Am I a Spammer? 11 Signs You’re Sending Email Spam (and How to Be a Nice Sender)

Illustration by Sènga la Rouge Little man being swept into rubbish bin.

Email is one of the most effective marketing verticals for brands big or small. It gives you direct access to the people who care most about your brand and what you stand for. But, sometimes things don’t feel quite right.

Maybe your open rates are falling or you’re hitting the dreaded 1% unsubscribe rate (a 0.49% unsubscribe rate is considered “normal,” depending on your industry.) Or maybe you just aren’t seeing the kind of success you expected from your email marketing efforts.

I hate to say it, but the problem could be you. Your subscribers might think you’re sending email spam.

Have you considered the strategies you employ when sending emails might be casting a negative light on your WordPress site or business? Your strategies might make you look like a spammer, even when you most definitely are not one!

So, how do you change your spammer-like ways and become a nice email sender? Here are a few mistakes you might be making that leading to subscribers perceiving you as sending email spam how to fix them.

1. You send way too many emails

The average person receives as many as 117 consumer-related emails a day, and this number doesn’t even include the work-related emails many of us receive. Most people’s inboxes are crowded, so if you are sending multiple emails a week or even a day, you might be overwhelming your audience.

This doesn’t mean you can’t send multiple emails a day or week, it just means you need to consider whether you are offering enough value to justify sending so many emails.

It might be fine to send a higher volume of emails at certain times of the year, say, before Black Friday or right before a launch. But you likely don’t need to send emails more than once or twice a week. (Again, for most businesses, there are always exceptions!)

Sending too many emails might annoy your subscribers and reduce the efficacy of the email marketing strategy you’ve put together for your WordPress site.

The solution: Think long and hard about whether every subscriber on your list really needs every email you’re sending. Are you offering them value? Consider consolidating your thoughts into one email or segmenting your email list. These strategies will reduce the overall volume of the emails you send from your WordPress site and increase the value of each email. Also, keep an eye on your email frequency vs open rate metrics. After increasing your frequency, if you see your open rate drop a month later, it means you’re probably sending too many emails.

2. You send everyone the same emails

If you are sending everyone on your list the same email, you are missing out on an opportunity, and might even be making yourself look like a spammer. Instead, try personalizing your messaging.

Personalization can help your email stand out in your subscribers’ inboxes, increase open rates, and even help you build stronger relationships with your audience. Instead of sending everyone the same emails, focus on sending content personalized to your subscribers’ interests and needs.

The solution: Segment your email list or ask users to tell you what type of content they are interested in. With MailPoet, you can create email preferences, allowing customers to opt into different lists from a single signup form. Find out how to start a second list.

Segmenting lists or getting email preferences is especially important if you are a high-frequency sender or have lists with 2000+ poeple because subscribers will stop engaging with your emails, unsubscribe, or even mark you as spam if they are overwhelmed by content they don’t care about.

3. You continue sending to inactive subscribers

Once you’ve been sending for a year or more, you’ll start to notice your open rate drop slowly, but surely. Why is that? Some of your subscribers simply ignore your emails after a while instead of unsubscribing. Perhaps their inbox noticed a lack of activity and started putting your emails in a category that they don’t ever look at.

Well, the bad news is that email providers also use engagement to filter your emails. Gmail initiated this new method in 2016 and the others have followed suit.

These filters are getting quite powerful as they will judge engagement per subscriber and not just per sender. This is why we highly recommend setting up a Welcome Email to ensure subscriber engagement right from the start.

The solution: ensure that you remove inactive subscribers from your lists that haven’t opened your emails in over a year, or even 6 months if you send more than once a month. MailPoet has a feature to automatically stop sending to your inactive subscribers. Nifty.

4. You send emails from your host

Website hosts can send your emails for free. Although they usually have a daily limit of emails you can send, for example, 2,000, this sounds like a great way to save money.

But hosts aren’t truly set up to send emails. It’s not their job. In WordPress, which powers a third of the Web, website owners often to run into sending issues.

Spammers love hosts too. Why? Because they’re already sending emails and they have IP addresses with a fairly good reputation. They find ways to leverage their sending capability and start exploiting their weaknesses, even if it’s just for a short period of time.

The unfortunate result is that hosts can be banned for 24 hours or even a week while the host scrambles to get delisted. In the meantime, some of the emails sent from your website might never reach your subscribers and hosts usually don’t let their own customers know.

Hosts have become much better at preventing these type of abuses since it impacts their business, but they still occur.

The solution: ensure that you send emails from a reliable sending service. Yes, they cost, but you’re paying for expertise that requires specific knowledge hosts don’t usually have in-house: email deliverability.

If you’re a MailPoet user, we do offer our sending service for free for smaller accounts.

5. You aren’t transparent with your opt-ins

One of the reasons email is so effective as a marketing strategy is because it is (or should be) permission-based. You are only sending email to people have indicated they want to receive your emails.

Being transparent means making sure people know what they are signing up for when they join your email list. If they sign up for a webinar, for example, make sure to let them know they are also joining your email marketing list. Don’t scrape emails from your Facebook or in-person networking events and add those people to your email list without their permission.

The Solution: Use a double opt-in and be clear about how often you send emails from your WordPress site and what those emails will be about. This is actually a GDPR requirement if you’re sending to subscribers in the EU. Also, ask users to add your address to their contacts, this will help you bypass their spam filter. For a great example of a double opt-in (if I do say so myself) check out MailPoet’s newsletter Subscribe page to see how it works.

