You know you need to grow your newsletter, but– Oh no!– everything you send is sorted as spam or promotions! How can you engage your subscribers when they never even see your messages? Let’s fix it. FAST.

When it comes to sending out emails to subscribers, you want them to get opened, don’t you? Otherwise, what’s the point? Well, it’s a lot harder to get folks to open what you’ve sent if it went into their spam or “promotions” folder. I mean, we all love those folders specifically because they spare us from having to sort through a bunch of emails before we hit delete.

How do you know if you are getting sorted into the spam/promo folders? Send a test email to yourself or a close friend, and see where it goes. Unless it goes straight to the inbox, you’ve got a problem.

Luckily, I’ve compiled a handy-dandy list of newsletter no-nos to look out for. It turns out that there’s a lot of red tape between that send button and a subscriber’s inbox, but I’m here to help you cut through it! 

Check out this quick list of what to avoid in your newsletter, make some tweaks, and watch your numbers soar!

Side note: I learned quite a lot of this from a free webinar put together by Alessandra Torre through the virtual writers’ conference she founded, InkersCon. I highly recommend her very informative classes, and I receive no compensation for saying so.


Top Ten Newsletter No-Nos


  1. Too many font types.

    The biggest surprise for me, as I learned what to avoid in my professional emails, was that too many font types will trigger Google to put them in the promotions folder. As I thought about it, though, it made sense. When you write a personal email, are you fiddling with a bunch of fonts to make the message visually pleasing? Of course not! So if you use more than about 3 font types, Google pays attention.

  2. Too many font styles.

    Even if you’ve got your whole email in Times New Roman, make sure you limit your font styles to three or less. By font styles, I’m talking bold, italicized, underlined, etc. Even a hyperlink will count towards separate font styles. For the same reason noted in point #1, more than three is a certain way to get shucked into the spam folder.

  3. Too many links.

    This is such a hard one! Links add up fast: you want links to your blog or individual posts, you want links to your different social media pages and your main website, you want links for the promo you’re running… but it’s all too much. Have a purpose in mind for your email, and prioritize accordingly. Limit yourself to about 5 links ,including both button links and hyperlinks. Remember, when it comes to social media, you can at least tell folks to look you up by your username.

  4. Too many images.

    Sorry… but email programs have gotten really smart. Anything that makes you stand out too far from a normal personal email is a red flag for the bots or algorithms or whatever. It’s okay to use images, but only in moderation. The rule of thumb I was given? Keep that email to about 40% images or less. Remember, you can edit multiple images together into one collage if you need to; it’s about limiting the number of image files.

  5. A triggering subject line.

    When was the last time you saw a subject line that said something like ***FREE!!!!***$$$ ACT NOW!!! – did you actually open it? No? Google and Yahoo! and the rest of them work the same way. In subject lines you should avoid all caps, avoid the word free, avoid excessive punctuation or dollar signs.

  6. Triggers in the body of the email.

    Sometimes, you just have to use the word free. Google sorters don’t appear to be quite as sensitive to the above triggers in the body of the email, but you still want to limit or avoid them. A good way around this is to put the words in an image—Google can’t read your images—so long as you haven’t already loaded up your email with pictures. Remember, prioritize. When necessary, combine.

  7. You haven’t asked for whitelisting.

    It should be a no brainer, but I’ve been neglecting this, too. Ask your subscribers to add your email to their address book (called “whitelisting”). If they do it, their email service knows that they WANT your emails, and you’ll be out of their spam box forever. Well, unless they flag you as spam down the road, but you’ve got enough common sense to avoid that, right?

    Another way to get whitelisted? Ask subscribers to reply to your email—maybe offer a poll, or an open-ended question, anything you can think of. If they participate, that will show their email provider that they like you and want to see your emails. Inbox, here you come!

  1. Dud subscribers.

    Another mindblower for me: the subscribers who never open your emails aren’t harmless. I always thought that it was better to have dud subscribers than no subscribers; after all, if you can just get one email to interest them eventually, you have a customer—right? WRONG. The proportion of emails you send out that are unopened vs. opened is TRACKED. If your unopened percentage gets too high, email services begin to look at you as spam, plain and simple.

    You don’t have to put the unsubscribe button front and center, but make sure you have one in every email. Another thing you can do is pay attention to who never opens emails and clean out your subscriber list once in a while. It may save you money on your newsletter service, too.

  1. Unopened emails.

    Wait, didn’t I just cover that? Yes and no. Sometimes, those subscribers aren’t duds—they just missed the email. We have busy inboxes these days, and it’s easy for an email to get buried. One suggestion is to wait a week and resend the email only to those who didn’t open it the first time (perhaps even with a different subject line). If this one gets opened, the first may have just been overlooked.

    Another idea? Before you clean out your subscriber list, send a “last chance” email: include a personal message about being sad to see them go, but since it doesn’t look like they’ve been opening emails, you will unsubscribe them if they don’t reply. If they respond, you’re whitelisted! If they don’t, delete. Delete, not unsubscribe, unless your email sending service advises differently—otherwise if they try to re-subscribe later, they may be blocked, since they’re recorded as opting out.

  1. Personal email.

    One last surprise: rumor has it that sending out a huge blast straight from your personal email is a big red flag, even if you hide all the email addresses from the recipients. Make sure you use a newsletter service, such as Mailer Lite or Mailchimp or Sendinblue. Many offer free services until you reach a certain threshold of subscribers.

So there you have it: the ten biggest and most surprising newsletter no-nos. Now go build yourself a new email template. Keep it branded and simple, and pay extra close attention to these guidelines. Go soar. I’m rooting for ya!


How many rules have you been violating? What’s your advice when it comes to building a newsletter and subscriber list? Let me in on your secrets in the comments!


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