How to deal with a high complaint rate in a permission e-mail environment.
Whenever we meet marketers at deliverability roundtables or best-practices workshops, we know somebody will either accuse ISPs of warning users to hit the "Report Spam" button instead of unsubscribing from unwanted email or demand a way to refute a user's spam complaint sent via an ISP's feedback loop.
Neither tactic helps the marketer solve the real problem: ISPs want to reduce the barrage of unwanted email sent to their users, permission-based or not. Spam complaints are the number-one factor that harms deliverability with major ISPs. That's more than email content and coding (28 percent of the marketers in our recent deliverability survey) or opt-in practices (25 percent thought that was the greatest factor).
ISPs don't care whether your email message is transactional or double opt-in or sent to a list full of addresses harvested from the Web. If the message generates a lot of complaints, the ISP will filter it to the bulk folder, block you completely, or do whatever else is necessary to protect its users from you.
The "Report Spam" button that has so many marketers spooked doesn't do that much damage by itself. If 1 or 2 or 10 users out of the 5,000 or 50,000 on your mailing list click the spam button in their email clients, your message won't automatically be blocked or filtered. ISPs know users often hit the "Report Spam" button by accident when they just wanted to delete a message or mistakenly thought hitting the spam button would unsubscribe them.
However, if a significant number (typically 1 to 3 percent) of your subscribers click the spam button, the ISP will take action.
If you run a genuinely permission-based list but your message still generates more complaints than the ISP permits, you have a relationship problem with your recipients. You must fix the problem yourself. Cursing or complaining to the ISP that blocked or filtered you won't solve it.
Most likely, you need to address one or more of these areas when dealing with a high complaint rate in a permission environment:
Implementing these steps is the most effective way to reduce spam complaints and subsequently boost deliverability and improve and maintain a sterling email sender reputation.
Next, we'll delve into key steps involved in an email template makeover, the number-one step our deliverability survey respondents said they'd taken, or planned to, in 2006.
For more background and advice on spam complaints and deliverability, review our earlier column, "How Spam Complaints Affect Delivery."
And as always, keep on deliverin'.
Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.
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As director of ISP relations and delivery, Kirill Popov creates and enforces strict usage and anti-spam policies, maintains ISP and community relations, and oversees all abuse and policy investigations and inquiries for EmailLabs clients. Kirill works with clients on best practices, content, design, and list hygiene to minimize potential delivery issues. He's a registered member of the SpamCon foundation and representsEmailLabs on AIM's Council for Responsible E-Mail.
Loren McDonald is vice president of marketing at e-mail marketing automation company EmailLabs, overseeing corporate marketing activities and client consulting services. He has 20 years experience in marketing, consulting and strategic planning. Earlier, Loren was founder and president of Intevation, an e-marketing services firm specializing in e-mail and SEM. He's held executive marketing positions at companies including USWeb/CKS (marchFIRST), NetStruxr, and Arthur Andersen.
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