Email marketers aren’t the only ones who have to dodge spam filters. Anyone who relies on email to establish and maintain relationships should be aware of the regulations that apply to ensure that their messages are delivered effectively. This includes PR professionals who send pitches to media contacts via email.

Even if you have no intention of breaking any email service provider’s rules or regulations, you may have a hard time steering clear of spam filters. If you work in public relations, you have a lot to lose if you make mistakes and stray from the best practices.

If you want to keep your emails out of your recipients’ spam folders, you need to start by understanding why emails end up in spam.

Why email pitches land in spam folders 

Spam traps 

Spam is taken very seriously by any reputable email service provider – as it should be. Users who transmit spam on purpose harm the service’s server reputation. This, in turn, impacts mail sent by everyone else from the same source. Deliverability, which is the only important statistic for users of a service, is impacted by a low server reputation.

Spammers and email service providers are playing a cat-and-mouse game to see who can outsmart the other. A “spam trap” is one of the methods used by email service providers to identify spammers.

What exactly are spam traps, and how do they work?

  1. Someone from an email service provider’s anti-spam department or an internet service provider’s (ISP) will post an email address anywhere online, particularly in open forums and reader comment areas.
  2. Either the address was created specifically for this reason and has never been used to send emails, or it is a recycled address from a terminated account. It’s a valid and functioning address.
  3. Spammers get the address via harvesting or “scraping” email addresses that are publicly available on the internet.
  4. Any incoming messages, which could only have been sent by someone who found the address online, are watched.
  5. The sender’s IP or email client-server is logged and either restricted or banned outright. In this way, the spam trap catches the spammer.

Spam complaints 

When you open an email, you can choose to “report spam” or “mark [it] as spam.” This feature is there as a convenience for users, and it’s designed to let users tag any communications that spam filters might have missed. It’s a powerful tool that can be used to punish spammers and keep inboxes clean. However, depending on the way you communicate, you can unintentionally cause spam complaints among receivers.

A single complaint will not harm you, but if you surpass certain thresholds, your ability to reach inboxes will be severely limited, and your account may be suspended.

Spam filters 

It’s vital to remember that spam filters are a wonderful thing that we all benefit from. They improve the overall user experience by preventing junk mail from entering our inboxes and identifying individuals who abuse the email system.

However, the same factors that make spam filters sensitive can also be problematic for senders who aren’t trying to break the law. Spam filters are designed to look for specific characteristics associated with “spam” emails. If you’re not careful, you can accidentally trigger spam filters.

Here are some common mistakes that get attention from spam filters:

  • The use of “salesy” words associated with spam
  • Lack of personalization
  • Excessive formatting
  • Large email “weight”
  • The inclusion of too many links

How to prevent your emails from landing in the spam folder 

1) Avoid using spammy words in your subject line 

Using words and phrases that are blatantly spammy, such as “no obligation” or “no credit card required,” are some of the easiest ways to set off a spam filter. The particular terms and phrases to avoid vary based on the email service provider, but here are a few more:

“Special deal”

“Dear friend”

Additionally, if you use exclamation points and question marks together or type everything in CAPS, you can activate spam filters, regardless of the words you’ve used. Spammers use these words, phrases, and attention-drawing strategies all the time. Think about it – even you would be skeptical if you encountered any of the above elements in a subject line.

We’ve discovered that including the word “free” in your subject line and email body in itself doesn’t trigger spam filters. However, the word “free” will definitely activate spam filters if you follow it with many exclamation marks or question marks, or if you write it in ALL CAPS.

Instead of utilizing spammy terms and phrases in your subject lines, concentrate on developing subject lines that clearly express what your email is about—and use words that activate an emotional response rather than a spam filter.

Tip: Look through your spam folder to get a sense of the types of subject lines that spam emails typically utilize.

2) Meet the expectations of your subject line 

Nobody enjoys being duped. Someone who opens your email after you’ve used bait and switch to get them to open it won’t laugh and go, “Aww, you got me!” Instead, they get irritated. As a result, whether or not your email was relevant to your target audience, you’ve now earned a permanent spot in their spam folder.

Your email open rate can be dramatically increased by using a strong, attention-grabbing subject line. However, a greater open rate is useless if your email fails to deliver on the promises made in the subject line. Instead, you’ll simply increase the likelihood of individuals getting angry after reading your email.

Writing subject lines that clearly express the content of your email is another way to avoid this. In reality, there are many strategies to enhance open rates without deceiving your readers.

