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Junk Folders: 11 Reasons Why Emails End Up There

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You’ve taken the time to write a great marketing email and the last thing you want is for it to end up in your recipient’s junk folders or get blocked by spam filters. So why exactly does this happen and what can you do to prevent this?

Emails ending up in junk folders

Email servers follow an established set of rules to regulate incoming email and spam filters are triggered when certain factors in an email don’t abide to these rules. Rules are different for every email server, so it’s not always easy to pinpoint the exact triggers. However, there are many standard triggers to be aware of to ensure your email doesn’t automatically end up in email junk folders.

1. Use of spam trigger words and phrases

Email content filters analyze every word in an email to see if it contains common spam words. If your email contains a large amount of spam words, the server will block your email or send it to junk folders.

There are certain words that will trigger spam filters, so it’s best to use these sparingly or avoid using them completely.

2. Unequal text-to-image balance

Email servers favor messages that have an equal text-to-image ratio. They do not like emails that heavily feature images. Using more imagery than text will directly impact on your email deliverability rates and make ensure your messages end straight to junk folders.

Always include at least two lines of text for every image or graphic you put in your email. All images should have Alt text, and do not use short URLs if you are including any hyperlinks.

3. Poor text formatting

Stick to using one font type, one font size (below 12pt), and one font color. It’s fine to venture away from the standard black font, but don’t use multiple colors. Not doing so is considered as bad as the use of spam trigger words.

Punctuation is also key; using more than one exclamation mark in the subject line or body of the <h2> email is considered spam-like.

4. Not using a legitimate “From:” email address

It’s not recommended to use a free or personal email address from as Outlook.com/Hotmail or Gmail as your “From:” address. Instead, use an email address from your organization’s domain. If you don’t want to receive lots of out-of-office replies, set up an email address specifically for marketing emails and send from this address every time.

It is also best to avoid using email addresses that begin with ‘info’, ‘noreply’ or ‘sales’. These are seen to be generic, so they will often end up heading straight to email junk folders.

5. Bad HTML code

If your code is badly written with extra tags or was designed in Microsoft Word and then copied across, spam filters will be alerted. This will impact your open rates and it’s likely your email will be blocked.

To avoid this, you can use pre-made email templates or find an experienced designer to create a branded HTML email template with properly written code.

6. Opt-ins and unsubscribe links

Don’t assume that you have permission to send someone an email regardless of your connection to them. For example, if someone has purchased an item off your website, have a clear opt-in or opt-out option.

If you aren’t able to use the opt-in option, make sure that there is a clear unsubscribe link in your email. This is a legal requirement under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. All opt-out requests must be honored within 10 business days.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) also has strict rules around control over a user’s personal data. Failure to comply with GDPR can potentially result in a fine of 4% of a company’s annual turnover or €20 million.

7. Personalization

This isn’t vital, but it does help. If you have the ability to personalize the “To:” field with the recipient’s full name, spam filters are less likely to block your email and send it straight to junk folders.

8. Frequency of email sends

It is important to be consistent with how regularly you send an email. If you only send one email every few months, your recipients may have forgotten they signed up to marketing communications from you. This can lead them to mark your messages as spam emails and ending up in junk folders.

At the same time, don’t send them too frequently either as this may also be detrimental. If a recipients gets bombard with unwanted emails from your company, they might feel that your behavior is being spam-like. This could lead them to make a complaint against your email service provider, potentially leading to your IP being blacklisted.

9. Third-party email marketing services

Be aware that some email servers specifically block emails sent via third party email marketing services (EMS) to protect against spam. This can impact on the efficacy of your email campaigns.

Use a reputable and reliable service provider such as MailChimp or Campaign Monitor. Then, be sure to use DKIM and SPF custom domain authentication. These services’ IP addresses are trusted among many email servers, so your messages are more likely to get through.

10. Being blacklisted

Before your emails are delivered to your recipient’s inbox, they are read by the receiving email server to determine if your IP address or domain has been blacklisted. Being blacklisted means your emails have been confirmed to be a known source of spam content so will automatically be blocked.

If you’re worried that you may have been blacklisted, there are many free services available you can use to find out if this is the case. They will also advise you on how to get yourself removed from any blacklists.

11. Not complying with other CAN-SPAM requirements

We previously mentioned the CAN-SPAM Act and including an opt-out link. However there are four more requirements you must comply with, or you could face a $16,000 fine:

  • Don’t use false or misleading header information
  • Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  • Identify the message as an ad
  • Monitor what others are doing on your behalf


In conclusion, there is no guarantee that your email won’t be marked as spam or end up in junk folders. However, by following our recommendations, your email will be much more likely to be sent to your recipient’s inbox.

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