Spam Complaints: How Many Is Too Many?

Last week, we might have had too much turkey or sweet potatoes, or in the ensuing weeks we might go over our holiday spending budgets. When we hit the scales or balance our checkbooks, we know whether or not we went overboard. Still, in other cases, we need some guidance on the matter. For instance, if we receive too many spam complaints from subscribers, the deliverability of our messages can really suffer. But how do we know when we’ve received too many of these?

spam_complaints.pngWith some things in life, what is “too much” is quite clear.

Last week, we might have had too much turkey or sweet potatoes, or in the ensuing weeks we might go over our holiday spending budgets. When we hit the scales or balance our checkbooks, we know whether or not we went overboard.


Still, in other cases, we need some guidance on the matter. For instance, if we receive too many spam complaints from subscribers, the deliverability of our messages can really suffer.

But how do we know when we’ve received too many of these?

How to Understand Complaint Rates

AWeber sends complaint reports to our customers forwarded from ISPs when their user’s click the “Mark as Spam” buttons they offer.

With ISPs increasing the priority of their users’ feedback on the deliverability of email messages, too many of these complaints can mean too few of our messages get through to our subscribers.

Seeing a need to set the bar and provide some guidance on understanding the volume of these complaints and when we should be concerned, we’ve published a Knowledge Base article covering what you need to know:

Maintaining Good Deliverability

Use this article as a resource to measure potential issues with your own campaigns. These complaints may be trying to tell us one or more ways we can significantly improve results and avoid issues with our campaigns, so you’ll also find additional information on how to make them.

Fortunately, by using email marketing best practices such as those we talk frequently about on this blog, we should continually find our campaigns in good standing.

Related Information:

25 Comments

  1. Matt

    11/29/2007 2:44 pm

    Hey Aweber, Thanks for publishing the acceptable rate of
    complaints. Is there any way to find out what autoresponder
    message results in most complaints by campaign? That message
    would be a good one to change first!

    Thanks!

  2. John

    11/29/2007 3:35 pm

    Thanks for publishing the full text in your RSS feed. It’s a great timesaver and makes it more likely that I’ll read the entire article.

  3. Lori Titus

    11/30/2007 12:38 pm

    So out of curiousity – do the service providers do anything to differentiate between someone legitimitly using the "delete spam" button, vs using the spam button as a delete button?

    I just finally hit the 1,000 mark on my email list. I’d hate to think that my ability to send emails may be jeopardized because one person uses the spam key as a delete button! And there are times that I receive a spam complaint weeks after sending my previous email – highly indicative of using the spam key as a delete button by those who don’t know better.

  4. Justin Premick

    11/30/2007 1:29 pm

    Matt,

    The complaint reporting doesn’t currently show that, but we are in the process of making some changes to the reporting so that you’ll be able to see that. Stay tuned… 🙂

    John,

    You’re welcome! Hopefully this will make the posts more valuable to our RSS subscribers – and inspire you to discuss more posts in the comments area.

    Lori,

    ISPs are certainly aware that some people use the "spam" button to clear out their inbox. One complaint isn’t going to cause problems for you. After all, what if you send an email to 10 people and 1 marks it as spam? That’s a 10% complaint rate for that email – but still just one complaint by someone who may have just wanted to delete the email. It’d hardly make sense to start blocking you based on that.

    I think it’s worth keeping in mind that real, live, smart people work in ISPs’ postmaster/anti-spam departments — and they spend their whole day trying to separate the email that should get delivered from the spam. Chances are, if we think of something that they should do/try/consider or not do, they’ve already thought of it and either done it, are working on doing it — or came up with a good reason to rule it out.

    So if we provide relevant, valuable information to people who are giving us permission to do so, and we make it easy for them to unsubscribe when they want to do that, we shouldn’t run into problems.

  5. Sam Freedom

    11/30/2007 5:02 pm

    "I think it’s worth keeping in mind that real, live, smart people work in ISPs’ postmaster/anti-spam departments

  6. Rajeswer Naidu

    11/30/2007 7:19 pm

    Marc,

    Thank you for your valuable article. But I needed this information about 1 year back. It is too late now.

    I was fed up of receiving spam complaints and about 6 months back I contacted your online support to find out the limit. But I was told that I have to judge myself. Finally I discarded my 8000+ subscribers list.

    Now I realize that I was way below the maximum limit of 0.1% (in fact I was getting less than 0.01% complaints).

    Well, it is better late than never.

  7. Frank Haywood

    12/2/2007 8:02 am

    Hi,

    Justin said:-

    "I think it’s worth keeping in mind that real, live, smart people work in ISPs’ postmaster/anti-spam departments

  8. Shirley

    12/3/2007 2:52 pm

    Like others, I also appreciate this spam complaint breakdown.

    I knew, as I decided to publish a newsletter, that some readers would press the spam key to unsubscribe rather than take the "right route."

    But that’s okay, because the masses who enjoy reading my news and respond by purchasing products and services is worth the effort.

