Reduce Spam Complaints by Listening to Them

Complaints are powerful indicators of subscriber sentiment. Mailbox providers pay close attention to them as they assess whether their account holders generally want mail from a sender. Marketers can use them, too, to optimize email program performance and prevent deliverability problems—but only if they listen.

Of course, complaints don’t say much on their own. Often referred to as This Is Spam (TIS) reports, these are simply clicks from dissatisfied subscribers alerting their mailbox provider that they don’t want to hear from the sender again. Future messages, if they’re delivered at all, will go directly to the spam folder where they’re unlikely to ever be read. For a sender this means that without telling you why, your subscriber is ending your email marketing relationship. But even without explanation, fluctuations in complaints can signal that content, frequency, or other elements of a program aren’t working.

Why do subscribers complain?
For nearly every legitimate marketer, opt-in policies aren’t the problem. The days of sending email to people who never asked for it are more or less over. That doesn’t stop subscribers from forgetting that they gave permission.

Reason 1: They don’t remember (or recognize) you
Your subscribers get a lot of email, so it’s important to stand out and help them recognize you. Start right away by sending a welcome message to new subscribers to remind them exactly when and how they got on your list, and to establish your email relationship. Continue to reinforce brand recognition from then on. The “from” field should be consistent and always be a name that subscribers recognize and trust. Also, visually reinforce your brand with consistent styling, avoiding drastic changes in appearance between emails that can make them seem unfamiliar. If your email program changes its identity during a re-branding or acquisition, make sure your subscribers know well ahead of time and know what to expect in their inboxes.

Reason 2: Your frequency or cadence
Changes in frequency and cadence, either fluctuations in volume or erratic sending patternseven shifting the days or times that messages arriveoften contribute to increases in complaints. Frequency-based complaints don’t always stem from subscribers becoming annoyed because they receive too much email, either. When frequency drops and subscribers no longer anticipate regular email from you, finding a message from you can seem unexpected and unwelcome. In addition to setting expectations during opt-in, testing frequency and cadence methodically and gradually will reduce changes’ potential to surprise and bother subscribers.

Reason 3: You don’t make it easy enough to unsubscribe
In a perfect world no one would ever want to stop getting email from you, but letting subscribers discreetly ask to opt-out is far better than encouraging them to complain to mailbox providers that you’re a spammer. If your unsubscribe link is hard to find or the process to get off your list is complicated, simply clicking “This Is Spam” is an appealing alternative. You don’t have to give up your email marketing relationship so easily, either. Make it as easy to opt-downto choose less frequent messages or only content about specific topicsas it is to opt-out entirely. You don’t have to wait until subscribers go looking for an escape, either. Monitor their engagement and proactively offer a different subscription level if they stop reading regularly or begin ignoring more messages.

Whatever the reason, when complaints surge the most important thing you can do as an email marketer is to review your program to determine what changed—either in your program or in subscribers’ behavior—and begin testing new ways to engage your audience. Uncovering correlations between your email marketing tactics and complaints—or even better, subscriber engagement patterns that predict complaints—is the equivalent of listening to these valuable cues.

This post originally appeared as a byline on Total Retail


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