Marketing Center

Optimize your email marketing campaign

Create a smart, effective email program that will get past spam filters and in front of your customers.

Published: March 01, 2012
Updated: February 15, 2017

Email marketing can be a powerful and cost-effective way to connect with customers — if your messages make it past the spam filter. The best way to increase your open rate is to re-examine your email program from multiple angles.

Follow these five steps to boost your chances of making it into your customers' inboxes:

Step 1: Start with some housekeeping

When you send out high volumes of emails, it raises your chances of being marked as spam. Therefore, start by getting your domain on the whitelists of Yahoo!, Gmail, and other Web mail services. These are lists of approved email addresses and domain names that help keep email from being marked as junk mail. Find instructions on whitelisting your domain by searching the terms "whitelist" and "domain" online, along with each of the email providers you want to target.

Marketers should also review how they add recipients to their email lists and periodically remove outdated email addresses. Ensure that your email program only includes willing recipients by allowing prospects and customers to opt in, and include a clearly-marked unsubscribe link in your emails that allows people to immediately opt out. Some emailing services that cater to small businesses automatically include an opt-out option within all emails. You should also review the FTC's CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 to ensure compliance.

Step 2: Customize your message

Craft content that is useful, exclusive, and personal. For instance, if your recipients have a relationship with a sales rep from your business, include the rep's photo and contact information in the body of the email. Emails containing the recipient’s name are also more likely to be opened, which could result in a conversion.

When possible, use your email program to engage readers — say, by enticing them to your Facebook page with discounts. If emails contain information readers find relevant, they may set them aside rather than marking them as spam or deleting them.

Step 3: Execute multiple email campaigns

The more you can target your audience, the easier it will be to customize your message. When possible, break large email lists into smaller ones. Email lists can be segmented based on purchase history, geography, gender, or common interests. This can be done using sign-up forms, which enable businesses to capture customer information, or marketing software that narrows email blasts by audience and send time.

Step 4: Test your campaigns

To test a particular email marketing campaign, send a test message to email providers like Yahoo! and Gmail. If you end up in the junk folder, then you're likely to have the same result with your email campaign. You could also send a test email to someone who you know has a stringent firewall, with his or her permission.

If you use an email service provider, check their reports for your delivery success rates. Factors like word choice and image size may render emails "spammy" and detract from your success rate. By experimenting with different subject lines and email content, you can eliminate problem content from your emails.

Step 5: Ask for help

If your marketing emails continue to get caught in spam filters, you could turn to an e-marketing consultant or post a question on one of your trade association's social media sites to solicit suggestions from other business owners.

Take advantage of online resources like the Small Business Administration, which posts resources to help you comply with advertising laws and avoid penalties for spammers. Email rules and consumers' perceptions of email marketing are constantly changing. By becoming engaged in the conversation, you're more likely to stay in the know — and out of the spam folder.