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Getting email right, avoiding the spam traps

Google is the benchmark for spam management in both the web and email world. Whilst there are other services out there that compete you’re pretty brave if you ignore how Google deal with email.

By far, the most common trap is the dreaded “It contains content that’s typically used in spam messages.” It’s also the one that most marketers fall into as they tend to write very salesy emails and that gets Google’s spam trigger finger twitching. Although they may fail due to:

  • “Many people marked similar messages as spam.”
  • “We’ve found that lots of messages from [email protected] are spam.”
  • “Be careful with this message. Our systems couldn’t verify that this message was really sent by amazon.com. You might want to avoid clicking links or replying with personal information.”

You should write genuinely interesting content that engages with users and comes from a genuine source. And, if you are using a bulk sender such as MailChimp then adhere to Google’s bulk sender guidelines


Gmail classifies incoming mail in the following ways:

  • Spam vs. non-spam: Spam messages are placed in the spam folder, while non-spam message are placed in the inbox.
  • Mail categories: Most users use Gmail’s default inbox which further classifies non-spam mail into categories – Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums.

Mail classifications depend heavily on reports from users. Gmail users can mark and unmark messages as spam, and can move non-spam messages between inbox tabs. In both cases Gmail learns from user corrections and over time automatically adjusts the classification to match users’ preferences.


As part of Google’s classifying email as spam, you’ll need to consider:

  • Authentication & Identification. Ensure that Gmail can identify you by use a consistent IP address to send bulk mail. Keep valid reverse DNS records and use the same address in the ‘From:’ header on every bulk mail you send.
  • Subscription. Your distribution list should be 100% opted-in through an email asking to subscribe to your list or manually checking a box on a web form. It is also suggested to verify each email address before subscribing them to your list. Buying in a list, although popular, is not recommended.
  • Unsubscribing. A user must be able to unsubscribe from your mailing list with one click – this should be prominent.

Google holds a large database of, shall we call it spam experience, built up over many years and usually gets it right. Email sent to opted-in users normally arrives, although frequently using the mail classification tabs. Bought-in lists rarely work as they have been sold many times over and Google recognises that pattern and blocks the email.

The best solution is to send personalised email.