How to Avoid the Gmail Spam Penalty Box

A buddy of mine named Adrian is worried he’s trashed his email list:

I have a quick question for you. Are you doing anything to keep your email list healthy, such as using Drip’s “Pruning” feature? My list has gotten pretty big and I’m pretty sure it’s hurting me when I do large broadcasts. Some of my emails end up being marked as spam as of late and my open rate has really decreased. I’m just curious to see if you’re having any issues like that.

I had a similar situation happen a couple of years back with my Sublime Text email list.

A friend offered to pay me to send out a “solo ad” (dedicated email blast) promoting his new book to my 65,000 subscribers.

He made a ton of sales from the email I wrote—pushed him all they way up to #2 or #3 in his category on Amazon.


I also ticked off a few of my subscribers with the “off topic” email. I got a few angry replies, and I’m pretty sure a few of them clicked the SPAM button to report me (tattle tales).

For the next few weeks, it was like I was in the doghouse with Gmail.

Open rates were TERRIBLE—half of what I was used to seeing.

I was freaked out that I’d destroyed my list.

But after a few weeks, the open rates ticked up again, and all was well.


Since then I’ve seen this happen occasionally, where my opens just drop for no apparent reason only to rebound later.

I’ve learned not to sweat it.

This entrepreneurship thing is a marathon, not a sprint, and your business WON’T collapse because of a couple of technical hiccups.

Now on the issue of pruning or not…

The only people who could answer this question for sure work at Google, Yahoo and the other major email providers.

However, I am convinced that blasting out broadcasts to a bunch of people that don’t open your emails *does* hurt you in the long run.

I think Gmail monitors the “from” address you use and factors that into your spam score. (I’ve run this theory by Rob Walling, founder of Drip, and he agrees with me.)

One way to handle this is by “pruning,” or deleting inactive subscribers (people who aren’t opening or clicking your emails).

Open rate tracking isn’t perfect, though, so you’ll inevitably delete a few subscribers who actually *are* enjoying your emails.

A better approach is to keep your subscriber list intact, but reduce the amount of email you send to subscribers who have dropped off.

I do this using a Drip feature called lead scoring.

Whenever a subscriber opens or clicks an email, Drip assigns them a certain number of activity “points.”

These points “decay” over time—Drip automatically removes points if the subscriber stops engaging.

I only send these daily broadcasts to subscribers who have a lead score of 3 or greater, which means they’ve at least opened an email recently.

The inactive subscribers only hear from me once a week.

That way I’m not hammering a bunch of dead email accounts with daily emails—and I stay off of Gmail’s hit list.