Ten Ways to Lower Spam Complaint Rates for Your Email Campaigns

Originally published in collaboration with Teradata on the Teradata blog.

Research continues to show that email remains a cost-effective and efficient strategy to engage with customers and drive purchases.  However, in order to be successful, you need to create messages that follow a very strict path. They must be accurately delivered, recognized by the recipient as relevant and then opened.

How can you tell if your emails resonate? What can you do to make sure your transmissions aren’t being ignored –or worse, sent to “Report Spam” oblivion?

For starters, check your campaign level report.  Data from this fundamental analysis will provide basic insights about your rates for click-through, spam, opt-out, etc. and alert you to any glaring red flags.

But, don’t stop there.

If you want to improve your deliverability rates and stay out of increasingly more sensitive spam traps, you need to start regularly reviewing your domain level report, as well.  Domain level reports are essential to comprehensive deliverability audits because each ISP now looks at its own subscribers independently. By monitoring the metrics at this level, you’ll be able to see how your audience is distributed across ISPs and where there are the highest spam complaint rates, percentage of hard bounces, etc.

In other words, combing through your domain level report will help you determine where you can fine-tune your approach to increase your effectiveness. For example, we feel if your:

  • Spam complaints are greater than .05%,
  • Hard bounce rates are more than  3%, and
  • Opt-outs (Unsubscribes) are greater than 1-2% . . .

. . . then you have work to do. Why? Because exceeding these thresholds can negatively impact your overall inbox placement with the ISPs.

So, scrutinize your domain level report, and then consider these steps to lower spam complaint rates and improve overall deliverability for your email campaigns:

  • Run a domain distribution report for each message you send and look at each message to determine what is causing the high spam complaints. The usual suspects are: subject line, content, frequency and content/ frequency mismatch.
  • Review your points of opt-in. Make certain customers are fully aware of the specific publications, frequency and content they have subscribed to. Resist the urge to auto-populate opt-in boxes, and always provide a link to review a summary and sample of the publications your recipients will receive.
  • Send a welcome email when new subscribers opt-in. A simple greeting like this reminds users that they subscribed and helps them better understand the benefits of opting-in. Plus, a welcome email is a valuable opportunity to include an “Add to Address Book” option.
  • Consider differences between ISPs. For instance, does your domain distribution report signal there’s something different about AOL addresses , compared to others?  Often, AOL subscribers are older (as in, they are longer on the file because they signed up in early days –not that they are genealogically older) than other web based email subscribers.  Is that an issue? Are these AOL users less active?
  • As I mentioned earlier, you must recognize that each ISP handles spam differently. For instance, we know that AOL takes into consideration “This is not spam” votes, spam complaints, hard bounces and opt-outs. Some strategies to help avoid these spam filters are detailed in my earlier post about challenges with Gmail . (These approaches can work for all ISPs and can improve results across your whole list.)
  • Look at each communication and segment you have defined (Purchasers, Newsletter Subscribers, Event Attendees, etc…) and see if there is a different level of response in each of these segments.  Is there one segment that has higher complaints, bounces, or opt-outs? Why? What was their opt-in experience when they signed up? Did they ever respond?
  • Pay careful attention to specific subject lines that are causing higher spam complaints, opt-outs or lower engagement (clicks/opens).
  • Consider using a spam checker and/or inbox monitoring service to help optimize your process.
  • Reactivate inactive subscribers. Create segments to isolate anyone who hasn’t clicked or opened a message in the last three months, and then target these addresses with special appeals and promotions. (I’ll talk more about this in a future blog post.)
  • If they resist reactivation, scrub inactive subscribers from your list. Ensure you are eliminating unsubcribers, as well. Keeping your email list clean should now be a top priority. After all, if someone doesn’t want/doesn’t respond to email from you, and yet you continue to deliver to that address, that recipient is more likely to report you as spam –and that will subsequently affect your reputation and inbox placement for users who do want to get your email.

Email is an effective strategy to engage with customers and increase sales, but you’ll only be successful if your message is delivered –not relegated to the void of “spam.” So steer clear of spam traps, and make sure you reach your intended target with a message that’s relevant and compelling.