    If you’re an avid marketer, there’s no way you’ll allow the actions of the few overrule positive feedback from the many.

  9. Rosie

    12/4/2007 9:33 am

    Some marketers simply refuse to accept these email addresses that provide a spam button, especially hotmail and AOL. They will unsubscribe those people themselves to avoid getting these spam complaints.

    I have not done this yet but I’m considering it. This week I’ve had two spam complaints relating to a list that has only been in existence for 3 days. I really don’t want to be writing to people who will sign up to my list one day and report me for spam the next.

  10. Justin Premick

    12/5/2007 9:22 am

    Rosie,

    That’s certainly an approach that you might take, though it’s not one I personally recommend.

    After all, not only would you be blocking people at those domains who might lodge complaints, but also people who might be good, qualified, engaged subscribers. Why penalize them for preferring to use a webmail address?

    There ways to try and minimize spam complaints that don’t involve preventing anyone with an address at a major ISP like AOL or Hotmail from signing up.

    For example, you might try a permission reminder ("you’re receiving these tips because you signed up at www.example.com on such-and-such date") placed at the top and/or bottom of your messages.

    Or you might look at your signup process and make sure people clearly understand what they’ll be getting – and how frequently they’ll hear from you.

  11. shereen

    12/7/2007 8:36 pm

    well, it’s kind of a joke at my end–but not a funny one. i got an e-mail today from "aweber" listing the number of spam complaints that i just got (which led me to this thread). well, surprise, surprise, i JUST signed up to "aweber" this past week and sent out my mandatory opt-in verification e-mail. i have not yet sent any broadcasts, newsletters, or rss feeds; so the "spam complaints" that i got–all 3–are apparently due to the opt-in verification e-mail that was sent. b/c of the number of leads i sent the opt-in to (~1300), that makes it a 0.23% spam complaint rate which is higher than the 0.1% suggested that we are supposed to stay under.

    sooooo, how the heck could this be a reflection upon me or my company??? the "spam complaints" were direclty a result of the "aweber" opt-in e-mail i had to send out to my imported leads…?…kind of frustrating to think about this issue…

  12. Justin Premick

    12/10/2007 9:45 am

    Hi Shereen,

    I don’t know the specifics of your campaign or subscribers, so I’m speaking in general terms, but here are a few things that could cause your readers to lodge spam complaints about that email:

    * Where/how they originally signed up to your list
    * How long it’s been since you last emailed them
    * (For migrating lists) whether you let them know about the move and the confirm email in advance of moving them
    * Wording in the subject/body of the confirm email
    * Your "from" address and name – do subscribers recognize it?

    Your complaint rate will change over time (for example, as you send more email today/tomorrow/etc without complaints, that number will fall); the key is to do what you can to keep it low over the life of your campaign.

    I’ve sent you an email; if you’d like to talk about the specifics of your campaign and how you might minimize your complaint rate, just let me know.

  13. Calvin Warr

    12/19/2007 1:09 am

    Just curious, is there a way to see WHICH email addresses actually made the SPAM complaints? If we could simply remove THOSE from our lists, that will prevent one recalcitrant member from ruining our "reputation". Is that possible to have as part of the spam reports?

  14. Marc Kline

    12/19/2007 9:37 am

    Calvin,

    As part of the process AWeber uses to receive and report spam complaints, we do also remove the complaining subscriber from your list. This should help to prevent additional issues with repeated complaints.

    Occasional or incidental complaints from one subscriber like this should not cause any deliverability issues. But if you see an increasing number of complaints for any given list, you’ll want to take action such as what is described in the above article.

  15. Avril Harper

    2/1/2008 7:29 am

    Can anyone help me please?

    Most of my mailings are to provide free content for people who have double-opted into my list. Only once in a while do I send promotional emails. Yet it seems the more I try to give people free, as a gesture of goodwill, the more spam complaints that ensue. This only happens using aweber for some strange reason and I use other mailing services that rarely if ever show spam complaints.

    Can anyone advise me how to prevent people hitting the Spam button purely for what looks like fun or downright awkwardness. Surely if they sign up for free reports and I sent those free reports, the last thing I should expect is a spam report.

    Can anyone help please as I am going out of my mind with frustration?

    Thanks so much.

  16. Justin Premick

    2/1/2008 9:36 am

    Hi Avril,

    It’s hard to say for sure without knowing more about your subscribers/traffic and what kind of subscriber expectations (not only about what content you’ll be sending, but about how often you’ll be doing so) are being set in your form and welcome message.

    Take a look at our Knowledge Base entry on spam complaint rates (first brown box in the above post) and what you can do to minimize them, and see how you might apply the tips there to your list.

    As for seeming to get more of them on messages sent via AWeber as opposed to other platforms, that’s likely a question of reporting — other platforms you may be using may not report complaints from as many ISPs as we do! Unless you’re doing something different with your AWeber-managed campaigns than you are with other ones, there shouldn’t be any statistically significant variation in the number/ratio of complaints you receive.

