The solo traveler regains consciousness, finding himself immersed in an ice-filled hotel bathtub with one of his kidneys missing...

A baby alligator is flushed down the toilet, only to survive and grow to tremendous size deep in the sewers of New York City...

After picking up a hitchhiker on a deserted road, the driver turns to discover her passenger has mysteriously vanished from the back seat of a moving vehicle...

Those stories are classic, familiar examples of urban myths. The details may vary, but the shocking twists and chilling outcomes ensure that these tales are passed on from generation to generation.

The scary thing? Many people believe these urban myths are actually true!

Then again, some of the things we believe about email marketing are no less scary. With a channel as mature as email, there's been plenty of time for "conventional wisdom" to be passed down over the years—which is great for young professionals learning the ropes, but it can also lead to outdated beliefs and outright misinformation.

Here are just three of the many "urban myths of email" I've heard—along with the real story. If any of these myths have taken hold in your email program, now is the time to set the record straight.

Myth No. 1: If your email content includes spammy words, your messages will be flagged as spam and never reach the inbox.

The truth is... For years, brands have avoided so-called "spammy" words and phrases (such as "free," "clearance," "click here," and "act now") because conventional wisdom says these words are likely to trigger spam filters and cause your deliverability to suffer.

That may have been true in the past, but this outdated belief doesn't apply to modern marketing emails.

Today's spam filters rely heavily on sender reputation and subscriber engagement. The actual content of the email plays a relatively small role in filtering decisions—because content-based spam filters return too many false positives—and they can be easily thwarted by crafty spammers.

So go ahead and promote your free shipping and clearance merchandise: There's little chance it will affect email deliverability. To test whether your content is triggering spam filters, use a tool like Inbox Preview that will flag any issues around keywords, URLs, or HTML in your content.

Although good sender reputation and positive subscriber engagement will override most content-based filters, content does play a role in reaching the inbox. If your real-live subscribers think your content seems spammy, they're likely to send your email to the junk folder—and that action will cause inbox placement problems over time.

Myth No. 2: Your email service provider (ESP) is responsible for identifying and fixing any deliverability problems.

The truth is... As a sender, you are absolutely responsible for your email deliverability and reputation, including any problems you may be experiencing. The factors that influence deliverability—things like list hygiene, sending practices, spam complaints, and subscriber engagement—are all fully within your control. Your ESP provides a tool to help build and send emails, as well as analyze your results, but it isn't responsible for managing your email program. Only you can do that.

Sure, there may be isolated instances where your ESP shares responsibility for deliverability issues—for example, if the infrastructure isn't setup properly, or if your emails are assigned to a shared IP address with poor delivery. But those scenarios are the exception rather than the rule. Unless you identify and address the root cause of your deliverability problems, no ESP can get your email to the inbox.

Myth No. 3: As long as you're sending relevant content to people who have opted in to your email program, your messages are guaranteed to reach the inbox.

The truth is... There's no disputing the importance of getting permission from your subscribers and sending them relevant content. Those two factors are the foundation of good email marketing, but they're not the only reasons your email gets delivered to the inbox.

Permission to email your subscribers is the first step, but you also have to pay attention to how they interact with your messages. Most major mailbox providers now consider subscriber engagement metrics as part of their filtering decisions—such as how many messages are read, replied to, forwarded, and deleted without being read, as well as spam complaints.

By analyzing how individual subscribers engage with a sender's email, mailbox providers are able to make more accurate decisions as to which emails are wanted and which should be diverted to the spam folder.

If engagement is low right from the start, it could be a sign that you're not setting proper expectations at the time of opt-in. Consider implementing a subscriber-preference center, and give subscribers information about what to expect from your email program. Or, if you find that interest seems to be waning among longtime subscribers, consider executing a winback campaign to re-engage them with your emails.

* * *

Those are just three of the many "urban myths" that circulate among email marketers. Check out Urban Myths of Email for more.

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image of Jen Ribble

Jen Ribble leads PR and content marketing efforts for email-deliverability experts Return Path.

LinkedIn: Jennifer Ribble