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Handling Spam Complaints: Feedback Loops

  |  January 10, 2011   |  Comments

An in-depth look at feedback loops - what they are, how they can help you, and the process to apply for them. Part one in a four-part series on spam complaints.

Spam complaints are a fact of life if you're an e-mail marketer. No matter how relevant your e-mail messages, or how stringent your opt-in policy, at some point one or more recipients will hit the "spam" button and lodge a complaint against you.

This is the first in a series about effectively handling spam complaints. Today we'll cover feedback loops - what they are, how they can help you, and the process to apply for them. In future columns, I'll use client case studies to give you tips for using the information you get from your feedback loops to address spam complaints and maintain good deliverability.

The major ISPs make it very easy for recipients to make a complaint; most include a "this is spam" button prominently in their interface (see AOL's inbox interface below).

010611-aol-with-spam-button

Recipients see this as an easy way of unsubscribing from e-mail messages. They may use it when they don't trust the sender to unsubscribe them, or they may use it because it's easier to find than the unsubscribe link in your e-mail.

Spam complaints damage your e-mail reputation and, if you get enough of them, they can negatively impact your deliverability – your ability to get mail to the inbox, or even to the junk mail folder.

Here's where feedback loops come in. Feedback loops are a service offered to senders by the major ISPs. When an e-mail is reported to be spam, the sender can receive notification and information about both the e-mail message and the recipient via a feedback loop.

It's easy, although somewhat time-consuming to sign up for feedback loops. Each ISP manages their own, so you need to apply for a feedback loop with each ISP individually. I recommend that you start by identifying which major ISP domains (AOL, Yahoo, etc.) are most prominent on your list. Focus on signing up for these ISPs' feedback loops first.

Once you've identified the ISPs you send to most frequently, you can use any search engine to learn how to sign up for those ISPs' feedback loops. Search on the name of the ISP and "feedback loop" to get information and a URL where you can apply.

In order to be accepted as a feedback loop recipient, you'll have to prove that you own the domain you are sending from (or, in the case of an ESP signing up for a feedback loop, have a relationship with the domain owner) and that you have authentication set up in your DNS record. You'll also have to provide the IP addresses that your e-mail is sent from.

Finally, you'll need to provide a dedicated e-mail address that the ISPs can send feedback loop messages to. Most companies set up an "abuse@ourdomain.com" address for this purpose. Once you apply, the ISP will confirm that your request is legitimate and that you don't have a negative e-mail reputation. If you pass, your application should be accepted.

Here's a sample feedback loop report from AOL:

010611-aol-feedback-loop-report

While most ISPs won't provide you the e-mail address that lodged the spam complaint, they will provide you with the original message and you should be able to discern the address from the coding in your original e-mail.

Once the spam complaint has been lodged and you receive notification of it via a feedback loop, the damage has been done. You can't dispute it; you should immediately stop sending e-mail to the addresses that complain.

But by getting insight into which members of your list are reporting you as spam and which e-mail messages are generating this action, you can identify trends and work to minimize spam complaints in the future, before they negatively impact your deliverability.

In my next few columns, I'll discuss the types of analysis you should do on the spam complaints you receive through feedback loops. In the meantime, if you aren't signed up for feedback loops, now is the time! Make a push this week to apply and then when my next column is published in two weeks you'll be able to start analyzing your spam complaints and taking proactive action to protect your deliverability.

Until next time,

Jeanne

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

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