3) Don’t use link shorteners 

In print, when your readers won’t click on your link, link shorteners like come in handy. It makes creating a memorable URL a lot easier. Link shorteners are instrumental in situations where you have a limited number of characters, such as on Twitter. However, there’s no reason to use one in an email, and, if you do, you’ll almost certainly set off a spam filter.

Spammers mask dangerous URLs with link shorteners. In general, using a link shortener instantly raises a red flag. The email service provider will automatically wonder why the sender didn’t include the actual URL. What are they attempting to conceal? After all, there’s no apparent reason to utilize link shorteners in an email (people can click your links directly, and you’re not limited on space), the email server will most likely conclude that it’s safer to safeguard their users from a potentially harmful link.

4) Only link to reputable websites 

On a similar note, your emails should never direct recipients to untrustworthy websites (or email providers). That’ll almost certainly land your email in the spam bin. You may need to link to a tool that isn’t hosted on your website, such as a quiz. That’s OK, but you need to know you’re working with a respected quiz maker. You can use a website such as Ahrefs Website Authority Checker to gauge the domain authority of the sites your linking to.

You could easily develop a landing page that acts as a mediator if a URL you’re sending users to activates spam filters. However, there are two reasons why this isn’t the wisest choice:

  • It adds a step between your viewers and the action you want them to take. They must click/tap once more to get to where you want them to go, and you might lose some people in the process.
  • People are still sent to the shady URL.

The best answer is discovering a more reliable website that can achieve the same goal and direct folks there instead.

5) Grow your list the right way 

In most circumstances, buying an email list is not a good idea. Every subscriber on the list has developed a bond with the organization that grew the list in the first place. They haven’t agreed to get into a partnership with your company. You have not earned a place in their inbox. Even if they’re part of your intended audience, these folks will feel betrayed and find your emails intrusive right off the bat. Your emails don’t belong in their inbox at all. If their spam filter fails to capture you, they will mark you as spam themselves.

Growing your own email list organically is the safest way to build an extensive email list. You must earn every subscriber, whether you use email signup forms on your site or market a lead-gen campaign. Regardless of how you build your list, make sure that individuals join it voluntarily. You don’t have the right to use someone’s email just because you have it.

It’s tempting to get your message in front of as many people as possible. However, most people would define spam as “an email I didn’t ask for.” So if you pop up in their email without permission, you’ll be kicked out.

If you need help building your own email list, you can reach out to a well-connected PR agency like Pressfarm.

As a PR firm focused on startups, Pressfarm will help build your PR campaign by creating a media list for you. The PR specialists, expert writers and certified designers at Pressfarm will also work with you to craft content that is sure to bring in replies from your target journalists. With a professional press release, some compelling guest posts, and a creative media kit, you can make a journalist’s head turn.

If you sign up for their Campaign package, the team at Pressfarm can also take the hassle of distributing this content off your plate. With a refined targeted pitching strategy, the experts at Pressfarm will send your content out to publications and thought leaders in your niche. These are the exact kind of people who would be happy to hear from you and share your news.

6) Create a re-engagement campaign 

You’re at risk of being flagged as spam if your subscribers start ignoring your emails. They don’t care about you anymore, and you’re just taking up space in their inbox. When that happens, it’s time to try something new: a re-engagement campaign.

A re-engagement campaign is (typically) a series of automated emails that begin sending when a lead gets cold—when they haven’t opened your last three emails, for example—and finish when they open one email. It could be as simple as a single email. Offering the subscriber a gift could be part of your re-engagement efforts. Alternatively, you might simply want to remind folks of what they’re missing out on by ignoring your emails. You may also request that users re-opt-in to continue receiving emails from you.

The goal of this email, or series of emails, is to interrupt the pattern by asking, “Hey, you—yeah, you—are you paying attention?”

7) Segment your list 

This is a dilemma for email marketers because your email list will likely contain numerous unique categories of people. These people probably have different roles or hobbies, which can greatly influence the type of information they’re interested in and how they respond to sales pitches. When people believe your email is irrelevant to them, they will most likely flag it as spam.

Just as sales professionals use different tactics for different types of leads, your emails should speak to different demographics of your audience differently.

That is why your email list should be segmented. Segmenting helps you divide your leads into categories based on what you know about them. This is the same as making sublists within your main list. It also enables you to send more relevant messages, which means you’re less likely to land in the spam folder.


Every person on your email list represents someone who has a connection to your company. Some of them have known you for a long time. Others have only recently met you. It’s relatively simple to ensure that these people don’t mark you as spam: treat them like the unique individuals that they are. By personalizing your messages and the way you speak to them, you can capture their attention and coax them into opening every single email from here on out.