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9 Reasons You're Getting High Spam Complaints (And How To Fix Them)

David Harris
by David Harris on November 23, 2015

9 Reasons Youre Getting Spam Complaints

Spam complaints happen, now what?

There you are: You’ve segmented your subscriber list.You’ve written your content, designed your template and sent test emails to your team. You start sending emails to your subscribers and then what? Spam complaints happen!

Even with a permission-based list, spam complaints can happen to good senders! The ISPs know that some subscribers will complain, so they look at your spam complaint percentage, and a high rate will cause delivery problems. For example, 0.1% is a level of complaints that great senders doing everything right often see. But a complaint rate of 0.5% is too high.

We've put together a list of the top reasons you might have a high spam complaint rate. Keep reading to see which mistakes you could be making and strategies to fix them.

1) Your subscribers don’t recognize your email.

Marketers will tell you branding is important for dozens of reasons. But for an email reader, branding is how a new subscriber recognizes you as someone they invited to their inbox. Before your email is opened, the only two things people can see are your subject line and your “from” name. Have you made recent changes to your brand? This could be causing a spike in spam complaints.

Try this: Confirm your subject or “from” name contains the same brand as your sign-up page. And remember, it’s critical you continue to use your brand and the same “from” address in every email.

2) You’re not sending what your subscription page says you would send.

No one likes a bait-and-switch. Problems arise when your subscription page says, “get our newsletter” or “get a quote,” but the recipient receives a daily promotional email. This daily email, which is unrequested and unexpected, will elevate your complaints.

Try this: Set clear expectations on your subscription page. Here are a few strategies to try: 

  • Let readers choose frequency of emails they receive. If you’re sending high frequency emails, include options such as daily, weekly and monthly.
  • Let them choose topics they receive.
  • Create multiple, targeted subscriptions and let subscribers choose from them.
  • Describe each targeted subscription to remind readers the value and frequency.

3) You’ve changed your sending frequency.

We've seen a sudden increase in frequency cause a surge in complaints. How many times do you email your subscribers? Are you consistent? 

One sender we know took their three-emails-a-week and pushed it up to three-per-day. Can you imagine their complaints?

Try this: If you're planning a large increase, ask your subscribers for their permission for the increased frequency. People who are happy with your monthly email may not want the same information in a weekly campaign. If you can't or don't make this ask, then take the change as slow as possible. Provide a preference center for people to opt-down to a lower frequency.

4) You don’t make it easy to unsubscribe.

This one is pretty straightforward. When people unsubscribe but continue to receive email from you, they will complain. (It's also a violation of U.S. Federal law not to honor unsubscribes.) Besides, keeping someone hostage on your list might not result in a happy customer, anyhow.

When is the last time you checked your unsubscribe process or placement?

Try this: Sign up for your company’s email subscription, but with a different email address. Then click to unsubscribe. Continue through the entire process.

Could you locate the unsubscribe button? Did the page load quickly? Did you need to re-type your email? Was it pre-filled for you? Did you click one button? Or several? If it’s too difficult, subscribers will be tempted to choose the “this is spam” button over unsubscribing.

Another option to reduce complaints is all about placement. In addition to your footer, insert an unsubscribe link in the header of your message. This placement could make it easier for people to click “unsubscribe” over “this is spam.”

5) You’re delivering content no one wants.

You’ve heard of everyone's favorite radio station? It’s WIIFM or “What's In It For Me?”

But today, let’s review your email content by asking, “what’s in it for them?”

Look at the content of your email from the perspective of your subscribers. Does your content teach your reader something new? Do you tell them how it makes their life easier? Does your content feel exclusive or give a limited offer? If your spam complaints have increased, ask yourself, has the quality or value of your content slipped? Do readers look forward to receiving your email? 

Try this: Find a friend in your target market, show them a copy of your email and ask "Is this something you might want to receive? Does this provide value?" Then show them your sign-up page and ask "Does this email look like what the sign-up page gave the impression I would send?" It's hard to get outside of your own head; someone else's opinion can be super-valuable.

