What Spam Complaints Are Really Telling You

Cathie McFarren, Deliverability Analyst

Marketers are always looking for ways to improve their deliverability. Are you currently measuring your spam complaints? Spam complaints are the number one factor that lowers your reputation and causes increased bulk mail placement and even potential blocks. If you’re not currently monitoring this data, you should start keeping a close eye on both formal and feedback loop (FBL) complaints.

What is a formal complaint?

A formal complaint is easy to track. It comes directly from an email recipient to your “reply to” address.

What is a feedback loop (FBL) complaint?

A feedback loop (FBL) complaint is created when your contacts flag your message as spam in their inbox. When an email recipient marks the email as spam, their ISP forwards the flagged message back to you at a designated email address that has been set up, primarily so that you can suppress this user from receiving any further emails and measure the amount of complaints.

What are the benefits of receiving and processing complaints?

Complaints are one of the first steps in identifying which campaigns or changes you’ve implemented are the most problematic. They tell marketers the true story. If contacts are complaining, marketers need to pay attention. Complaints can indicate:

  • a change in your process of collecting permissions. Did you recently host a contest or sweepstakes that utilized an implied consent?
  • a concern about your content. Did you introduce content that could be considered risky to the end user, such as the use of “spammy” words or links to a third-party partner site?
  • a change in frequency. Did you change your sending cadence from once a week to four times a week?

Complaints can also be a great measuring tool for list sources and can indicate if one of them needs to be reevaluated or segmented to better target your audience. Dig a bit deeper into the source of the complaining contacts. Did they come from one of the following?

  • Old lists
  • Purchased lists
  • Co-Registration
  • Sweepstakes
  • eAppend
  • Event/conference sign ups
  • Point of Sale (POS)
  • Phone

What can I do?

Remove complainers from your list immediately. The main purpose of the FBL process is to allow you to suppress a contact from your email marketing stream. If contacts submit multiple complaints, your deliverability and overall domain/IP reputation will suffer.

Head off unnecessary complaints by adding your unsubscribe link to the top of your emails. If the contact unsubscribes instead of flagging your message as spam, your brand and IP reputation will not take a hit and you will see improved inbox placement.

Below are the ISPs that currently offer FBLs: