Win the Inbox: Clean Up Your List, Avoid the Spam Folder


Because size isn’t everything.

Bigger is better, right? It’s always gratifying to see your mailing list grow.

But if your open rate starts to suffer, you might find mailbox providers suddenly start putting your emails in the spam folder.

That’s bad. You’re not inboxing any more. How do you fix that?

If this is the issue, there’s exactly one way.

Welcome to this episode of “Win the Inbox” where I, your host, Phil Hollows, CEO of email service provider, answer one email marketing question in 3 minutes or less.

The one solution to this type of inboxing problem – and the way to avoid it in the first place – is to raise your open rate significantly.

That’s because mailbox providers use open rate as one of the factors to determine whether your email goes to the inbox, or into junk. Eventually, a consistently poor open rate will get your emails put into the spam folder. That, in turn, creates a vicious cycle. The more your emails land in junk, the less likely they are to be opened, reducing your open rate even further, and cementing your position in spam folder jail.

To prevent this, you need to clean up your list, which means making it smaller.

Maybe a lot smaller, if your list is old. Definitely a lot smaller if you have single digit open rates.

And that’s OK. You’re shedding people who don’t open your emails anyway, and it might even save you some money by reducing your ESP’s bill.

You need to get out of the junk folder, and to stay out, and this is what you have to do.

If your open rate is below ten percent, you need to clean up as soon as possible. I also recommend cleaning lists up routinely, even if you’re reaching the inbox successfully already.

To clean up your list, pick your criteria. You can remove anyone who hasn’t opened the last 30 emails you sent them, for example, or use a time-based option, such as anyone who’s been on the list for a year without opening. Just remove them, and be done.

You could run a re-engagement campaign instead, where you send a series of emails to people meeting your cleanup criteria. It’s effort to do this, and in our experience, these campaigns do not yield great results. Still, it’s an option.

But, and this is crucial, do not, do not ever, never, ask your readers to unsubscribe as your re-engagement call to action.


Firstly, because the people who do open those emails will in fact unsubscribe. You’re going to lose the very people you want to keep, and keep the people you want to lose.

Secondly, your unsubscribe rate – and especially the unsubscribe rate as a percentage of opens – will skyrocket. ISPs, and ESPs like FeedBlitz, look at unsubscribe rates as a sign of list quality. A spike in unsubscribes is a black mark and further confirmation that your list belongs in junk. Your ESP might even take action against that list or your account.

Again, the opposite of what you’re trying to do.

In other words, always invite subscribers to stay. Never ask them to leave.

A good open rate is critical to avoiding the spam folder. Pick quality over quantity, and clean your lists up.

If you found this helpful, please like, share and subscribe. There’s more at, where you can also ask me a question you’d like addressed in a future episode. I’m Phil Hollows, and I’ll see you next time.

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