5 Tips How to Cleverly Outsmart Google’s Spam Filter

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Does an email that goes directly into a spam filter have any useful info to share? 

These are the types of philosophical questions that have been plaguing the sages for millennia. Okay, at least since 1996 when Hotmail launched its first-ever web-based email service provider.

Awwww, the novelty of receiving email pre-2000. I remember it fondly.

It wasn’t too long before marketers caught on that email was a quick and cost effective way to reach consumers. And the next thing we knew, we were being asked for our email address at every possible juncture. “Maam…would you like to buy some Girl Guide cookies and oh…can we have your email address to?” Oh Hell, No.

I may exaggerate a wee hair, but not really.

It wasn’t long before our inboxes became cluttered with “BUY NOW, SAVE BIG, XXX YOUR DREAMS “

>>>>Introducing the SPAM filter.


Turns out, nobody likes Spam. And email servers did their best to protect customers by enlisting the help of filters to weed out all the unwanted crap. Which is a good thing, except when Google gets it wrong and thinks your jewels of wisdom are crap. Which, of course, they’re not. You spend hours each week composing thought-provoking emails only to have them filtered into the promotions tab – where all emails go to die.

Google Mail, aka Gmail, is one of the best at the spam/promotions filtering game. And while many email servers have ways of filtering out unwanted communications, I’m focusing on Gmail because…

Here are some pretty crazy Gmail statistics.

  1. Gmail is the most popular email provider in 2020 with over 1.8 Billion users
  2. Gmail currently owns 43% of the email market worldwide, 53% of the US market.
  3. The average number of accounts per user – 1.7 (I have four)

Your goal is to get your emails opened and read. So whether you use Gmail or not, chances are, your client does. Therefore, it’s important to learn some useful tricks to navigate through the filters. 

Tip #1 – Avoid images

Yes, agreed, attractive emails are a delight to read. I mean…who doesn’t like gorgeous coffee-table book looking graphics? And so many email service providers offer pretty templates. You just have to plop in an image, add in a few words, and your email will be the talk of the powder room.


Except that the chances are they won’t. Because fancy emails often get sent directly to the promotions folder. Which is fine if you are happy with that. But I wouldn’t be. I want my emails to be in the primary tab. I know that many Gmail users don’t even realize they have a promotions folder that they should be checking from time to time. Case in point…my proofreader added a comment to this post asking me…” What’s a promotions tab, Diane?” See what I mean?

When was the last time you sent a pretty photo in an email to a friend? The reality is – you just don’t. You might post it on Facebook or send the image through WhatsApp, but you most likely wouldn’t send the image in an email. #truth

Tip #2 – Avoid too many links

One or two clickable links within your email should be fine. Any more and Google thinks your email is trying to sell something – and so off to the promotions tab it will go.

Tip #3 – Don’t get marked as SPAM by your readers

Now, why would they do that? It happens. Usually for one of the following reasons:

  1. You didn’t have their permission to email them in the first place – you can, but you shouldn’t, buy lists from third parties.
  1. You email your list so infrequently that they’ve forgotten who you are, so they mark you as SPAM. Kinda like when you meet some guy at a bar a few months back and then he texts you out of nowhere for a bootie call and you are like…” Who DIS?” >> Delete.
  1. They don’t remember giving you their email address – this happens a lot with travel shows where people drop their business cards in a fishbowl hoping to win a prize, not realizing the connection with your travel services. Oopsy. This is still a great list building exercise, but you’ll want to approach this audience separately from your main audience.

The CAN-SPAM act of 2004 prohibits unlawful marketing communication via email. You must have explicit permission to use someone’s email address to deliver your messaging. Failure to do so can result in severe fines – or at least so I’m told. However, I swear, every month I get an email from a Hong Kong Tailor and no matter how many times I mark them as SPAM, they seem to still sneak through all filters. 🤬

Tip #4 – Improve your open rates

If you send out a lot of emails, but your emails don’t get opened, Google starts to think your emails aren’t worth opening so your delivery rates will fall. According to, 23% of all emails don’t even get delivered to their intended recipients at all, never mind their spam folders.


So what do you do?

  1. Work on creating catchy subject lines that are impossible to resist
  1. Offer up content that your audience looks forward to reading 
  1. Email on a day and time that people tend to be in front of their inbox and in the mood to consume your content. Because my audience is mostly travel agents. I know not to send emails out on a Saturday, Sunday or Monday. Those are bad days to capture a busy travel agent’s attention. But for you…your client is someone dreaming of their next vacation. Weekends might be best – or maybe during lunch. 
  1. Clean out your list. Ugh…I know. It takes so long to build an email list that the idea of removing someone from your list might seem catastrophic. But, if your reader isn’t opening your email anyway, then there is no point in having them on your list. It’s better to have a smaller list of engaged readers than a huge list of people who just hit delete. The rule of thumb is if someone hasn’t opened your email in three months, it might be time to pack them a suitcase and bid them …Hasta la vista, baby!
  1. Personalize your email. – Personalized subject lines get a 29% better open rate and a 41% better click-through rate according to data collected by Experian.

Tip #5  Remind your subscribers to whitelist your email right from the start.

Many of our clients aren’t that savvy about the ins and outs of email marketing. They may not even be aware that Google separates primary emails from social media emails and from promotional emails.

I use Mailchimp as my email service provider. For some reason, an email sent through Mailchimp has a higher than normal chance of landing in the Promotions tab with Gmail. It never hurts to remind people to “white-list” your email address from the beginning. This is a gentle way to pre-warn Google to allow your emails through the gates. 

Or at the very least, let your new subscriber know when to expect an email from you so they keep an eye open for it.

So there you have it. 5 Tips to avoid Google’s Spam filters. May all your emails from this moment forward reach their intended audiences.

Hey, and if you aren’t already receiving my weekly emails, why the heck not? Sign up below – and don’t forget to whitelist 🙂

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3 years ago

Great tips. I send videos in my emails sometimes – l might need to rethink that!

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