Why Did That Email Get Marked As Spam?
In the comments of our recent post on email whitelisting, John asked about how to deal with spam complaints and shared what his experience with them has been. After looking back through other posts on spam complaints, I didn’t see one that fully addressed his comment the way I wanted to. And I’ve heard similar comments and questions from other people. So let’s talk about it.
By Justin Premick February 24, 2009
After looking back through other posts on spam complaints, I didn’t see one that fully addressed his comment the way I wanted to. And I’ve heard similar comments and questions from other people.
So let’s talk about it.
Problem: Getting Spam Complaints When You’re Not a Spammer
Here’s what I took away from John’s comment, along with quotes from his comment:
- He’s getting a higher complaint rate than he’d like. 1
- His emails are not promotional. (“We are still in start up mode and not [even] selling anything. Our emails are short two-paragraphers linking to a high-content blog post.”)
- His subscriber base is “entirely web-based sign ups” so these should be people who want his emails.
- He emails weekly (“so it’s hardly too much or too little that they forgot who we were”).
In short, it sounds like John’s trying to do the right things.
So what’s going on here?
Spam Complaints Happen For Many Reasons
Not all spam complaints occur because the email is “spam” as it is traditionally defined.
Here are a few scenarios where complaints might occur (and what John – or anyone else – might do to avoid them):
- It’s easy to click “spam” – and not as easy to find the unsubscribe link.
Solution: make it easy to unsubscribe – consider putting an unsubscribe link near the top of your email.
- Some recipients don’t trust unsubscribe links and/or have heard they shouldn’t click them unless they remember subscribing.
Solution: remind people when/where they signed up and why they’re getting your email (you can use personalization fields to include information like the date/time/URL that a subscriber signed up on.
- The email was requested but not relevant.
Solution: make sure that your emails closely address your subscribers’ needs and wants. Track what subscribers are responding to in order to create more relevant campaigns as you go.
- Similarly, the content or timing of the email was not what the subscriber expected (perhaps because expectations about the specific email content and frequency were not explicitly set when the subscriber opted in).
Solution: set expectations clearly when subscribers opt in. Tell them what they’re going to get, when they’re going to get it and who it’ll be coming from.
- The subscriber didn’t like something about the email – or something else about the company sending it (“I had a bad experience on Company X’s website/in Company X’s store, so now I’m marking their email as spam.”).
Solution: request feedback from prospects and customers. Find out what they do and don’t like about your emails – and your business as a whole. Customer service, product selection, pricing, policies, everything… they can all affect subscriber perception of your company. Then take that feedback and improve.
There are certainly other possible reasons for spam complaints, and other courses of action that you might take, but by addressing these areas of your email marketing, you can reduce your exposure to spam complaints and maximize your email deliverability.
What Have You Done To Reduce Spam Complaints?
Have you addressed these causes of complaints? Other ones? What have you found to be effective?
Share your thoughts below!
1. For the record, part of John’s complaint rate is due to the low volume of email he’s sending. One or two complaints raises his rate significantly. I think it’s reasonable to expect that as he connects with more subscribers, he should see lower complaint rates – if he follows the advice here, of course! 🙂