  17. Case Stevens

    4/30/2008 6:06 am

    I have a small list, that only sends updates for my blog posts.
    150 subscribers.
    Subscription process, as far as I can tell, conform the (Aweber) book.

    Still, it really pisses me off, that whenever a message is sent, only
    1 (One) subscribers finds it necessary to file a complaint, causing my
    Acceptable Complaint Rate to rise to .68%.
    !@#$$%#%&

    Is there anything I can do about that? Kick him/her out?

    Thanks for any great advice.

  18. Aatos Poutiainen

    1/31/2009 5:26 am

    Well, It is interesting to read also other serious business people’s comments about spam complaints here.

    Sometimes I have been wondering what those complainted persons are
    thinking when I have given very valuable info in my newsletters and then some of them have responded to me giving spam complaint and giving that as a reason for unsubscribing from the list even after first followup email where they have received many valuable gifts after signed up from giveaway or some other of my bonus capture sites.

    These kind of actions are by my opinion really ridiculous and I think always after that I was lucky having that person unsubscibed from my list because he/she just has proven to be real time waster when doing so..

    That kind of actions happen regularly..

    Anybody else noticed that?

    Thanks for the good feedback site,this is really needed 🙂

  19. Avril Harper

    2/2/2009 10:14 am

    Aatos, I so agree with you. Last month I spent all my time updating some of my free reports. They are huge things and packed with information, I just knew my customers would be thrilled when I emailed to say how and where to download these reports. But I had not reckoned with anyone of sound mind leaving a spam complaint for my gifts. Sadly a few people did just that!

    People are so stupid at times and I have often felt like packing in growing a mailing list, until that is someone writes to say they do appreciate my efforts.

    Try not to worry about it, some people are just not happy unless they are making someone else miserable!

  20. Frank Haywood

    2/4/2009 10:50 am

    Hi Aaatos and Avril,

    Don’t let the very small minority of negative minded people dissuade you from your aims. There will *always* be some people who are ready to shoot you down, while the majority of people are there cheering you on.

    The problem is we focus on the negatives and don’t pay enough attention to the positives. It’s human nature and you can train yourself to focus more on the good things by smiling and laughing more. It’s infectious.

    😉

  21. Sean Grimes

    2/11/2009 11:41 am

    I noticed my complaint rate went up to 1.1% and my list is pretty small. I make sure that I use double opt-in as well. I also provide relevant information to all of my subscribers without sending out too many emails.

    With all of the technology we have, you’d think that some sort of tagging system would be in place. If a person opts in to a mailing list, his/her email address should be tagged by the auto-responder service. This tag could then be relayed back to the ISP letting them know that the subscriber opted in. This way, if the subscriber decides to hit the spam button, it would not set off any alarms.

    I truly think that some people make too much of an issue out of spam. I get all kinds of junk all of the time, but I never hit the spam or junk button. Now, I can understand when people get these bulk mailers. Those people are the real problem.

    This is a really big issue that should be addressed though because people don’t know that they are causing emails not to get delivered by hitting the spam button. What about the people who really want to receive our emails? A few people hitting the spam button can ruin things for everyone.

  22. Justin Premick

    2/11/2009 2:10 pm

    Sean,

    There’s a lot of information in our email headers that does exactly what you’re referring to.

    But that doesn’t mean a subscriber can’t consider a message to be spam.

    If a message is not relevant, a subscriber may consider it to be spam. Same goes for a bunch of messages from a sender that are sent in too short a time period.

    ISPs are accountable first and foremost to their users, who expect them to keep out spam (however users define that). In practical terms, that means that permission matters, but it’s not the only thing that matters. Email relevance does, too.

    Of course, ISPs are well aware that there’s a certain amount of "noise" that occurs from people clicking the "spam" button. And they have access to a huge number of emails and spam complaints and other subscriber activity that they can use to determine what an appropriate complaint rate is.

  23. admin

    3/15/2010 3:05 pm

    Good info AWeber…thank so much.

  24. EB

    6/11/2010 4:55 am

    It’s a tough one. With only a small list (<1000) just a couple of complaints can look bad on your ‘complaints file’….. I got a complaint on a blog broadcast… I think sometimes people forget they have signed up… It is more representative when your list is large than when it is relatively small… or I am missing the point?

  25. Chris Kent

    2/10/2011 4:00 pm

    I think Aweber must take into account list size as we all know a small list only takes one person to take you above 0.1% and the percentage variability around the average is great. I am sure common sense prevails.

    I agree that putting a message up top reminding them that they opted in and they can unsubscribe using the link at the bottom – this works well.

    It lets you get rid of leads who had no interest anyway and doesn’t really lose you anything significant. It’s an overall net win in my opinion. I think people actually trust you more if you use such a message, it has a more professional look to it.

    If you’re scared of losing too many leads you need not put this message at the top of every email if you don’t want to.

    Anyway, I have only done limited tests but I believe it is working. My complaint rate has dropped successively.

    I would also like to be able to trace the unsubscribe, even if its an “ID” rather than an email, if only to delete those who may be repeatedly hitting the spam button each time you broadcast.