6) You don’t have a plan to remove inactive subscribers.

The majority of complaints can come from inactive recipients, and removing them may reduce your complaint rates (and improve your deliverability). One technique for reducing complaints is to suppress or reduce the frequency of emailing inactive recipients.

Are you still mailing to subscribers who have disengaged?

Try this: Find subscribers who have been on your list for more than 90 days, but who have not clicked or opened your emails in the past 90 days. Here's a recipe for your next steps:

  • Use segmentation criteria to find the addresses that fall into this category. Create it as a saved segment for easy future reference. 
  • Reduce your sending frequency to these subscribers. Evaluate them again at the next cycle.
  • Create a message for the reader to update their information. It's an easy, non-intrusive way to garner a response. Their response (or failure to respond) will help you determine whether they wish to remain active on your list. 
  • Deactivate or remove subscribers who have not engaged in the past 180 days.

We recommend using the 90 and 180 day cut-off for most senders. However, depending on your email program, you may choose a different time period. Regardless of what you choose, the important thing is to remove disengaged subscribers who have had an adequate chance to engage. Don't let them bring you (or your deliverability) down!

7) Your email looks broken.

How do you read your own email? Do you use desktop, a web version or mobile? All three? Yeah. Us too. What email client do you use? Apple Mail? Outlook? Gmail? Android? Lotus Notes? Yahoo? Several of those? Yep, us too.

With all of these devices and versions, it’s important to double-check your template, design and content in a variety of email clients. If readers can't read your email, they can’t buy from or take the next step with you. So it’s possible they’ll mark your email as spam.

Try this: Use one of the tools designed to make this process easy, such as GreenArrow Monitor. Find a free demo or review screenshots before you choose one. Be sure to test your email in a variety of email clients including the most current version and previous versions. (Not everyone updates at the same time.) And be sure to check the widths of your email design too, making sure even your responsive mobile design does not break.

8) You have a new email provider and accidentally started sending to unsubscribers and spam complainers.

If you've recently changed email providers, this is something critical to check. It’s possible that when you imported your list from your old system, some email addresses that were listed as unsubscribed, spam complaints, or bounced were reactivated in the new system. This would result in a flood of complaints. 

Try this: Double-check the integrity of your list with your team or your service provider.

9) You just started getting better email deliverability. 

Good news — you have better delivery! Bad news  better Inbox delivery can cause a spike in spam complaints. True story:

An email marketer switches to a new email provider. This new provider gets mail that one ISP had been sending to the Spam folder into subscriber’s Inboxes. Success, right? Sort of. 

When all those subscribers start receiving those emails again, many were no longer interested, or had forgotten they had subscribed to the list! Spam complaints result. And that ISP goes back to directing mail to the spam folder. It’s a vicious cycle!

Try this: Our recommendation for this problem is to stop sending to inactive subscribers at that particular ISP. (Best practice: Look at open data from your old provider to determine what subscribers are inactive.) This can restore consistent Inbox delivery at that ISP.

Why do you report spam? 

Remember, spam complaints are a symptom of one of two things: (a) what you're sending or (b) who you are sending it to. Use this list to review your email practices often. If you're still seeing high complaints, it might be time to talk to a deliverability expert. 

These are the biggest reasons we see for spam complaints, but we want to hear from you. What reason causes you to report spam?

Leave a comment

David Harris
Written by David Harris
David first started his own business when he was still in high school. DRH Internet, Inc. began as a web hosting company, but as David's consulting experience grew, he found himself working frequently with open source email servers and writing custom software to solve problems. Over time his software grew into a full-fledged email platform called—you guessed it—GreenArrrow. In his spare time, you can usually find him taking classical guitar lessons, drinking gourmet coffee, playing Go, and spending time with his wife Penni and their four amazing children.

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