

Individual users can flag a sender’s emails as spam, often with a simple click of a button. This is potentially bad news because getting flagged as spam consistently will inform an email service’s algorithm in its efforts to block spam. In other words, if you annoy your recipients to the point that they feel you’re spamming them, that will tank your reputation and make you look less legitimate in the eyes of the spam filter. Even if what you’re doing is technically legitimate, getting flagged as a spammer will get you treated like one.

You can handle this by being judicious in how you send email. Only send messages to those who’ve indicated that they want them. If a user opts in, then send a confirmation email immediately so they don’t forget they asked for you to contact them. Don’t send too many messages to those who’ve opted in, and give recipients control over the frequency and type of messages they receive. Make unsubscribing easy and effective. Ensure that all of your emails are relevant and useful. Taking these steps will help you maintain the email legitimacy you’ve worked hard to secure.

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