6. You use spam filter trigger words

Spam filters are set up to catch as many spam emails as possible before they make it to recipient inboxes. They do this through algorithms and rules, based on the behaviors spammers commonly engage in. To a spam filter, if it looks like spam and sounds like spam, it is probably spam!

Trigger words include misleading or over the top words such as:

  • Free
  • Apply online
  • Once in lifetime
  • Urgent
  • Info you requested
  • Amazing

The Solution: Avoid popular spam filter trigger words and don’t try to oversell your emails. Aim for authentic, engaging titles over ALL CAPS titles that push too hard. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of spam words to avoid.  

7. You don’t use a recognizable sender name

Your sender name is the name that tells recipients who their email is coming from. The sender name should be clear and let the subscriber know who is emailing them. At the risk of stating the obvious, here is an example of how sender names typically display in Gmail:

Screenshot highlighting where the sender name is.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, some senders try to get creative or don’t realize the importance of the sender name. Keep in mind, the sender is often the first thing people see when they look at your email — you need to make it clear who the email is from.

For example, when Kim Gjerstad sends out MailPoet’s newsletters, he always uses “Kim at MailPoet” as the “from” name. Why? Well, if you got an email just from Kim, you might not know who he is. By adding “at MailPoet,” it explains where he’s from and gives you an idea about what the email might be about.

The solution: Use a real person’s name “Kyle at Example,” if possible, or at least use a recognizable brand name. If you use multiple versions of your brand name (Say eBags but also eBags, LLC), choose the simplest and most recognizable version of your brand name.

8. You bought (or rented) email lists

Buying email addresses might seem like a good deal when you are just starting out. Drop a few hundred bucks and you get access to a few thousand email addresses you can then woo with your amazing emails, right? The truth is, buying emails doesn’t work.

Buying email lists for your WordPress site is straight up a bad idea. You have no way to verify the validity of those addresses and that same list could have been sold dozens of times. Plus, it might be illegal.

Check the laws in your own country on this, as it will vary according to where you are in the world. In the EU, there are tighter laws on spamming, though the US has laws against unsolicited email as well, such as the CAN-SPAM Act. UK senders will need to abide by the Data Protection Act. Other Europeans must abide by the GDPR, which includes laws about how data is handled.

The solution: Don’t buy email lists. Ever. In addition to being ineffective, buying or renting email lists is illegal in many areas, and against the TOS for most email services (including MailPoet!). It reduces delivery rates and makes you look like a spammer.

If you have already made this mistake, you need to clean up your list and delete those purchased emails. Instead, use these tips to grow your email list organically.

9. You use misleading or clickbait-style email subject lines

You already know email titles are important. This is your one shot to engage, inspire, and encourage recipients to click to open your brilliant email! But, you might be going a little overboard if you are using misleading or clickbait-style titles.

To encourage trust and build a strong relationship with your list, you need to be clear about the content of your email. Don’t promise subscribers an amazing deal if you are sending the same 10% off offer you sent last week. Don’t say items are going out of stock if they aren’t to encourage purchases. You want to be authentic, honest, and direct.

Don’t bait and switch by using misleading or exaggerated subject lines. You’ll damage the relationship you are trying to build with your audience. Clickbait-style email subject lines are more likely to earn you an eye roll or an unsubscribe than a click through.

The solution: Instead, use clear, direct language to describe what your email is about and what they can expect if they open it. Getting creative is fine, but be careful not to step over into over embellished language or make exaggerated claims.

For more on how to write email subject lines, check out 11 Best Subject Line Styles to Increase Your Open Rates and 12 of the Best Email Subject Lines We’ve Ever Seen.

10. You don’t respect unsubscribes (or make it too complicated)

As I mentioned before, email should always be permission-based. If someone no longer wants to receive your emails, simple — let them unsubscribe from your list. Don’t hide the link to unsubscribe, and don’t make it a five-step process to leave your list.

In addition to being spammy, you might actually be breaking spam or data protection laws by not honoring unsubscribe requests.

The solution: This one is pretty easy — when someone unsubscribes, make sure you take them off your email list. Don’t try to hide the unsubscribe button or make them jump through hoops just to get off your list.

While you should make unsubscribing easy, feel free to ask why they are leaving. This information might give you insight into where you might be doing things wrong, such as sending too many emails.  

11. You send files in your emails

Sending files in your email is a fast track way to landing directly in spam boxes. Files also tend to increase the size of your email, which makes them take longer to load. Email load time is particularly important on mobile, where more than 55% of people open their email.

But what if you really need to send a file? Or what if you offered a guide or ebook as a lead magnet?

The solution: Where possible, avoid sending files in your emails, particular unrequested files. Most email users have been trained not to open unrequested attachments in case it’s a virus, so this could be a huge red flag even if your intentions are honorable.

Instead, place the document or file on your WordPress website and add a link to your email where they can click through to download the file if they want it.

A word of caution — if you are sending out a free resource in exchange for a newsletter sign up, don’t make this process too complex. Just send the link with a few lines of text. Don’t make the recipient feel like you are trying to hide the resource.

Conclusion — just be a nice sender!

If you’re wondering “Am I a spammer?” and you’re employing any of the strategies above, the answer is clear: yes, you’re a spammer! Or, at least, your subscribers are perceiving you to be a spammer. You need to do something ASAP to change their minds.

The first step is to reevaluate the email marketing plan for your WordPress site. Aim to send only relevant, engaging content that customers are interested in and be upfront about your intentions. Also, consider how often you’re sending email, and try A/B testing your content until you work out what’s a good fit for your audience. You’ll be a nice email sender in no time!