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Fixing high complaint rates and improving reputation

Why do recipients complain about my email?
This question is asked over and over again and there is no one answer. There are a number of reasons and all of them interact with one another.
What factors have recipients mentioned?

  • High frequency – mail that is too frequent can annoy recipients and they’ll hit this is spam
  • Low frequency – mail that is too infrequent may be unfamiliar and unexpected and recipients will report the mail as spam
  • Content – mail that has content that recipients don’t like can annoy recipients into reporting spam
  • Mailing after recipient has unsubscribed – while CAN SPAM provides for 10 days to process an unsubscribe request, recipients often have much shorter expectations
  • Unrequested mail – do you really have permission from the recipient? Do they want and expect your email?
  • Mistake – sometimes recipients select large portions of their mail box and report all the mail as spam. Real mail can get caught in the selection and reported as spam.

The only one of these issues that is outside the control of the sender is the mistaken complaint. All the others are things that senders can affect.
Here at Word to the Wise, I often work with clients who are seeing delivery problems related to high complaint rates and the resultant poor reputation. I work with these kinds of clients to sift through their data to maintain as many good email addresses as possible. At the same time, in order to improve reputation the number of unengaged recpients needs to be as low as possible.  Working closely with clients I help them design and implement a strategy for list hygiene to improve reputation, response and return.
We start with a series of questions about the complaints. If you don’t know what is causing the complaints, then you can’t resolve the underlying problem. Some questions to consider.

  • Is this unusual complaint behaviour? If so, what changed recently?
    • Have we added new addresses from a new source?
    • Have we resolved a problem resulting in more emails in the inbox?
    • Did we change our frequency?
    • Did we mail new or unique content?
  • Are complaint rates consistently high?
    • How are we treating our recipients?
    • Are we sending mail they expect and anticipate?
    • Are we actually sending opt-in mail?
    • Are we setting expectations appropriately during the opt-in process?

Once you have an idea of why the complaints are happening, you can address the systemic problems.
Remember, it is extremely rare that a high complaint rate is the only problem with a mailing program. Usually, I find there are other list performance problems including poor open rates, poor click through rates, all evidence of low recipient engagement.
It can be a challenge to fix a mailing program with high complaints and low recipient engagement. The process takes longer than many managers like. However, the only real options are to spend so much time dealing with delivery and reputation problems that there are no strategic decisions being made or step back and make the strategic plans that create a sustainable email marketing program with few delivery problems.

4 comments

  1. steve says

    Also branding. If I don’t recognize the email as being from you, then I may well write it off as spam before looking any closer.
    As a recipient I might make that judgement based on a half second looking at the subject line, a half second looking at the from address. Or a half second looking at the top inch and a half of the body, maybe with images displayed, maybe not.
    As a sender you really want your brand to be recognizable to recipients looking at any of those four things.

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